“I want to go to Europe […]. Of course I know that I will only be going to a graveyard […]. I will fall on the ground and kiss those stones and weep over them – being wholeheartedly convinced, at the same time, that it has all along been a graveyard and nothing more.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 1879
“A united Europe is needed as a guarantee of our survival. Otherwise, Europe would be little more than a museum to be visited by American and Japanese tourists who like our cuisine and culture.”
Jacques Delors, 1989
A split of the eurozone and the European Union is in the air. First, proposals were made to eject Greece from it, and, at the same time, Portugal and Ireland. Soon after mistrust fell on Italy and Spain. In Britain, discussion arose of whether to hold a referendum on the country’s involvement in the EU. Poland and other countries of the former Eastern bloc issued warnings of possible revisions to the terms of their membership in the EU, should its economic administration be developed without consideration of their opinions.
This article attempts to reveal the lines of greatest strain along which cracks could appear in the foundation of the EU in the future if the crisis phenomena continue to snowball. To this end, the author will spotlight the most critical problems, some of which remain outside the realm of public discussion due to narrow interpretations of the principles of solidarity, morality and political correctness. Furthermore, the solution of these problems is crucial for Europe’s immediate future, and for the future of Russians as Europeans.
WHAT IS THE FAULT OF THE EU?
Europeans blame the economic crisis on bankers, corporate executives, financial speculators, and – quite naturally – the government. At the same time they issue impressive-looking claims to the European Union. These claims continue to swell alongside growth in unemployment, a slide in investor activity, and vanishing hopes for recovery. One forecast published by the European Commission predicts a meager 0.5 percent growth of the EU’s GDP in 2012, compared to 1.5 percent this year.
A part of Europe’s population has traditionally viewed the EU as a meaningless but costly addition to state structures. A lack of democracy, i.e. the absence of channels through which the citizenry could exert an effective influence on officialdom in Brussels, constitutes a strong irritant. The European parliament remains the only directly elected agency of power; however, despite its broad powers, it does not set policy. True power is centralized in the corridors of the European Commission, and all fateful decisions come from political leaders of the biggest countries. A Eurobarometer poll in September 2011 showed that only 30 percent of respondents believed that their voices meant anything in the EU, while 62 percent were convinced of the opposite. The Commission and the Council of Europe, which initiate and adopt the EU’s crucial decisions, are not accountable to the citizens and do not risk unseating through a recall election or a no-confidence vote in a situation of popular discontent. Because citizens cannot influence the Eurocrats through democratic procedures, they turn to more direct methods.
The primary method so far has been a ‘No’ vote in referendums. Denmark did not support the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Ireland voted on two occasions, in 2001 and 2008, against the Nice and the Lisbon treaties, respectively. The negative results of nationwide voting in France and the Netherlands in 2005 put an end to a European Constitution. Having drawn lessons from these bitter experiences, political elites try to carefully avoid referendums, as observed not long ago in Greece, which means that the unexpressed protests will discharge in different forms.
The EU’s vulnerability arises from its monopoly on the right to speak on behalf of Europe and to formulate European values after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For this reason millions of people equate ‘Europe’ and the EU. If the two are identical, Europeans have the right to expect that Brussels will take responsibility for the amassed problems and effectively resolve them. Though the powers of national governments and EU agencies are strictly separated for routine questions, for pan-European issues the line between them is scarcely noticeable.
The EU’s biggest problem today is the loss of the European idea and the vagueness of European self-identity. Following the end of World War II it was clear what Europe needed: peace, concord and affluence. Political and ideological confrontation had accelerated centralizing movements in each of the two blocs. The Western European countries with difficulty experienced the loss of global leadership, the loss of colonies, and growth of the international role of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which is why they gravitated towards each other.
In 1985, when Jacques Delors became President of the European Commission and Mikhail Gorbachev assumed the reins of power in the Soviet Union, the European idea resounded with new strength. An opportunity had emerged to bridge the continental schism and put an end to the Cold War. It excited people’s minds and inflamed their hearts. The next two decades were filled with romanticism and hard work. Western Europeans erected new levels of integration and introduced a single monetary unit. The former socialist countries built institutions of democracy and market economy. The majority of them received full-fledged EU membership from 2004 to 2007, while Slovenia (and most recently Estonia) even managed to convert to the euro. Almost all the plans were executed, and dreams came true. The economic crisis which erupted soon after exposed, in addition to Greece’s budgetary problems, the absence of a super-idea that would cement the Europeans’ sense of solidarity and their readiness to withstand dangers together. The Constitutional Treaty necessary for the transition to a political union had failed three years before.
