Democracy as a contemporary political system in post-communist states raises the notion of how to build a bridge between the still seemingly different East and West of Europe. The concept puzzles many to this day. With the EU enlargement of 2004 & 2007, one may argue that the swift integration of the former communist states was a geostrategic push that had to be made despite the readiness of those states to have been questionable.
Above all else, a point has to be made in terms of the political significance behind the last two EU enlargement phases. The act symbolizes the triumph of an undivided Europe eliminating the divisions by “East” and “West” or “Post-communist” and “Western-democratic”.
Despite successful integration, the triumph is not absolute. Many issues raise concern, with alarmists rallying against multiculturalism, Muslim immigration, and economic policy. In a seemingly globalist world with rising powers such as China, India, Iran, Russia, and Turkey, European integration despite all of its complications is the only answer the “old continent” has. The American led west needs a united and strong Europe. This cross-Atlantic relationship is the only driving force keeping democracy and freedom of choice possible for individuals in the world. A weakened Europe torn by internal division would turn western hegemony into a struggling viability.
As is the case in both the US and the EU, every political move or idea is subjected to debate and held up against public opinion. In the name of political stability, those with political wisdom try to mold the project of Europe into something more relatable to the masses. The European Union is an idea that has yet to become a feeling among Europeans. A pillar of such a feeling may find ground within the European Identity with its common set of values.
Its revival in the eyes of the common man is a process of enlightenment mainly constructed through EU institutionalism. With Europe’s rich history and ethnically diverse demographics, “Europeanization” is also a naturally occurring cultural phenomenon and is such a matter worthy of an analysis separate from its relation to government. As a concept, it is not new and has deep historical routes in all modern European nations making it a possible political path to the nation-building of a truly united Europe.
The driving force behind the unification of Europe is a shift in political dynamics with EU policy becoming a factor in state-level decision making. Public policies regulating macroeconomics, trade, border security, foreign policy, and law & order until recently were areas in which national governments traditionally have had absolute control. That is changing with the growing outreach of the EU in its members.
The evolution of the EU
Rome was not built in one day and such is the case of the EU. The main story of European integration may be found from the years of the Treaty of Rome (1957) to the Treaty of Maastricht (1993). In that period supranational and intergovernmental political theory battled against each other struggling to take control of the set political course of what a united Europe should look like. Supranationalism is a policy-making power structure that goes beyond the boundaries of states. In the opposite isle of the decision-making system is Intergovernmentalism. It is a more deeply interconnected operating structure that is developed and enforced solely by the unanimous vote of individual governments. The identity of Europe is almost always debated through the scope of both political constructs. The reason being is that Europe has seemingly set off to a supranational course in terms of its political future but in today’s context, it remains subdued to intergovernmental decision making.
The supranational face of Europe is represented by the elected power of the European Parliament, the European Commission, the common European passport, the Single Market, the Euro currency, and the legally bound common foreign policy. The intergovernmental side of the European Union is most prominently represented by the EU members heads of state which account for the Council of the European Union. Often the European Parliament and the Council of the EU resemble division between the two political approaches toward the unification path of the European project.
There are evidently infinite political complications deriving from those seeking to take control of the national government and those who are governed. The battleground of nationalist sentiments is within the cultural and ethnic domains. Populist politicians in Europe often use nationalism as a pivot to exploit social frustration on cultural issues. This often collides with European idealistic schemes. The only proven method of nationalist exploitation of bigotry remains functionalism.
The functionalist approach as a silent killer of nationalism
Succesful European integration should be paved through functionally, tangible goals and programs and not on idealistic schemes that are attacked by nationalist rhetoric. This is the spirit that European solidarity was started on and should continue to be built through concrete economic achievements. Economic issues are more manageable to integration because states find common ground. Successful economic policy has no room for irrational political idealism, thus closing the domain for nationalism to enter.
The technical elements of economic integration are less subdued to nationalistic pressure. That is why the “Schuman Plan” for Franco-German integration was built first on coal and steel rather than on war and peace. Once nation-states and their leaders find themselves bound by common economic interests, infringements are less of an occurrence. The dissolution of economic policies that are to their own advantage is held up by the electorate, making national governments less likely to instigate harmful nationalist rhetoric or protectionist economic policy.
The functionalist method of conducting policy is spreading to all sectors of interstate relations thanks to the European Commission. The greatest political achievement of the commission will be a transformed European community with member states no longer dealing with each other on bilateral national biases. If this is accomplished Europe will become a strongly interconnected federation with a leading position in global affairs.
Millennial generation politics
The impact of generational change in the general workforce and those in government comes to a change of values. The upcoming generation is a product of globalism and technological advancement. It has its eyes set more on economic wellbeing and prosperity than any generation before it. Polls suggest that the European youth is set on the idea of a united Europe with its “four freedoms” a binding principles:
- Free movement of goods;
- Free movement of capital;
- Freedom to establish and provide services;
- Free movement of persons.
With the growing supranational influence of the European Union, political and economic decentralization is silencing the echoes of the different historical experiences of the European peoples. As a result of that, the EU has been a unifying bridge between the political, socio-economic, and historical differences among Europeans which politicians often try to exploit for political gain in national governments. There has not been such a long period of peace, sustainability, and exponential economic growth in Europe. The individual freedom the modern European enjoys today is a direct end result of the union and European integration. The future generation of Europe looks ambitiously set on defending human rights and the dignity that comes with them. Behind the common values of liberty, democracy, and individual freedom, Europe is an idea that has yet to become a feeling among the peoples of Europe.
By Zlatin Kurshumov
ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: Foreign Times
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