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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


Europe is not Europe is not Europe

Anton Pelinka

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1The European Union has an ethical quality and requires an ethical quality. The Union is built upon the basic principles of democracy— on political pluralism, on basic rights, on the rule of law. This dimension is manifested in the Union’s primary function: The Union must protect the peace—first and foremost the peace within the Union itself. Democracy and peace—this is the mission of the European unification process.

2To reach this goal, the Union uses a specific mechanism, which is not an end in itself, but a means of fulfilling ends. This mechanism is the construction of economic unity. The best guarantee of the success of the peace mission is for every single European country to be guided by self-interest in the economic success of all of the other countries.

3Economic integration is an instrument that makes political integration necessary. The single market and the monetary union virtually forced the EU to deepen its political system by creating a genuine European democracy. This is the goal that should, and can be, reached by the merger of national economic interests—by creating a democratic as well as a peaceful Union, a factor of stability not only for Europe, but at least indirectly for the world at large.

4The EU’s democracy is a “work in progress.” The Union is characterized by a democracy “sui generis,” which is not finalized. Defined by both of the two logics that have driven the EU’s development in the past—by the process of widening (enlargement) and the process of deepening (federalization)—the Union has moved far away from its starting point without having made the integration’s final stage visible. European democracy does exist—but nevertheless it is still developing.

5Yet where is the spiritual, the cultural dimension of this democracy, of this unfinished political system called the European Union? All that has been said—and that is especially linked to the values of Enlightenment and bourgeois revolution, cannot be exclusively claimed by the EU, and is not specifically in Europe’s possession. Enlightenment and bourgeois revolution are, of course—historically—European (and American) phenomena, but these values have definitely moved beyond the limits of Europe. What can be rightfully called the Union’s (and Europe’s) intellectual and moral quality has been for quite some time part of a globalized, universal standard.

6Human rights are neither a European prerogative nor an obligation only Europe is bound to fulfil. Liberal democracy exists in India and Japan, in New Zealand as well as Chile—nations that, not even from the most utopian perspectives, can be seen as candidates for EU membership.

7Europe’s spiritual and cultural dimension is universality: the global values built into historically European values are universally required and have already been, to a large extent, universally implemented. Samuel Huntington’s “third wave of democratization” contains an especially trans-European perspective, and Francis Fukuyama’s final victory of democracy—declared as the “end of history”—is focused on the self-evidence of democracy’s global success.

8The substance of European Enlightenment and of human rights, as declared in America and in Europe in the 18th century, is their universal adaptability, their claim to universality. That “all men are created free and equal” has something to do with European civilization and with the secularization established in Europe and America—but in the meantime those values have become a universal good.

9What makes Europe distinct is that it is the cradle of moral universalism, of ethic globalization. Exactly for that reason, it cannot suffice to built Europe’s identity on such universally accepted values. By stressing these values, the EU cannot be distinguishable from the U.S., from India, or from Japan. Identity presupposes difference.

10Nor can Europe’s identity be found without a geographic or a historic dimension. Without these dimensions, the vision of “global governance”—that in no way contradicts the existence of an enlarged and deepened EU—cannot be distinguished from the vision (and reality) of “European governance.” Without realizing the meaning of geography, why Australia does not have, but Turkey does, the status of a candidate for EU-membership cannot be explained and understood. Without history and geography, we cannot understand (and make understood) that we do not know—yet—exactly where Europe’s borders are; but we nonetheless insist that those borders do exist.

11The values Europe are and must be based upon are—undoubtedly— part of Europe’s heritage. But they are no longer exclusively European property. The world has learned from Europe—and for that reason the difference between Europe and the world cannot be deduced from those values.

12The world can also learn from Europe in the future—but Europe can also learn from the world. Many aspects that had a significant impact on the European Convention and the EU’s Constitution can be traced to U.S. constitutional history. Many challenges the EU must face, especially in the future—a Union with much more diversity and much less homogeneity than the Community at the times of the Treaties of Rome—can be studied in India: how India deals with diversity; the explosiveness of linguistic, ethnic and especially religious fragmentation.

13The quality of European democracy can be proved by the EU’s success in diminishing national sovereignty. The history of the Union is particularly a success story because France has ceased to be just France—and Germany is not just Germany any longer. National borders have disappeared and some of the political power has been moved from the national to the European level. The “defining other” of Europe’s identity is the traditional nation-state; it is European nationalism.

14It no longer makes sense to look for Europe’s spiritual and cultural dimension by stressing differences vis-à-vis the U.S. or Islam. Such efforts neglect many aspects of reality—i.e. that Kemal Pasha Atatürk’s Turkey already put itself into the European tradition 80 years go; that the U.S. made an essential, even decisive, contribution to the development and the safeguarding of democracy and human rights in Europe.

15The antithesis to Europe as it developed after two world wars, after the holocaust, and after the experience with the totalitarian systems of the 20th century is not another world region, not another civilization, not another continent. The antithesis to this—to our— Europe is yesterday’s Europe. The spiritual and cultural dimension of Europe can be, and will be, measured by today’s Europe’s ability to overcome yesterday’s Europe. The present and the future Europe must be different from its past. Only then it will have a specific, a distinguishable, spiritual and cultural dimension.


Anton Pelinka is Professor of Political Science at the University of Innsbruck. Member of IWM’s Academic Advisory Board. Author of Democracy Indian Style: Subhas Chandra Bose and the Creation of India’s Political Culture, 2003; The Haider Phenomenon (with Ruth Wodak), 2002, both New Brunswick, NJ.

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