No matter where you are in Europe, Greece is the dominating topic in the news. The scary word 'Grexit' seems to materialise from day to day, and for many it is the beginning of the end for the European Union. Today we would like to present a different point of view, a view from a country which plays an important role in the drama around Greece. David Schrock is a political activist and writer from Germany, in his article for our partner-magazine Treffpunkteuropa he explains why letting some countries leave the Union won’t hurt its unity.
Originally published at http://www.treffpunkteuropa.de/warum-uns-der-grexit-nicht-schrecken-sollte on 26.06.2015
Author: David Schrock
Example: the United States of America
The Americans are a little ahead of us, in something us, Germans, are not even sure yet, we want in the first place – a nation.
They are ahead not only in the end result but also in the organisational form, which is the only option in order to unite what was before considered “ununitable” – diverse states with their diverse histories, different ethnicities, cultures, and even languages. The USA has agreed 240 years ago that it makes sense to overcome their differences for the sake of common good. It was followed by the 100 years of the “finding phase”, when it was not clear whether the construction of the “United States of America” would really endure. Numerous wars were held in order to expand this construction, prosperity was based, particularly in the South (but not only there), on the shoulders of enslaved African work force, and finally those Southern States even decided to risk a civil war for the sake of their “way of life” (an euphemism for slavery), in order not to be dictated any rules by the President of Congress from Washington, which was regarded as a yoke.
The consequences are well-known: the Northern States didn’t agree with the “exit of the Southern States” and this all resulted in one of the biggest bloodsheds in the American history. Today the USA is a federal state. 50 single states still have extensive autonomous rights in order to determine their path on their own. One has to understand the genesis of the USA to comprehend how is it possible that an American President is accused of being a communist when he is following, from a European perspective, the noble goal of providing every American with health insurance.
Us Europeans have probably more in common with the American history in 2015 than we would like to think. The European Union was not created as a defence measure against an invader - like the USA in 1776 to resist England, but we went through a war as well, which led us to the idea that a federal unit could be better than divided national states. For us, Europeans, it was and it is difficult to find something in common, while the dividing, the national is still persistent in people’s minds, and the supposedly glorious past makes us cry over the bitter present and the expected decline of the future. Nowadays some are even contesting the benefits of free trade in Europe, while it was exactly this the starting point for a united Europe.
Meanwhile, free trade was joined by open borders, liberty and a free choice of workers. We can also elect a joint Parliament, we share the common democratic values, rule of law and human dignity and have had for 13 years a common currency.
Back to the Europe of single states?
However, it is hard to get rid of the feeling that the European project is on its way to failure. The Euro is rather being tolerated than accepted, a “national feeling” for the European Union is still being searched for in vain and many people have started wondering how the idea of an European Union came to define us in this way and whether it was better back when the European national states could make decisions on their own.
Nevertheless I like to believe that the majority of Europeans don’t have this attitude. Many people (at least in border regions) are glad that they can visit neighbours without any border control, that they don’t have to pay customs charges for European goods and that on holiday it is so convenient to use the common currency. No one makes jokes about Poles anymore, we rather look astonished at our Eastern European neighbours who managed to benefit so incredibly from the free trade, and at the bottom of their hearts many Germans acknowledged the duty to help the Italians to deal with the refugee crisis.
But what no one is willing to accept is some countries benefiting at the expense of another. The European Union remains a fragile construction with a weak confidence, whereby member states still casts a suspicious glance on each other. And if someone doesn’t stick to the rules which were established through hard work, a suspicious glance will fast turn into a flash of anger, and this is exactly where we are now. The tolerance of Europeans to Greece, which seems not to be ready to acknowledge the solidarity of the rest of the countries, is over. At the same time the focus on the Greek crisis has meant that we don’t even talk about the political issues Hungary or the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union.
Europeans have to lead the way to a better Union – if necessary without the UK, Greece or Hungary.
What we have to do is to learn from the American history and to weave our own history. The similarities of the European countries and challenges they face require a European Federation. But contrary to the American example we don’t have to force anyone to stay.
Tsipras tramples over the solidarity of European states in order to be triumphed as
a nationalist hero by his supporters, we have to let him leave, and if
necessary - ask him to leave. If Mr. Orban thinks that in the shadow of the
crisis he is allowed to cut more and more the fundamental rights and the rule
of law in his country – we also have to ask him to leave. And if Mr. Cameron
based on some domestic feelings wants to use the European Union as a doormat,
the outcome of the British referendum shouldn’t bother us that much.
Translated by Hanna Starchyk