Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Habermas and the EU

Nanne highlights a piece by the man who must surely now be Europe’s last great public intellectual, Jurgen Habermas (let’s face it, most of the rest are dead now… Not that Habermas wouldn’t deserve a place in the top five or ten of the last 40 years anyway, but still – where’s the next generation, eh?).

Thankfully it’s in English – and Habermas is always worth a read when he’s being topical, because he’s got an uncanny knack for spotting trends and problems that others miss, as well as being able to say things bluntly that would label lesser-known figures as raving eurosceptics. He is, however, more often than not spot-on, as this piece written back in 2001 (amply predicting all the problems the EU has faced in the years following the Treaty of Nice) and this from last year (on the challenges for the EU at 50) both amply demonstrate.

At any rate, Habermas is at once scathing and constructive in his criticism:

After the failure of the proposed European constitution in 2005, the Lisbon Treaty represented a bureaucratically negotiated compromise to be pushed through behind the backs of the citizenry. With this most recent tour de force, European governments have callously demonstrated that they alone are shaping Europe’s future…

The failed referendums are a signal that the elitist mode of European unification is, thanks to its own success, reaching its limits. These limits can only be surmounted if the pro-European elites stop excusing themselves from the principle of representation and shed their fears of contact with the electorate…

Naturally, the fundamental conflict over direction derives its explosive force from deeper-seated, historically-rooted differences. There are not grounds for criticism of any particular country. But in the wake of the Irish signal, we should expect two things from our governments. They must admit that they are at their wits’ end. And they cannot continue to suppress their crippling dissent. In the end, they are left with no choice but to allow the peoples to decide for themselves…

With luck and commitment, a two-speed Europe could emerge from such a vote

All quite familiar stuff, perhaps (much of his suggestions covered here over the last few years) – but it’s not what’s said so much as who’s saying it. Habermas may not always be right (indeed, he’s long been a vehement supporter of a common European foreign policy, something I still reckon to be unworkable for the forseeable future), but he is consistent and, most importantly, considered.

Who, after all, are mere gadfly politicians – in office for but a few years and rarely the sharpest tools in the box – to ignore the advice of one of the foremost political theorists of the late 20th century, one who has been studying this very problem for decades? With his specialism the study of communication, pragmatic compromise and understanding – precisely the things the EU is supposed to promote between nations – Habermas should be one of the first ports of call for ideas on how to proceed… After all, what is the EU if not an attempt to spread universal pragmatics across an entire continent?

But such is the nature of these things. Increasingly politicians get into office unarmed with a knowledge of history and philosophy that was once thought vital for offices of state. Little wonder we’re in such trouble…

(On which note, perhaps it’s time for me to start that series of posts on little-known and forgotten aspects, incidents and people of European history that I’ve been meaning to do for a while now?)