Despite the ongoing process of enlargement, EU leaders have been unable to persuasively answer the question of what it means to be a European today. The European values specified in the Treaty – freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law – are universal for all in the civilized world, and in no way contain specifically “European” characteristics. The mention of Europe’s Christian roots was eliminated from the text of the constitution when it was still at the preparatory stage. Moreover, the EU is embarrassed to tell its citizens that contemporary Europe is inconceivable without the legacy of the Crusades, the struggles between Popes and emperors, the Renaissance, the Reformation and religious wars, colonialism, and the Enlightenment. The socialist period in the history of Central Europe has fallen under an unspoken ideological ban: all the bad is denounced while the good is kept quiet.
Many citizens of EU states sincerely do not understand the necessity of helping Greece and other countries, which have irresponsibly accumulated huge debts, partly through the aid of accounting machinations. The Soviet threat or an admittance ticket to the EU are no longer arguments for them. Soon one more factor will cease to exist, which has infallibly bolstered European integration, as the fourth generation born after World War II is about to enter political life in Germany. Today, German schoolchildren are as removed from the bombardment of Dresden as the author of this article is from the Russian naval surrender in Port Arthur to the Japanese in 1904. These young Germans, once they become voters, may well consider that Germany has expiated its historical guilt to the Europeans, since it has done so much for their unity and prosperity.
A broad public discussion of the goals and instruments of integration was conducted in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, and it was then that the main ideological and scientific constructs, which support the EU at present, were designed. No such discussions have been held since that time, and attempts to revive them at the sessions of the convention which drafted the text of the Constitutional Treaty ended in failure. Furthermore, the gap between the ideals and reality of the EU is becoming more obvious. In a speech at Humbolt University in Berlin on October 24, 2011, shortly before resigning his position as President of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet said: “While the reasons for European unity have often been presented as deriving from past conflicts and past divisions, forward-looking motivations are in my view decisive.” He continued: “The underpinning of a more integrated Europe is the emergence of a true European public debate. […] Europeans today are highly interconnected via economic and social linkages. Yet our fragmented national public discourse does not necessarily permit citizens to fully understand these connections.”
Other pan-European problems, the solution of which is impossible without active EU involvement, are excessive consumption against the backdrop of decreasing global competitiveness of European countries, de-industrialization of the economy and consequent distortions of personal attitudes, and the dangerous shift in European demographic behavior. All these factors affect, though to varying degrees, the mindsets of social groups, whose dissatisfaction may turn against the EU and its institutions.
THE BLOGGERS’ REVOLT
Today’s young Europeans have opportunities their parents could not even have dreamed of. They travel freely among the 27 countries of the EU and participate in student exchange programs. The Internet has radically broadened their access to information and the Bologna Process has provided the possibility of quality and diverse university education. Yet in economic terms, the youth have become hostages to flagging EU international competitiveness. To be more precise, they have grown into the main targets of the compulsory consumption policy. GDP has grown at an average rate of 1.9 percent in EU countries over the past twenty years. In the same period the aggregate current account deficit totaled 0.2 percent. These figures indicate that economic growth could not rely on external demand, the way it was in China and in other emerging market economies. Therefore, it is not accidental that the EU’s share of global exports is decreasing.
Consequently, GDP could be propelled only by internal demand: investment-related, governmental or private. Investment demand was not the engine of the European economy, as its share of GDP gradually shrank from 22.3 percent in 1980-89 to 20.4 percent in 2000-09. The demand of the state-controlled sector oscillated between 20 and 21 percent. The share of savings in the structure of GDP slightly decreased. Thus, consumer demand was the basic driving force of economic growth, and it grew faster than GDP itself, compensating for the current account deficit and the declining role of capital investment.
How could this occur if it is well known that Western European markets were already oversaturated in the 1990s? What was it that made the Europeans consume more instead of accumulating savings? Commercial successes were due to the digital revolution: computers, CD players, mobile phones and other quickly changing personal technological devices formed new stable segments of the market. A long-term decline in inflation and interest rates lubricated the growth in sales. Commercial banks expanded lending, apparently turning a blind eye to the solvency of their customers and the quality of collateral. What happened later is all too well known.
