Europe for The People

(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.
 
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The EdgeRyders 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.

 
Please sign up and tell us about yourself, and your experiences in our times. 
 
It’s not that often that government really listens. It’s important that when the opportunity arises, we speak.
 
 

I’m not enough of an economist to comment on the Euro and how it’s going to pan out. To me, some of what’s going on in Greece and Italy looks awfully familiar (albeit less terrifying) from many of the past examples Naomi Klein gives in the Shock Doctrine  - and that goes for the UK, too.

Still, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Having spent most of my life living in the UK and a bit of it living in France and Germany, I’m terrified that we’re drifting away from Europe in this country. This isn’t just something that’s restricted to the right wing of politics; while they rail against Eurocrats imposing regulation from afar, lefties are battling against health reform to save a 60-year-old system. France and Germany seem to do just fine without a centralised Health Service, and that doesn’t seem to be something anyone’s willing to explore.

The main narrative we get about the EU in the UK, though, does come from the rightwing press, and it’s inevitably one that attacks the EU for doing well-intentioned things. How we’ve got to a point where human rights legislation is a serious point of controversy is beyond me, as are things like the Working Time Directive (I personally don’t particularly want to be flown by a pilot or operated on by a doctor who hasn’t been conforming to something like that for a good long time before we cross paths). I can’t imagine that most people, having thought about these things for five minutes, would be strongly against the European regulations - after all, if Abu Hamza doesn’t have human rights because we don’t like him, why should you have any?

What really bothers me is that collective European institutions arepossibly the only bodies we have that are capable of standing up to big (often US-based) multinationals which abuse their power. It might take a while to grind into action, but it’s taken on Microsoft and will probably get around to the social networks sometime soon; it’s gradually beating mobile phone operators into submission over roaming charges and doing a whole raft of other consumer protection stuff. This isn’t stifling business or innovation or any of the other Republican-candidate bullshit, it’s making the world a better, safer, cheaper place for ordinary citizens to live in, and no-one seems to care that it’s coming from Europe.

I’ve had some amazing opportunites thanks to the EU - like the ERASMUS programme, low-cost air travel, free passage across borders to wherever my girlfriend happens to be, you name it. I’m glad this site exists - hopefully it’s evidence of a new commitment on the part of our transnational institutions to communicate just what it is that makes them worth belonging to.

Great article. Yes, Europe should be from the bottom up and should principally be a Europe of the people.

There is a little known distinction in the set-up of the European institutions, which it might be worth to explore in more detail.

The Council of Europe (47 countries, 800 million people)

which instituted the edgeryders program is organizationally quite distinct from the European Union

which is the top-down, industry led active political arm of the European set-up that decides economic policy and makes European law.

Perhaps it is worthwhile to explore this distinction in trying to get to the bottom of the question of why the European dream seems to be going down the drain so fast.

Unpacking Federalism

This is a fascinating post, and I like your reply.

Vinay had a great point about learning about institutions by viewing their creation story, and the council and the EU are different bodies with different creation stories (and it’s a little bit difficult to decipher them).

That said, I’d like to share a surprise I had from a few nights ago-- during World War I, many members of the intelligentsia, in England and elsewhere, were discussing and debating the aspects of post-war federation. When Winston Churchill uttered any words on this in 1943, it wasn’t the very first words in a conversation, but a powerful contribution to a conversation that had been going on for a while.

I saw this quite powerfully a few nights go when I came across this passage from HG Wells from his book “In the Fourth Year” (free, online and easy to find):

"It is a dangerous thing to recommend specific books out of so large and various a literature as the “League of Nations” idea has already produced, but the reader who wishes to reach beyond the range of this book, or who does not like its tone and method, will probably find something to meet his needs and tastes better in Marburg’s “League of Nations,” a straight- forward account of the American side of the movement by the former United States Minister in Belgium, on the one hand, or in the concluding parts of Mr. Fayle’s “Great Settle- ment” (1915), a frankly sceptical treatment from the British Imperialist point of view, on the other. An illuminating dis- cussion, advocating peace treaties rather than a league, is Sir Walter Phillimore’s “Three Centuries of Treaties.” Two ex- cellent books from America, that chance to be on my table, are Mr. Goldsmith’s “League to Enforce Peace” and “A World in Ferment” by President Nicholas Murray Butler. Mater’s “Société des Nations” (Didier) is an able presentation of a French point of view. Brailsford’s “A League of Nations” is already a classic of the movement in England, and a very full and thorough book; and Hobson’s “Towards International Government” is a very sympathetic contribution from the

