On Friday 12 October, Mate Ćurić, general secretary of COK, spoke at a two-day conference organised by the Robert Schuman Institute in Budapest, entitled “Visions of Europe 2019”. The title of his speech was “More Europe, or More European Union?”
“The EU is an expression of Europe. But Europe is not, and never has been, and never will be simply summed up by the institutions of the European Union. This is important because if we lose sight of that truth we might also think that the best way, or indeed, the only way to be genuinely European is to give the European Union ever more power over its member states and the people who live in them….
“Europe was a great cultural construct – above all a Christian cultural construct – what was called “Christendom”, or in Latin “Christianitas”. Croatia was in previous centuries known as the outer wall, or the defences, of Christendom – and we Croats are proud of that fact. It helps define who we are. But the important point is that Europe existed in the realm of beliefs and traditions before it ever took any political form, let alone its present one…. the Europe of today will only hold tohttps://cok.hr/en/mate-curic-at-rsi-budapest-conference-visions-of-europe-2019/gether if it remembers its ancient roots and never tries to cut itself off from them.
“The European Union should not want to diminish the role of the nation state, it should use it and respect it – that is the most important practical implication of the great principle of subsidiarity…”
You may read Mate’s entire “More Europe or more EU” speech at the end of this post.
More Europe or more EU?
Warm regards to all alumni members, and many thanks to the Robert Schuman Institute, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this great event.
I’ll talk mainly in my remarks today, about the trends and desirable development of the EU after 2019 elections.
But let me first explain a bit more about the title of my talk and specifically about the two key elements in it – that is Europe and European Union – which I want to emphasize.
Today we hear a lot of discussions and plans, proposals and analyses about “the future of Europe” That’s completely understandable. And, of course, the “future of Europe” to a large extent means the future of the EU. But some people talk as if these two concepts were identical. But they are not.
The EU is an expression of Europe. But Europe is not, and never has been, and never will be simply summed up by the institutions of the European Union. This is important because if we lose sight of that truth we might also think that the best way, or indeed, the only way to be genuinely European is to give the European Union ever more power over its member states and the people who live in them.
I am not an historian. Economics and business are my thing. But this I do know, as we all know from reading our history books – Europe existed for centuries before the Treaty of Rome in 1957 that founded the EU’s forerunner, the European Common Market.
Europe is extraordinarily attractive. It sums up what we are and what we want to be. Europe was a great cultural construct – above all a Christian cultural construct – what was called “Christendom” or in latin “Christianitas”. Croatia was in previous centuries known as the outer wall of Christendom – and we Croats are proud of that fact. It helps define who we are. But the important point is that Europe existed in the realm of beliefs and traditions before it ever took any political form.
The European Union is just that, a political form, and an enormous and impressive one, which has been made by some states, working together, on the continent of Europe. That is not a criticism – it is just a fact, and in any useful discussion the facts come first.
Acting as a European, means acting within a specific set of values. Our European values have three main pillars – Greek culture, Roman law and Christian civilization. I am very proud that some Croatian islands in the past were Greek colonies, where very well organized life took place. After that, all the territory from which is Croatia made today, was part of the Roman Empire – and we stayed in the western half of that empire after it was later split up. One Roman emperor, Diocletian, was born in Dalmatia, our south and sunny region, where apparently he retired to grow cabbages, though it was probably our local vegetable blitva or Swiss chard, that I don’t think you can find in Switzerland. Anyway, there are many signs left in Croatia today from that times – ancient roads, stone road signs, combat arenas like the one in Pula – and, of course, Emperor Diocletian’s palace in Split.
You should visit it – it is one of the wonders of Europe!
The Roman Empire was so big that probably all countries in Europe share that same experience, some lesser some greater. Some even say that Roman Empire was the European Union before the European Union.
Anyway, that’s enough potted history and travel guidance. My point is that the Europe of today will only hold together, if it remembers its ancient roots and never tries to cut itself off from them. Of course, hard and practical interests are important too, above all economic interests, but without emotional loyalties and a sense of identity, nothing endures in politics.
Western Europe should understand how especially important all that is to us, who have endured decades of communism. After 1945, Eastern and Central Europe – including Croatia – were brutally cut off from that heritage and those values. That is why we have perhaps a clearer sense of them than people in the West, who have come to take the advantages of freedom for granted.
The European political organization that resulted in today’s European Union, did not just appear as a clever plan done by some economist. It was the expression of the vision of Adenauer, De Gasperi and Schuman. The founding fathers made it, and shaped it according to those values and on that heritage – so we can say that the European Union is built upon – but as I say does not have a monopoly on – Europe’s great history.
A lot has happened from the times when the three of founders of the EU were in action.
One of the things is, of course, politics. The European Union hasn’t abolished Left and Right in politics. Conservatives and socialists have different views of the EU as they have about everything else.
Here I must quote the second of Robert Conquest’s Laws of politics, which says that “Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.”
It is part of the role of the EPP, and our role, to see that this law doesn’t apply to the EU, because if the wrong people, with the wrong ideas, get their hands on international institutions, they can do even more harm than they can with national ones.
