Protesilaos Stavrou
Philosopher. Polymath.

No optimism for the European Union

A euro-optimist is someone who may have certain reservations about the course of the European integration process, who will not hesitate to criticise policies that run contrary to the greater good, but will ultimately accept the status quo in the hope that it will adjust at some future point. This is the kind of person who expects better things from the EU; who believes that a Europe-wide democracy is both possible and desirable for the moral progress of the continent.

Examined in abstract, euro-optimism looks like a sensible position. You do not take everything at face value, while still expressing your support for the potential benefits of “ever-closer union”. As such, you can dismiss everything that transpired during, say, the years of the economic crisis as a concatenation of otherwise momentary lapses in judgement. You can, in other words, claim that there are no path-dependencies to the formation and the making of policy, and that the large corpus of legislation that was passed and the political precedent framing it are but transient phenomena.

But what if the policies of the present are in large part determined by those of the past? What if decisions are not made in a legal-institutional vacuum? What if the state of affairs features a certain distribution of power that informs any course of action? I am not arguing for strong (i.e. “naive”) determinism in matters of statecraft. I am, however, pointing at the excessive good will one must show to truly remain a euro-optimist.

Too much optimism of this sort can make one an apologist of the establishment. You will have to go to great lengths to defend the EU, with your argument essentially being reducible to an empty promise: “we just need to change things later”. At which point the very term “optimist” is a misnomer, for it conceals the underlying ideology of Europeanism that takes precedence over every other issue.

Gigantism writ large

From the perspective of local communities, the EU is an amplifier of all that is bad with the nation-state: it accelerates the concentration of authority to the political centre, depriving communities of their capacity to govern their commons.

The one potentially redeeming feature of the nation-state, albeit a minor one in the grand scheme of things, is the affinity we likely have with those in power. We share the same cultural background. We are “close enough” to believe that we just might be able to have a say in matters of state. Both history and immediate experience suggest that this is wishful thinking for the most part: the power elite serves its own interests. Still, there is an argument to be made that under certain circumstances national unity can underpin a more fair form of governance.

The EU removes even that glimmer of hope. Now our rulers are people that we have very little in common with. Forget about the nihilism that “we are all Europeans” or “we are just humans”. Why should the Protestant dogmas about daily conduct be imposed on us in the form of technocratic edict? Why should we all align our lives with the aspirations of industrialists and bankers in Western Europe?

The EU is a union of power elites from the nation-states who band together against local communities throughout those countries. The gigantism that was once confined to the borders of the nation-state is now aggrandised on a continental scale. And as with yester years, its beneficiaries will be the oligarchy:

  1. technocrats operating the state apparatus;
  2. conniving entrepreneurs who stay close to the locus of power in order to hinder the free market;
  3. their facilitators, such as political parties, esteemed universities, trade unions controlled by political parties, and the like.

To this end, capitalism in Europe will quickly expand its reach to create the familiar two-tier economic order that corresponds to the security-precarity binary:

  • platformarchs (platform owners) who control the means of entry in the given industry, such as intellectual property rights, patents, state-sponsored protection from competition;
  • platformzens (platform dwellers) who can only operate their business on top of the platform that is maintained by the above group.

The former group operates in a symbiotic relationship with the state apparatus, while the latter is effectively excluded from having a meaningful impact on policy.

Against this backdrop, the platformarchs need only maintain the established order by sponsoring politicians that will keep power structures in tact. Which in turn reduces elections to a contest between the assignees of plutocrats. Those with an independent voice will be cast aside, given limited “air time”, remain underfunded, etc.

But hey, there are elections underway, ergo “we have democracy”…

To this end, the only difference between a nation-statist and a Europeanist is the geographic scope of their incessant drive to concentrate power at the centre.

The Westernisation of the EU

The eurocrisis will go down in history as a turning point. It catalysed the irresistible shift of power to Germany, France and their closest allies—to what would qualify as Kerneuropa (core Europe). Throughout the crisis, the Franco-German tandem managed to impose its policies on the rest of Europe in the form of:

  • crushing austerity,
  • large bailouts for the mainly French and German banks,
  • the economic governance of the Economic and Monetary Union.

I must stress the importance of “catalysed”: the eurocrisis greatly contributed to a series of factors that were already in play and which could be traced back to at least the Treaty of Maastricht and the subsequent introduction of the Euro.

In the years since the start of the crisis, it is clear that every major initiative will have to be tailored to the ambitions of the Franco-German elite, such as with the possibility of a Europe-wide military-industrial complex and a European army.