English liberal left; but the reader must understand that these two writers seem disposed to welcome a peace with an unrevolutionized Germany, an idea to which, in common with most British people, I am bitterly opposed. Walsh’s “World Rebuilt” is a good exhortation, and Mugge’s “Parlia- ment of Man” is fresh and sane and able. The omnivorous reader will find good sense and quaint English in Judge Mejdell’s “Jus Gentium,” published in English by Olsen’s of Christiania. There is an active League of Nations Society in Dublin, as well as the London and Washington ones, pub- lishing pamphlets and conducting propaganda. All these books and pamphlets I have named happen to lie upon my study table as I write, but I have made no systematic effort to get together literature upon the subject, and probably there are just as many books as good of which I have never even heard."

The difference between the two

I would like to hear more about the difference between those institutions and their history.

Vinay, in his article seems to conflate them.

My idea is that the European Union (with the European Commission and the European Parliament) is the law making and executive branch of the EU, the ones who decide on monetary policy, make laws to promote the internal market, respond to international challenges and other matters.

The Council of Europe instead, although it has a complete organizational structure including its own (?) parliament, seems kind of isolated in this context. I do not even know its function, although I dealt fairly closely with a European legislative matter for almost a decade.

While the EU Commission’s seat (and the Parliament’s) is in Brussels, the Council has its seat in Strasbourg.

I’m interested to know more about the relation between the two (any jealousies?) and especially, what the function of the Council is in regards to running EU affairs.

google hangout

I’d be open to a google hangout to discuss this. I’m over the in states and both the council and the EU are things I don’t know too much about.

Big difference

The Council of Europe is not part of the EU architecture. It has 47 member states (the EU has 27), including many in Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Turkey…) and non-EU states in Western Europe (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland). The US, Canada and Japan have observer status in the CoE. The CoE is a much smaller organization than the European Commission (2K employees against 40K).

The CoE is the product of a diplomatic convention among European states concerning human rights and democracy. Its core business is to be the warden of several human rights charters: the most important one is the European Charter of Human Rights, but there are many others protecting certain categories of people (eg. children) or establishing standards over certain issues (eg. minority and regional languages). The CoE writes and updates these charters; gets the member states to sign new ones and new versions of existing ones; and it runs a tribunal, the European Court of Human Rights, that citizens of these states can appeal to if they feel their rights have been violated by a state. Quite likely Julian Assange will show up in Strasbourg at some point!

This activity feeds on research work. Edgeryders is part of it: exploring the universe of young people in Europe to better design regulation to protect their rights and increase their opportunities.

Yes, I am up for a hangout too!

Flying the blue-and-stars

I am not prone to making public political statements, but I will make an exception here: I fully agree with Vinay here, as well as with tombarfield. To me, Europe is home. My friends and family are scattered all over the place; I am Italian, studied in the UK, living in France, married to a Swede. European integration makes it possible for me to live my life where I choose, with the people I love.

Even more basically, there has not been a war here for 70 years. This might seem natural now, but in fact it is an historical achievement of European institutions. Our ancestors merrily butchered each others for countless generations, and now we live in peace. If this comes at the price of having regulation on the curvature of bananas, by all means regulate away. I’ll go one step further: even if the price to pay is the loss of some sovereignity on budgetary policy, I would still rate it a great bargain. National sovereignity is not an end in itself: people’s well being is. National sovereignity is just a means towards that end, and it has a pretty poor track record as compared to Europe.

Remember the 90s? You only had to walk any street of Lisbon, Dublin or Madrid to stumble into any number of construction sites proudly flying the blue-and-stars. The new Member States’ infrastructure was rebuilt from the ground up on European money. Expensive? Sure it was expensive. But it included entire countries into the European space, it expanded everybody’s markets and it created prosperity. You ask me, it’s money spent better than invading Iraq or Afghanistan (stunts that are not cheap either).

