Europeans

Unlike the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, I am not alarmed at Europe’s state of political affairs. Is it a sad state of affairs? Or is this the natural dynamical process of political life? Push here, pull there, exaggerate here, exaggerate there, and at the end of the day, what you want is to steady the boat in the rough seas of human misery, exuberance, greed, and goodwill. 

I also do not see the that the latest 25 May super-sunday European parliament elections offers much to brag about in terms of democracy. While the folks did not quite all stay home, a majority did just that. Whatever the result may mean or whatever its consequences are, it is a minority result (43.1%), and there is no amount of justification that changes that fact. On the bright side, more and more Europeans are realising that voting on European matters is relevant to their lives and livelihoods.  

However, a parliament elected by a minority does pose more problems than it solves, especially when a minority of those elected are from the extreme right, and stand against anything that is either called democracy, human rights, liberalism or socialism. In a world that sees itself challenged with problems of global dimensions – climate change, violation of human rights, violations of international law, inequality, etc. – a vociferous minority that is xenophobic, protectionist, intolerant and against the very institution to which they have been elected is indeed a challenge that has the nature of a malignant disease. But, this is the state of affairs in Europe right now. These are interesting times.

In my view, a federalist Europe is the future. A united Europe that works together (this includes arguing and challenging each other in parliamentary debates), that is committed to peace and wellbeing of its citizens and its global neighbours, is what we need. We do not need a factious Europe where each little patch of land is screaming bloody murder against any little triviality that affects their poor understanding of sovereignty. 

It could be that I have imbibed heavily from the free trade Kool Aid bowl, but while not a goal in itself, just another tool, an open market offers many more advantages than any protectionist approach. We need an open European market in goods and services, we need the freedom of movement of persons and capital, and we need to think about where the real threats are. But are we working in this direction anywhere else other than in academia?

Still, Habermas may have a point. The point being that the political power elite is reluctant to think on behalf of us all, and are much too concerned with keeping face, or holding on to power, or just reluctant to leave their comfort zone. That is, in his words and translating liberally, the politicians in office are not willing to leave their daily power routines, and to face what is indeed a new situation that requires new solutions. Do we need a new breed of politicians?

Indeed, the choice for the new President of the European Commission is an important one, and it should be legitimised by respecting the Lisbon Treaty. Here there is much at stake, but I also welcome the very debate that is raging now about the candidates for this post which then this newly elected European parliament will have to vote on. 

While the results of this 2014 European election have only surprised by their reality, the result as such does not surprise many. The Europeans are an heterogenous collection of people with many different languages, cultures and traditions, and the future is as much ours as it has ever been. However between financial crisis, and a shifting equilibrium in economic factors, many are unsatisfied. The Greeks are suffering, and the Portuguese complain, and the Irish have had their troubles, and the English are rebelling. Somehow they all forget that is it not the European institutions that make them suffer, but rather it has been in the hands of their own politicians that their economies have faltered. Sometimes I do wonder if the EU is so close to Utopia that the average citizen cannot possibly relate to it. Or is it that its institutions are so complex and beyond the comprehension of the voters? 

I cannot figure this out either. I live in Switzerland, and I am an European in spite of my nationality. That is, that my own compatriots here have decided to not cooperate with the EU, or not honour the existing agreements, is one more indication that the Swiss are indeed Europeans through and through. The problem in my view is not the EU or its institutions, and it is not that I would be as naive as to believe that all possible optimisations have been made within the EU institutions, but I have spent a fair amount of time studying the very directives and communications that these institutions issue, and it is not Utopia that I find, but practical and necessary measures that allow this continent to function. It is also not that there are no mistakes that have been made or that will be made in the future. Still, the prevailing culture, the emerging European culture is one of dialogue and transparency. Dialogue and transparency are necessary ingredients in democracy. 

So, why is it that the Swiss are such exemplary Europeans? It could be because the Swiss, like the Greeks or the Dutch are all having their own share of difficulty adapting to a world that is increasingly more complex and interdependent. When challenged with new problems, it is easy to regress to past solutions, and to forget that the past solutions were for other problems, not for the present problems. But then, it could also be that I am an hopeless poet, and that I am misguided in thinking that critical thought, frank debate, and commitment to a shared future are all unrealistic. 

I want to live in an Europe that thinks forward with full knowledge of its past history, successes and failures. I think that we need to evolve our thinking, and our politics need to reflect that evolution. The future, if the planet is to have a mid-term future, lies in joining our efforts, not in squabbling about a non-existing sovereignty, or a chimeric neutrality. That said, I believe that we need the tools and legitimisation of self-determination. I am not alarmed about the chaotic state of affairs in which Europe finds itself, I think we can take this crisis, bang our heads together, and come up with solutions that move us towards what matters. 

But do we know what matters?

Vintage

I’m vintage. Not legend, vintage. This morning Kaspar reminded me of this, and supposedly Pascal had been the one to point it out. It was a day full of interruptions. Calls, singing, FaceTime, messages in all flavours. It’s my 57th birthday and on my mind the writing: an article, and a short blog post. 

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Being a day to celebrate, I started by lacing up the running shoes, and covering up with a rain shell. Headed to the river banks, and was out for over an hour in the drizzle. The Animals set the pace, and I hate to confess this, but my favourite weather for running is drizzle. Loved it! 

I could not avoid but feel like a bazaar of trademarks. Nike on the feet, Adidas on the legs, a Mammut shirt, in the pocket an iPhone, and to save grace, a Jack Wolfskin rain shell (the fashion label of grandmothers). It does give me an appetite for non labeled clothing and generic electronics. 

Thanks for all the attention! ’57 was a good year!

Freedom and Democracy

It is a sad day for Switzerland, it is a sadder day for humanity. It is a day when a slight majority – 50.3% – of the 56% who voted on this weekend’s plebiscite approved an initiative that was advertized in the media to deceive. It was designed to stoke existential fears, and add fuel to the virus of xenophobia. That this initiative succeeded to get a thin majority at the polls, comes as a surprise to many, and I hope that it comes at a surprise to those 44% who did not bother to vote. While I claimed that I would not be surprised if this happened, now that it happened, I am indignant and surprised.

The EU is build on four fundamental principles set down in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. This treaty is an 80 page document, the four freedoms are the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people, Article 3 (c).

If we are to take the case that these freedoms constitute fundamental rights, and this is a case that can be made. Then the violation of these, when contrary to international law, in that intentional deprivation of these rights constitutes persecution, this could approach a crime against humanity. But, this is a difficult case to make, and I do not wish to go so far right now. 

We may recall that states are free to exercise their territorial sovereignty and deciding matters pertaining to foreigners. This freedom is however is limited by the EU bilateral agreements, but also by anti-descrimination and reunification of families right (remember Gül v Switzerland?) Really, why don’t we have an independent constitutional court? 

Now, this is going to be dizzy to implement! 

It really is no consolation that the virus of xenophobia is spreading through Europe. Some states have better immune systems against this virus, but it is one which we are all being exposed to. It is also not just Europe. I thought that we had done the civil liberties movement, dealt with apartheid, and that we were on the way to live in a truly free world. Think again! 

The erosion of our basic freedoms is not something to be taken lightly. A thin majority of Swiss today voted against one of the four freedoms on which our neighbours on all sides are building the future.