Europe’s crisis of trust


A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon an article on “Cameron’s Munich” comparing the alliance between the English and the Czechs at the last European Council with the situation of Munich in 1938. This is just another example how ‘war rhetoric’ has returned into the public debate. I always thought that European integration was always about reconciliation, education, youth exchanges – and peace. Suddenly, this all seems to be forgotten as Nazi-rhetoric, Reich-allusions and war analogies are back in the mainstream media. “Toute est langage”, everything is language; Francoise Dolto’s famous concept applies once more to Europe these days. The best piece in this context - and on how careful we should be with our language came last week from Joschka Fischer in the German Daily SZ, where he argued that perceptions matter and that especially Germany should take into account how it is being perceived by the rest of Europe.

The question we need to ask ourselves is simple: How does the EU want to build a deeper fiscal and political union without trust between its members? Language is - in many ways - the basis of trust. But - if the language we use gets darker and more hostile, trust between people erodes – until it finally disappears.

Do we trust Greece to solve its problems? Do we trust the Italians to play along? Do we trust the Poles will do what it takes to join the euro - after the envisaged entry date was ditched? Do we trust, that the UK will not torpedo (more than usual, one should say) the new treaty? Do we trust the Germans to eventually push for Eurobonds? Do we still trust European institutions to deal with the crisis? And above all:  How do we restore trust among the younger generation to support the European project? It seems that we lost trust in Europe, but trust is crucial for developing good policies. The best fiscal compact, the most automatic sanction cannot replace trust.

Peace cannot adequately be captured as ‘the absence of war’. In today’s Europe, peace should be defined as the absence of mistrust, because without trust you cannot engage in truly common policies. Yet, if we use this new concept of peace, I would argue that Europe is increasingly in a state of war.

Europe needs ‘confidence-building measures’

We desperately need ‘confidence-building measures’ between the European centre and the periphery. And for those who consider the EU to be a potential empire, it is clear that the centre always has to support the periphery for the sake of survival. The alternative is the break-up of the empire. During the Cold War in Germany a similar mechanism was known as the “Zonenrandausgleich”.

In 1998 Martin Feldstein argued that the euro will lead to war in Europe - and I was shaking my head about another American who wouldn’t get the unique European story. However, the erosion of trust is palatable all across the EU as every country seeks to keep a national asset in its pocket, just in case something goes wrong. From energy supply to security, from trade to taxes, or from interest rates to immigration – competition and opt-outs increasingly win over cooperation in Europe. Just to clarify the argument: competition is a good thing. However, when it undermines collective leverage to the outside world, it becomes silly.

Unfortunately this kind of rhetoric is also part of the intellectual discourse these days. During the last months I came across several public intellectuals who used war references to analyse the current crisis. For example Thierry de Montrial (at the “Les Etats de la France” conference in Paris) or Rainer Wieland (Vice-President of the EP at a woman’s’ networking conference in Berlin); both argued that it would be too easy to say that Europe cannot go back to war. They went on and both explained that it obviously wouldn’t be a traditional war, but instead... However, the “but” was not really spelled out which has left a very bad taste indeed. Well, toute est langage, once again. Let’s stop talking about war in Europe! Instead, we need to go back to a debate that focuses on common challenges and common solutions.


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