A final point: as tombarfield points out, Euro institutions are among the few entities in the world that can stand up to corporate power.  Arguably, if you are viewing this website with Firefox, you have the European Commission to thank: in a famous antitrust case against Microsoft the Commission forced the software giant to unbundle Windows from Windows Media Player and, later, Internet Explorer, which early bundling with the popular OS had turned into the all-dominant browser. Microsoft was also fined a whopping 1.4 billion euro for not complying with the Commission’s decision.

All this, yes, is a common space. It can and should get better. We’ll make it better. But penned back into our countries? I don’t think Europe’s young are going to accept it.

Our Europe

The Europe we’re getting is, in no small part, the Europe some visionaries set out to build, minus what the world at large is taking away in the shape of global troubles.

I don’t see that it started out as a grass-roots thing at all. But things change, and we might start taking this matter - among other matters - into our own hands.

If that’s the case, what’s the Europe we want?

I’ve just started exploring it under the twitter hashtag “#TheEuropeWeDeserve”. By all means, add your own thoughts, either through twitter or, better still, joining EdgeRyders. Here are some ideas:

The very first thought is, why this fixation with the common currency as an end state of evolution? Why can’t we have the euro, yes, and also a number of complementary currencies? Monopolistic currencies have proved insufficient for a number of reasons. Greece is suffering - if I understand it well - because they can’t devaluate, and yet they have to pay in euros, which is a currency that plays by external rules. I can’t find the source, but I came across a piece of news, just a few days ago, stating Greece could easily become 98% self-sufficient in food. Complementary currencies are fit for that purpose!

Second, what I’d love to see is great freedom to cooperate. We have some of that, but could we have more? I don’t know, cos all the cooperation I’ve done is across the internet, and that’s pretty friction-less, and I cooperate with people who are in Europe and in the USA. Could there be more? Are there difficulties in science, business, non-formal cooperation, which we might address somehow? Please add your input - this EdgeRyders place is full of opportunities for that.

On that line, I’d like to see lots of collaboration - not that we’re not seeing some, but it could be more. To me, that means agile translations, cooperative text writing, video, and a long and winding etc. Some links would be http://www.universalsubtitles.org http://www.earthpad.org and wikis. (Yes, I’d love a translated summary of Wikicracia, but given that I don’t have time to get into that, I won’t even mention it. Oops, I just did!)

One kind of wiki that I’d love to see is an extension of http://www.appropedia.org/Localpedia which is about creating “fact-based visions” for every locality. This could use a hand or ten with developing the software tools to make “localpedias” practicable. A draft of the concept is in http://www.appropedia.org/TheFWD_lucasgonzalez_No_island_is_an_island

Also, there’s the collaboration around “making things”. Fab Labs etc. And http://oseeurope.org/ and http://www.solarfire.org and … you name it, please!

Alberto Cottica suggests we should be investing in infrastructure, and not just ours but also that of our neighbors. That’s a great expansion of our horizons! And, personally, writing from the Canary Islands (a “border” place, so close to Africa), that really resonates. “Ask not what you can receive, but what you can give”, etc.

Save the hashtag

Lucas, Vinay and all: I propose we save the #theEuropewesederve hashtag for the Edgeryders final conference in mid-June!

Memes are commons. It’s ours (“wide-ours”, and if I were German I’d surely invent a word with that extended concept, but I don’t speak German, and sorry I disgress) to gather around, explore and take into different directions.

Energy for June? Sure!

Perhaps I have not made it clear enough. I do agree with Vinay 100%.

My observation was on the organizational aspect of the EU institutions. I am myself a European. Started out as a German, I have lived in Denmark and Italy, and have relatives and a place on the westernmost part of Europe, the (Portuguese) Azores islands, where I stay for some months every year.

I have also traveled quite a bit, in addition to having campaigned (unsuccessfully, I must admit) for freedom of individual choice in matters of supplementing our nutrition with concentrated nutrients like vitamins and minerals. The EU has passed restrictive legislation on supplements, as it has on herbs, and on natural medicines. It is that experience that makes me laugh at anyone who says that Europe can “stand up to industry”. Those pieces of legislation were pharmaceutical (industry) inspired. Objective: to eliminate competition.