Couched in those terms, the distinction between the “core” and the “periphery” becomes more pronounced. The latter group can only add meaning to its contribution by facilitating the core’s stratagems. The periphery might coordinate its efforts in a desperate attempt to block every initiative, without however being in a position to impose its alternative. Put differently, the periphery has become irrelevant in the grand scheme of EU integration. They are still useful as Lebensraum though: debt colonies and markets to export the goods produced by the massive corporation that reside in the core countries. This in turn exacerbates “brain drain” (young, educated people forced to migrate) from the periphery to the core.

The very design of the EU produces a vicious cycle against countries that are far from the locus of power. In the past, the Franco-Germans used to be a bit more coy about their true intentions. The signs were still there, but only analysts would care to trace them. Now everything is clear as day. The nominations for the EU top jobs speak for themselves:

  • A German aristocrat at the head of the European Commission (Ursula von der Leyen).
  • The French darling of the financial establishment as the chief of the European Central Bank (Christine Lagarde).

What connection do such people have to the average European? You are telling me that a feudal lord will give us “European democracy”? Or that the banksters’ flunky will care about our precarity? They are there to put flesh to the bones of European gigantism.

“European democracy” is a false goal

The euro-optimist will continue to believe that the “United States of Europe” is getting closer and with it the ideal of a European democracy. If only that were the case: just look at the quality of “democratic” rule in the US—a detached technocracy in the service of vested interests and an omnipotent state apparatus that exists in symbiotic relationship with platformarchs.

There can be no European democracy just as there exists no centralist-and-centralising rule from the bottom. A hierarchical structure is always ruled from the top. This has been the case from antiquity. That is its very design.

There is an inherent trade-off between representation and scale. The bigger the institutional order, the less representative it is. This is due to the very logistics of power management within the structure and the need to preserve the hierarchy’s integrity, which ultimately manifests as the centralisation of power.

This is gigantism in a nutshell: the propensity of a hierarchy to expand its reach and proliferate. The EU validates this rule by always trying to bring more competences at the supranational level.

The phenomenon is not limited to politics though. It is, for instance, a defining feature of the corporate world. Do you think the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft are organised bottom-up? How about the car industry or the food industry, or big pharmaceuticals, or the banking sector—is not their structure, their mode of conduct, their telos, a gigantist one?

And this speaks at another widespread delusion of our era: that democracy exists because the letter of the law states as much or merely due to the shadow play of elections at regular intervals. How naive! Meanwhile, quotidian intersubjective experience unfolds within the confines of top-down absolutism at the workplace.

The EU is a lost cause

I am writing this as someone who used to believe that Europe could indeed strive for something better. I was an optimist myself. But a disposition towards the future can only go so far. There needs to be a reality check, at which point insistence on euro-optimism cannot be maintained rationally.

The EU is the vehicle of gigantism in this part of the world. It is the natural enemy of local communities, of people in their daily lives. Everything that comes out of Brussels, or Strasbourg, or Frankfurt, or the capitals of the Franco-German tandem is another measure against us.

Consider this a warning: not everything Europe does and will do is going to be purely bad. That is not how modern statecraft works. There will always be just enough “probably good” elements to cultivate in people a sense of hope for greater things to come.

They will continue to peddle the “European values” while distracting us from the fact that the EU is not in the service of its people. Ursula von der Leyen and Christine Lagarde will be presented to the general public with an opportunistic gender narrative of “women in power”. They will not be named for what they truly are: elites exercising authority in the service of the oligarchy.

Localism and communitarianism

Democracy is about community sovereignty. People in their locality who express their collective agency by deciding on the things they have in common. And democracy presupposes actualised equality:

  • we have all secured the means of sustenance,
  • we can voice our opinion at the assembly (ecclesia, apella) directly or through a close member of our family/group,
  • we have abolished the control of human by human,
  • no member has a permanent position of authority,
  • no member concentrates all wealth and corresponding power in their hands.

The product of modernity known as “representative democracy” is, in fact, oligarchy whose gigantism was initially confined to the structure of the nation-state.

The EU is compounding the problems of gigantism at the national level by introducing cross-border hegemony. It ushers in the era of gigantism on a continental scale. There is no going back for this organisation. The European integration process will continue to reinforce the core at the expense of the periphery, the elites at the expense of the rest of us.

Those who believe in democracy, those who understand that liberty can only be experienced through the collective, must realise that they face a choice of remaining true to their ideals or becoming hopeless romantics who insist on euro-optimism.

The EU is our enemy.