Simultaneously, a tectonic shift, about which little has been said or written, was taking place in the European economy, as supply decisively reoriented towards the youth market. If in the 1970s and the 1980s manufacturers focused on middle-aged married couples, enjoying the peak of their careers and earnings, today marketing strategies target consumers younger than 25 years old. The markets of electronics, telecom devices, clothing, and accessories graphically demonstrate this fact. Within this category also fall nightclubs, dance halls, mass entertainment, and – to varying degree – restaurants, gyms, beauty salons, and tourist agencies. Young people are more easily seduced by emotional and glamorous consumption than are older people. Having imposed on the young unnecessary, often overpriced commodities and services, sellers capitalize on the youth’s desire to stand out in the company of their peers or affirm their own importance or higher social standing. Rapid turnover of collections encourages youth to buy new “this season’s” goods, in addition to those they already have.
Television and glossy magazines have long fostered the image of the “good life,” the main characters of which are well off, stylish and independent young men and women. A man in his forties appears in advertisements only to bestow a valuable wristwatch to an heir. A woman in her forties will typically laud an innovative wrinkle cream. The 40-year-olds are also useful to promote routine family necessities like soap, toilet paper or bouillon cubes. It is little wonder that youngsters strive to gain all possible joy and satisfaction from life, for, in their view, everything worthwhile ends after the age of 30.
Prestige-based consumption by children appeared at the end of the 1990s. Clubs and parks for children’s entertainment, where visits cost a dozen times more than a museum tour, have become a fact of life. I remember an Italian colleague of mine complaining that his twelve-year-old daughter had been invited to a school friend’s birthday party, along with 50 other children, held at a pool rented by the girl’s parents for the purpose. In accepting the invitation my colleague and his wife practically signed an agreement to respond with a budgetary commensurate activity in the future. The child entertainment business, as in children’s fashion, hinges on a simple but failure-free manipulation: no child wants to be the “uncoolest” or “poorest” in his or her group. Nor do parents want this for their child, and even most reasonable find it hard to resist the trend.
While the young are supported by their parents, they freely take advantage of many benefits, including the non-obligatory but widespread paraphernalia of youth culture. Yet their transition to independent life appears to be an expulsion from paradise. It is evident that no one is awaiting them in the world of adults with open arms. In 2010, unemployment among people under the age of 25 across the EU stood at 21 percent on average versus eight percent for other age groups. Joblessness among the young reached 33 to 35 percent in Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia, and was as high as 42 percent in Spain.
Upon becoming a trainee or, worse, one of the unemployed, a young person experiences a “frugality shock,” as he or she has to reduce spending and break accumulated habits of consumption. Set against this background, the prospect of acquiring a family and children appears burdensome and inessential. Recalling his parents’ experience, a young man begins to suspect that the images from glossy magazines may never become a reality for him personally. In this manner consumerist society knocks the ground out from under its children’s feet.
The widening gap between conceptions of a standard of living and the possibility of translating it into reality appears to be the main source of youth social protest. The fact that their expectations formed in the years of affluence while the start of their working lives falls in the years of austerity will work against the EU. The blame for stagnation and high unemployment very likely will be placed on those who devised a single currency and forced the national governments to restrict spending, i.e. on the authorities of the EU.
A further consequence of the Internet and social networking will be to reduce the age at which youths enter social life and powerfully amplify their voices in public affairs. Though almost no one today takes an interest in the political opinions of those who are thirteen to seventeen years old, an adolescent in ragged jeans with a laptop on his knees may soon become a more influential political figure than a member of parliament. His name is Blogger. Already the comments one can see on the European Commission’s or the European parliament’s Facebook pages stand in marked contrast to those one can read on the EU’s official website. The youth criticize European authorities for their actions or inaction aptly, openly and, sometimes, aggressively.
Hacker attacks are the main form of hooliganism on the Internet, and authorities in Brussels have learned how to manage them. Some days, the European parliament’s website repels several dozen attacks. But bloggers are not hooligans; until they unite into large-scale movements, they present no danger for EU agencies. On the contrary, through feedback from the blogger community Eurocrats receive important adjustment signals. Still, when it comes to the solution of problems that give the EU much difficulty and require complex compromises, such as government spending on agricultural policies, bloggers can organize an efficient and swift propaganda campaign. They wield enough power to shift public opinion that Brussels can be compelled to shelve one or another consensus decision at the highest levels.