We know that – at any level, a European level, a national level, a regional level, a local level, even at the level of individual men and women – there is nothing that impoverishes a country more than socialism. I am talking here about the mentality, not just the regulations, taxes and unnecessary controls. Many of us in the ex-communist countries, are simply amazed at the way in which communists have managed to shed their old colors, and emerge as enthusiasts for Europe. It is a clever game they play. They are good at pretending to be what they are not. They are good at networking – they invented it even before the Americans. They see in Europe a way to impose themselves and their views on their own nations which comprehensively rejected them in peaceful revolutions thirty years ago.
By “Europe”, the Left – whether it is the new left, or the old left, or usually some combination of the two – think about an all-powerful political organization which is able to impose whatever they think in their heads is best for everybody – equally for a small fisherman on the Mediterranean, or an investment banker in London. As long as it extends their personal power and the power of the position they hold, everything is OK!
What we can see is that political freedom can never exist in a vacuum. That applies to the politics of the European Union.
So I would sum this up by saying that when somebody tells you he wants “more Europe” or “more EU” or indeed both, the real question is – what kind of Europe, what kind of EU, what are the values and what are the aims.
A lot has changed in the political arena since I joined my political party in Croatia 6 years ago. We can see nowadays declining election turnouts, citizens turning away from traditional political involvement i.e. voting, party membership, contacting a local politician, and turning towards other forms of political participation – like signing online petitions, taking up ad-hoc causes, organizing demonstrations and so on.
With our political systems becoming more and more complex, no wonder democratic institutions are being perceived as remote by voters. In the era of internet and social media, discontent is more easily voiced than solutions. The rise of the protest parties or so called populist parties can in part be interpreted as people’s attempt to revolt against processes, institutions and elected officials they no longer feel represented by.
Democracy is being severely tested because of this sharp decline of confidence in the political system, the political institutions and the political parties which fill those institutions. Today, a large majority of people, or voters I should say, don’t have much time to analyze party programs, get into complicated issues in everyday politics and involve themselves in party life – which we all know and I know personally to be very exhausting! Some of that is just inevitable. But not all of it. And it gets much, much worse if parties disconnect themselves from the ordinary people, and if they become extractive, self-obsessed, inward looking, and start to live only for themselves.
That makes room for populism to appear, exactly because the existing political elite has lost sight of its duties to those who elect it. Until the old parties understand that fact, they are going to be in big trouble – we shall view the results of the next European elections with interest to see if that trend continues, it probably will.
There is a lot of complaint today about movements and parties that are described as populist. Populism is on the rise everywhere – South America, Asia and not just the United States and Europe. Some of these complaints about populists may be justified. Others though are certainly not. And many complaints by politicians about populism are certainly made in bad faith. Socialists in particular, once thought they alone could speak for “the people”, and now “the people” – in my language narod – do not want to listen to them, or vote for them, and the socialist politicians are very angry about it.
Croatia where I come from does not yet face a strong populist challenge, some yes but not strong – but if things carry on as they are, it will. Citizens are already participating in referendum campaigns where more than 400.000 voters signed a petition demanding an electoral system change and rejection of the Istanbul Convention.
The general accusation of populism has a special European dimension coming from the mouths of some socialists and EU-federalists, who do indeed want „more Europe“ meaning more EU bureaucracy, slower decision-making and greater centralization of power – which they hope to exercise themselves.
The new policy making cycle should mean more efficient policies like better border control, more decisions clear to every citizen of every member country which ease their life, like free mobile phone roaming within the EU, more power delegated to lower levels etc.
Manipulative populists are raising some of those questions, but we, for our part, need to show that we are capable of detecting the problems faster, and even faster in solving them.
This will not be done by more EU, certainly not in the sense of more EU intervention in the affairs of individual nations – which is already creating a backlash that threatens to tear Europe apart if we are not careful.
We should remember, that nations and the nation state were created in Europe, they never existed anywhere else until the Europeans devised and exported the idea. There were tribes and empires in different parts of the globe, but not what we could call nations.
Terrible wrongs have certainly been done over the years by one nation against another. But the fact remains that without the loyalties to one’s nation, loyalties which are part of the European historical tradition, people would not and will not fight to win and maintain freedom. They would not make sacrifices. They would not obey the law. They would not – to take an important example – even pay taxes. This goes right to the heart of politics, and it is something that we on the Centre Right of politics should never forget.
The European Union should not want to diminish the role of the nation state, it should use it and respect it – that is the most important practical implication of the great principle of subsidiarity which Adenauer, De Gasperi and Schuman among others believed in.
One final thought – those who hold political posts or have political ambitions, or those of us who move in circles where policy making is discussed – and this is especially true of international circles – should not imagine that elites are somehow more European than peoples. By elites I mean socialist-minded politicians or high-ranking bureaucrats who tend to see the EU in their own image and to manipulate it in their own interests. Peoples, nations, are the treasure houses of European values – not the elites. Those values may not always be well articulated – ordinary people have better things to do than discuss politics. But it is the nations of Europe, including the hard working families of Europe, who often have a better idea of what makes sense and what doesn’t than the elites.
In any case, the European Union does not own Europe, the elites do not own Europe, and if they behave otherwise, allow their ambitions to grow beyond their capabilities and come to regard with contempt what the nations of Europe feel, the European Union will be in trouble.