I agree that there may be some circumstances where Europe can stand up to industry, but by and large, the EU is run by industry interests for industry interests. Word of someone who’s seen some of the inner workings.

But let’s not get off the actual theme here: Vinay is right that Europe should be listening to its citizens and that - at this time - it apparently isn’t.

Grass-roots European unity = recognising the reality of cultures

OK, my excellent comment that took an hour to draft just got lost. Let’s see if I can bring myself to distill and repeat the main points:

  1. Yes.

  2. There is a ‘deep’ cultural unity to Europe - usually missed as we are tone-deaf to all but the top-notes of mediated culture, so can see beneath it only the superficial differences in national character, behaviour, aesthetic etc. Or else recognition of ‘deep’ unity is confused with ‘anti-dhimmitude’-style pan-European nationalism of new far right.

  3. If this unity is to be realised, it will be the young who spearhead it, for whom shared online culture is already a reality (and stretches far beyond Europe); hybridise with transgenerational deep European culture FTW.

  4. EU institutions actively detracting from this process; corruption, waste, bureaucracy, diktat turn people against ‘Europe’ - blind them to how much they share in terms of interests, purpose, perspective.

  5. Best solution is to route around this morass of resentment and create organic channels of communication amongst European peoples themselves - many good initiatives already in play, but have only affected a fraction of population. Then build out to genuine pan-European political movements (cf. Pirate Party) to retake the machinery of EU for the people - indeed, organic grass-roots European unity is really the only thing that can save the EU as an institutional entity over the long term.

  6. A pan-European newspaper or newschannel would help [at this point, an amusing Robert Maxwell joke appeared in the text]. Paradoxically, building top-level unity requires recognition that it is legitimate to value, support, protect national identities and cultures.

  7. This conversation always reminds me of the mid-'90s Channel 4 series ‘Passengers’, which came closest I’ve seen to making good TV that took the existence of a global shared youth culture (with European emphasis) for granted, whilst celebrating and exploring national differences: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W7h2uz97wo

Impressed

Excellent points, steelweaver! I checked your profile but no info on you… you seem to be making an interesting journey yourself, perhaps you would care to share it too?

Edgeryders, in a sense, is a grassoots European space, or rather grassroot global with a European focus given the strong presence of Americans and Canadians. It feels pretty homely to me, so I guess we are bilding a small piece of this grassroots unity right here and now.

I respectfully disagree on your point 4. In my perception, EU institutions are putting pressure on national governments, not on European people. Academics in your country or mine might resent the Bologna process and they might be successful in getting the Education Minister to see things their way. But to you and me, Bologna means that our degrees are exportable, and we become more free.

Thanks for the kind words, Alberto.

Yes, the longer version of my comment did acknowledge Edgeryders as one example of a positive pathway for pan-European communication (alongside ERASMUS and Eurovision, if I recall :)). It also perhaps had a bit more nuance in saying that people’s perception or experience of the EU is putting them off the idea of Europe, even while some branches of the EU are doing really valuable things, e.g. protecting against corporate power & monopoly.

& I noticed the barrenness of my profile just yesterday after I commented. I will rectify when I get the chance!

Same page

We are on the same page here, steelweaver. Erasmus, Eurovision and Edgeryders - I like that!

Far from me putting forward any sort of conspiracy theory, but it is hard not to notice that, if you are a politician in an European country plagued by discontent, blaming Europe seems like the logical thing to do. It’s not our fault, it’s those guys in Brussels! So, a lot of people in our political class are actively trying to present to their public opinion European institutions as bullying people instead of putting pressure on national governments. Given the vastly larger exposure that national political élites - as compared to European institutions - have on national media, they are often successful.

Greeks support Europe

FYI, check out this Le Monde article (French, link will disappear inside the paywall). It turns out that, even now, 3 Greeks out of 4 “favour a European perspective” and do not wich to abandon the Eurozone. 82% of respondents blame the Greek political class for the present situations, against 6% blaming Europeans and the IMF.

What were we saying about Euro institutions pushing around governments and not people? :slight_smile: