European utopianism

POSTED: 05/19/14 9:59 PM

The European elections are almost here. On Thursday, the electorate in the Kingdom will cast its vote – at least, those voters who are interested in doing so. In Sint Maarten less than one percent of the eligible voters during the 2010 elections, has registered for these elections.

Is Europe an issue here? Not at all. But still, Europe does affect us, if only because Sint Maarten benefits from the EDF, the European Development Fund. This week Prime Minister Wescot-Williams was in Montserrat for talks in the Caribbean Council of Overseas Countries and Territories. On the table was a discussion about a $62 million EDF-bonanza earmarked for the support of small and medium enterprises. How much of this money will come to the island is unknown at this moment, but one could say now that when it rains in Brussels, some drops will hit our country. That makes the disinterest in the elections – though understandable where the average local voter is concerned – slightly incomprehensible on the political level. Only the prime minister and the president of parliament have made efforts to encourage people to vote. Six ministers and fourteen members of parliament apparently had more important things on their mind.

Let’s switch to Meindert Fennema, the Volkskrant columnist who usually calls a spade a spade. Yesterday he shed some light on the rampant Euro-criticism in the Netherlands. PVV-leader Geert Wilders is the most vocal politician about this issue. This is Fennema’s take on the situation.

“Opponents of the European unification want to return to the utopia of the national state as it existed in the 19th century. Bad idea. In practice utopianism leads to war and mass murder.

The French count Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon came up with the idea of a European Parliament two-hundred years ago. In 1814, on the eve of the Congress of Vienna, he published a brochure in which he described the contours of a European administration. His proposal for a European Parliament – that in his vision had to consist of a Lower and a Higher Chamber – was modeled after British constitutional law. The European Parliament had a legislative task, a European king the executive task. In 1966 Provo Rob Stolk proposed to make Queen Beatrix Empress of Europe. That was not a new, but a very old idea.

According to Saint-Simon the European Parliament had to be elected by well to do citizens. For every one million Europeans a merchant, a scientist, a magistrate, an entrepreneur and a banker had to be appointed. The European Parliament ought to have the authority to levy taxes for the financing of large infrastructural projects. Saint-Simon dreamt about a canal that would link the Donau with the Rhine, a European rail infrastructure, and the transformation of European ports that would make them fit to accommodate trans-Atlantic shipping. Saint-Simon also had a plan for a canal between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Karl Marx called Saint-Simon mockingly a utopian socialist but with hindsight, his plans for Europe were a lot less utopian than Marx’s idea about a classless society and that of the 19th century liberals about a system of democratic nation-states that would keep up free trade without transnational authority.

The 18th century liberalism and the 19th century Marxism were utopias that have inspired millions, but that both showed little sense of reality. In the end, the Congress of Vienna resulted in two European wars (1870-1871 and 1914-1918) that took millions of victims. The third European war (1940-1945) became a world war with even more victims.

Currently we have a European Parliament and a European Commission. The European king became a president, Van Rompuy, who has as much power over Europe as Willem-Alexander has over the Netherlands. The European Commission had a Council of Europe next to it – the cabinet of the EU – that consists of the prime ministers of the member states. Saint-Simon would have been satisfied.

From the beginning, the European Community was a technocratic project, something that is completely in line with the ideas of Saint-Simon. The technocratic element in the European Union is based on the thought that an economic community would become a political community all by itself, and that one could create a monetary union that would automatically result in a political union.

The establishment of a political community is however always a dramatic moment, even though historians dramatize this  often only at a much later moment. The placard of Verlatinghe (1851, the first initiative for the establishment of a separate state), the Declaration of Independence, the Tennis Court Oath (1789, a pivotal moment in the French Revolution), they are the founding moments of what later was to become a nation. At the moment itself, people were not always aware of this. The process of political unification is most of the time not revolutionary but evolutionary.

Tom Eijsbouts shows in a solid article in the Volkskrant of May 13 that the European banking-union is almost completely the work of the European Parliament and the European Commission. He claims that a strict supervision on the banking sector – a large majority of Europeans supports this – would have been impossible to bring about on the national level. It is just one example of the increasing power of the European Parliament and the European Commission; it is also an expression of the formation of a European political community.

The formation of a new political community triggers resistance. That was the case in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, it happened in the United States and in France, where the Vendée-revolt was inspired by resistance against political centralization. In the United States the resistance resulted in the American Civil War.

Opponents of European unification, like the historian Thierry Baudet, suggest that we could return to the utopia of the national state as it existed in 19th century Europe. Indeed there was in the 19th century a system of sovereign states in Europe but that was based on the balance of power between France and Germany – kept in balance by the perfidious Albion. There was almost no free trade and the European balance of power regularly lost its balance. A manifold of European sovereign states in Europe who keep up together a free trade zone is a utopia. Everyone who wants to go back to such a European congress of sovereign states is an utopist. Utopianism is nice but not when it is put into practice. Then it leads to war and mass murder.”

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