Missionaries and monestaries: Europe at a crossroads

The final cornerpiece of this year's NECE conference was marked by Luuk van Middelaar's opening statement on the state of Europe and its capacities of dealing with conflicts, followed by a lively discussion with Philipp Blom and Ivan Krastev.


Parallels and paradigms

The panel discussion began by tackling the question of whether some of the problems and conflicts we are facing today in some way have a resemblance to the situation as it was pre-1914 and what conclusions we would be able to draw from such similarities. Philipp Blom was quick to point out that the generations preceding ours were very much facing a substantially different world, in which there were essentially two political systems competing for victory over the other. As we know today, nobody won and what we are dealing with today is a world of diverse political systems and currents, much as it was prior to 1914. "Disagreement is back", Blom remarked, however we have a rather different basis to argue from, than we had back in the early 20th centruy. Interestingly, the rifts that divide us politically do not demarcate an ideological boarder between East and West, e.g., as it was before. Instead what we are witnessing today, are deep socio-political divides on much smaller scales, within Europe and within particular countries.


Of missionaries and monasteries

Compared to the US, which is also deeply divided in a political sense, Europe is experiencing itself and its interactions with the world around it much differently. "The US", Krastev said jokingly, "are like missionaries: come, be like us and you will be alright! The EU, in contrast, is acting more like a monastery: come in, and you can be one of us". This, he believes, is also reflected in the way that Russia is reacting to European foreign policy and our bearing in the Ukraine-crisis. What Russia is most afraid of, Krastev argued, is interdependency. From a Russian point of view, the kind of interdependency that we are facing in the European Union today is unacceptable. Accordingly it might seem rather incomprehensible to Moscow, that people in Europe would actually be embracing this kind of interdependet system, let alone take to the streets to fight for being part of it as they did in Ukraine. Clearly, from a Russian point of view, a thing like the Maidan protests have to be orchestrated by a European power-elite, eager to prove the desirability of a liberal, democratic European system. 


Agreed to disagree

No agreement could be reached on the question whether the EU is actually any good at achieving legitimacy in the eyes of its constituents, or for that matter, working effectively to establish such a legitimacy for its decision-making processes, both within the EU itself and at its periphery. Blom argued that it is quite absurd to still be voting for national parties, who then transport a completely different political agenda to Brussels. Identification with the European model under these circumstances will be utterly impossible, he thinks. Van Middelaar would agree that certainly, many European citizens cannot identify with 'those in Brussels', but that the solution needs to be found within the existing European framework. In the end the discussion ended like probably a majority of debates do end in the European Parliament as well: agreed to disagree. 

Conference Day: 

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