(the views and perspectives in this piece are only my own, and are not official in any way. trust me on this)
The Council of Europe exists to prevent the next European war.
Things carry the imprints of their origins. The Council of Europe was originally mentioned by Winston Churchill in 1943 - the push was towards European integration to remove the fundamental economic drivers of centuries of wars. A Common Market was designed to create a Europe which would rise together, reducing competition inside of the Eurozone and promoting cooperation and peace. But the strains of economic and social justice are shaking the foundations of European integration. Charles de Gaulle said, 50 years ago, "Oui, c’est l’Europe, depuis l’Atlantique jusqu’à l’Oural, c’est toute l’Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde" (Europe, from the Ocean to the Urals, will decide the destiny of the world) and now we're discussing whether the Greeks or the Germans will quit the Euro first! What happened?
The "government commons" between the Nation States of Europe was designed as a Common Good, with any rivalries being small when set against the benefits from the sharing of a currency, a system of laws and trade, and a shared vision of the future. The idea was that the European Project would, in time, become so valuable that not even the most extreme would risk it to political unreasonableness. A shared good, once thought of as only a Common Market, held as a surety against competition, conflict and war.
But those were the years of growth, the post-WW2 boom years in which the global economy ran hot on cheap raw materials, the post-WW2 bloom, and the suppression of petty conflicts which the Cold War brought about. Without the Soviet Union as an enemy from the outside herding the Western Powers together, with arguments about how to divide up a shrinking pie, rather than the optimism of "wealth for all" from 30 or 50 years of compounded growth in assets... the European Commons is in trouble because as economies begin to hit freefall, some people are turning from cooperating to make a bigger pie for everybody to competing to secure as much of the pie as possible for themselves and those like them. Carving out the biggest possible slice of the Common Good and dragging it back to your own country is madness in the good times because the rest of the pie continues to grow without you, but in a declining market, grabbing as much as you can of what's good, building a wall around it, and cutting ties to sinking ships seems like wisdom, at times.
And it's this split, between cooperative and competitive relationships between people which the internet reveals as being fundamentally subject to political and technical biases. We can work together on the internet, but we can't hurt each-other (very much) and the result is a place in which creative cooperation is easy, destructive competition is hard, and the rules make the game.
A single currency is like an internet for trade, but the problem with scarcity-based economic instruments is that if there's an imbalance in the system, they tend to make it worse over time as interest compounds, investments pay off and debts grow and accumulate. A global internet is inherently more stable than a European currency.
The Euro is a commons, but it's a commons which is subject not just to the "tragedy of the commons" but the far more destructive "tragedy of positive feedback" in which winner-keeps-winning industrial-style capitalism meets the very real need for a single currency to operate within a single polity, a single people, without such sharp split into rich nations and poor nations that what's good for one is bad for the other. An example is inflation - a little often aids poor nations, but even that much is often very toxic to wealthy nations as it dilutes their gains. By creating a Currency Commons, Europe shares more at a governmental level than it does at a social or economic one.
And this is the crux of our European dilemma. How to manage the fact that the idea from the architects of the European Union was, from the top down, to lead the European people to a closer union, based in part on the American model, in a time ill-suited to megaprojects, in which even the American union is in trouble as splits between Democrat and Republican become vast gulfs. How then are we to share a currency and law, when other unions peel apart around us? (the Soviet Bloc being the first)
This may seem like a big, abstract question, but it affects all of us. It’s a question of identity, a question of scope, goals and interests. A previous generation of political elites decided it was a good idea for Europe to pull together as a single team, de Gaulle thought the “destiny of the world” depended on it, and here we are - with the best tools ever invented for connecting people across continents, and a real opportunity to assume the position of global leadership which America is throwing away with its appalling imperialism and human rights record, to actually demonstrate some of the virtues and values which are at the heart of European culture in a time when America is abandoning them (habeas corpus) - with all this potential, will we choose to pull together as Europe, not from the top-down as Churchill and de Gaulle envisaged, but from the bottom up, connected, online and unified.
The alternative seems stark, and in an age where government’s ability to manage difficult social problems is at an all-time low and the power of the people is at an all time high, it seems reasonable to ask a question: is European culture strong enough to support, survive and manage the difficulties caused by the likely failure of European currency. Yet the European project has largely survived the European Union / European Economic Area divides, it’s survived the cat-at-the-door British and their obnoxious, told-you-so Pound, and if managing the economic splits between Germany and Greece requires two currencies or a two-economy Europe, is it possible that We The People have gotten enough out of the European Project to take up the slack and continue to run Europe as a Common Purpose, not a Common Market.
This is the key question: does the declining power of the State to deliver, with the inevitable transfer of power from the top to the bottom, from the Hierarchies to the Networks, enhance or weaken European unity? Do the people of Europe now want integration more than the political elites do?
I believe this may be the case, particularly when the question is broken down to its real consequences: no more working abroad, no more single currency, no more casually roaming around the continent to the university of your choice, no more freedom to be anywhere you like over a huge continent. Penned back in our countries and second class citizens everywhere else? I think the universal response is “no thanks!”
Europe is a Commons, but is it a Commons of the Governments, or is it now the Commons of the People. Is it Their Europe or Our Europe?
I am a European. The luxury of having an entire Continent to call home was one of the major advantages of being in America, and I think there's a very, very good case to be made for the simple idea that the middle class intellectual elites of Europe have followed the lead from the top-down and unified and integrated. Our friends are all over the continent, many of us visit for months and work in other countries, and the idea of unwinding that liberalism seems absurd. Of course, before WW1 you could travel without a passport from the Mediterranean to Moscow so it's not as if history only moves in one direction, but we're here at a cross-roads, and I hope we have the wisdom to say,
This is our Europe, our Nation-of-Nations, our Continent, and we'll travel freely, work freely and make our friends where we choose, not where an arbitrary border gets in the way. And you, the politicians, the political actors, can sort out the details on how we keep our Continent, and don't revert back to weak, squabbling countries, incapable of steering the destiny of the world as de Gaulle foresaw.
The future is also a commons, and we have a part to play in it, together.
project started at Council of Europe as an experiment in making policy at Internet Scale, asking whether a process like WikiPedia could create meaningful insight and input into decision-making at a political level. It's important that it works, and to make it work, we need your input and your ideas.
Council of Europe is listening. I’m normally very sceptical of government-led consultation processes, usually they’re about rubber-stamping a plan with public consent, but in this case, the desire to listen is completely genuine. I’ve met these people, they’re the real deal.
It’s not that often that government really listens. It’s important that when the opportunity arises, we speak.