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European Union turns 60. Where are you going, Europe?

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Brexit, migration and the yet another rise of populism pose questions.

The European Union celebrated its 60th anniversary on March 25. It was celebrated by the presidents and heads of state in Rome, where the famous Treaty that gave rise to the later development of the European Union (up to the present day) was signed. Top European leaders were welcomed by Pope Francis on March 24, and he shared with them concerns he had already addressed, also in Rome, when he received the Charlemagne Prize last year.

At such times, we always make an evaluation of the historical route and possible future proposals. It is evident that, nowadays, Europe stands in a historical crossroad affecting its core identity. The European Union has been struck by Brexit and seriously wounded by nationalisms and populisms (both from the right and the left) that seek to tear Europe apart in order to (so they claim) “recover their sovereignty.” This implies a thorough rejection of both the euro –- as a common currency but also as a common territory — and immigrants, who are considered the main “cause” of jihadist terrorism, as populist and xenophobic parties often preach in their electoral campaigns.

Populists, in a nutshell, are trying to recover the alleged splendor of their respective countries in the 19th century, rewinding history with no guarantee of success in a radically different, globalized world economy. The French elections are imminent, with the possibility of a “Frexit” in the horizon. German elections are scheduled for September. In any case, the very idea of a European Union has lost support both from citizens and political parties. That’s mainly the reason why, on the occasion of the EU’s 60th anniversary, we must ask ourselves: Europe, where are you going?

The EU was built on the ashes of World War II, under the threat of Communism and the Cold War, and the protection of the United States military power through the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. Today, although there is no longer a communist power in Europe, the continent is still shaken by the same old two giants: the US and Russia, under the presidencies of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin respectively. Some voices are already predicting the end of the European Union, while others think the current situation is a great opportunity for the continent both to strengthen its political, economic and social bonds and to repair the errors committed with the introduction of the euro and the management of economic crisis — which has left most young people out in the open, so to speak, and impoverished big sectors of the middle classes.

The future of the European Union, in short, demands from national governments the building of a conjoined sovereignty that allows for economical alliances and a common foreign policy. But it also requires the overly technocratic European institutions to assume more democratically inspired practices as their own, in order to allow its “government” –- that is, the Commission, now presided over by the Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker — to be elected by the people of the continent. This would also allow the European Parliament to assume more functions, and be more effective in its control of the executive.

The history of the European Union has, undeniably, been one of success, bringing peace and well-being to its citizens, through the implementation of a general policy of permanent consensus between the two predominant forces in the different countries: Christian Democracy (that is, Popular Parties) and Social Democracy. The latter is currently going through a crisis (as in other regions of the globe, specifically South America, for instance), but it has been a fundamental piece in the construction of Europe. Let us not forget that what we now know as the European Union was initially forged by the leaders who brought Europe out of the post-war crisis: Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Alcide de Gasperi, Paul-Henri Spaak and also, to some extent, Winston Churchill himself.

Articles and books on both past and future Europes are selling like hotcakes. A well-documented example is the work of the economist and humanist Víctor Pou, a university professor who held senior posts in the European Union, entitled Towards the deconstruction of the European Union? He’s an advocate for the overcoming of national egoisms (hence, of populism), the yielding of national sovereignty and the creation of a common global policy that might allow for a federation of states.

France, Pou says, should be less “nationalistic” and give the Union more sovereignty, just as Germany did with the euro. Germany should abandon its historical complexes and assume the European leadership, alongside France. Let us not forget both the  European Union and NATO were created mainly to solve the existing problems between France and Germany, countries that carried out almost permanent wars on the old continent.

When awarded the Charlemagne Prize in May 2016, Pope Francis said he dreamed “of a young, creative, non-stagnant aged Europe,” concerned about rights but also with the duties of all citizens (and not only with economy). He also criticized the Europe that has “entrenched itself, instead of promoting human core values.”

British historian and publicist Timothy Garton Ash has said, paraphrasing Churchill, that the Europe in which we live now “is the worst possible Europe,” except for all previous Europes rehearsed in the past.

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