Another instrument is the gathering of signatures. Legislative initiative in the EU resides in the European Commission, which drafts regulations and directives. Beginning work on some act at the initiative of the citizenry requires the collection of a million signatures. Now it is not easy to gather them, as detailed personal information is needed from each signer; someone must go door to door and have long questionnaires filled out. But as soon as electronic signatures become commonly accepted, the picture will radically change. At this point, Facebook has 800 million active users, and rough estimates suggest that 100 million to 200 million of them reside in Europe. Energetic young bloggers can gather a million signatures in a few days. Incidentally, teenagers who otherwise do not have an opportunity to participate in political activities could emerge in the roles of activists and promoters.
Most likely, youth protests, should they ever arise, will take the form of a revolt lacking any clear program or objectives. They will be marked by a high surge of emotions and quick mobilization of manpower. The use of unconventional methods by the young will make it rather difficult for the authorities to control them with the help of ordinary political or administrative methods. The main danger is that young people, not understanding the full measure of their civic responsibility, may commit one or another risky move, such as a majority negative answer in a referendum simply for the sake of trying their strength, “just for fun.”
REVENGE OF THE PATRIOTS
Making progress in integration is impossible without transferring some jurisdictions of the national governments to the supra-national level. The Council, the EU’s chief lawmaking body, is employing the practice of adopting decisions by a qualified majority on an increasingly broader scale. The economic crisis compelled Brussels to resort to unprecedented measures to toughen the macroeconomic and budgetary discipline of member-states. This situation has come close to creating an economic government of the EU. Still, the loss of national sovereignty remains an extremely sensitive issue in interrelations with EU citizens. Many believe that the EU expropriates important elements of national self-identity, but does not offer anything equally meaningful in exchange.
Ethnic feelings are exacerbated in connection with the growing mobility of the population within the EU, and particularly in response to the influx of immigrants. Approximately two million people arrive in the EU from other countries annually. The European Commission estimates that in 2060 expatriates from non-EU countries and their children (individuals with at least one parent born outside the EU) will constitute almost one-third of the EU’s population. Indigenous Europeans believe immigrants are stealing their jobs, and the immigrants believe that society is burdening them with the hardest and lowest-paid work. It is true that among immigrants the percentage of people with a low level of education is twice that among the locals. Yet the share of people with higher education in both groups is almost identical: 25 and 27 percent, respectively. However, the chances that recent arrivals can find good jobs are much worse. The 2009 data indicates that 19 percent of native Europeans with a university education worked in posts requiring medium or low qualifications. The share among those born outside the EU working in such positions was twice as large at 38 percent. In Italy and Spain, about 60 percent of immigrants with university diplomas found employment inconsistent with their level of qualification, and in Greece their share totaled 80 percent.
Official policy of the member-states and the EU as a whole aimed for many years to prevent the growth of nationalism, but the resultant atmosphere of total political correctness and tolerance led to a situation which removed acute problems of interethnic relations from the realm of public discussion. The tensions that have accumulated on either side find release in grassroots nationalism and stimulate the growth in popularity of Nazi, religious, and ethnic symbols. At this time, neither the national governments nor Brussels have an effectual strategy for the social and cultural integration of immigrants. A statement made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2010 on the collapse of Germany’s policy of multiculturalism confirmed the nature of the situation.
The de-industrialization process wields significant influence in European society. According to data provided by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the share of the population employed in the manufacturing sector shrank to 26 percent from 42 percent between 1970 and 2008. Simultaneously, the share of the workforce employed in the services sector increased to 71 percent from 51 percent. These figures indicate that the tertiary sector now employs almost three times as many workers than manufacturing. The closure of mines and factories is not only the herald of depressed territories with structural problems and chronic unemployment. It is also a disruption of the structure of human society and change in the system of personal values. Workers’ dynasties, within which people with secondary education considered themselves respected members of society, have been disrupted. A highly qualified sixty-year-old lathe operator knew that his work helped turbines rotate and trains run. A sixty-year-old waiter, bartender, disc jockey and stockbroker are nonsensical. What consoles people in these professions on the eve of retirement? The speculation of multimillions or decaliters of beer sold? Mass employment in the tertiary sector significantly complicates personal identification and the search for purpose in life. It multiplies the numbers of alienated workers who do not see their connection to society and view their work only as a means of making money.
De-industrialization generates prolonged distortions in the labor market. People, who would previously have worked in factories, now seek to join the white-collar ranks. In addition to clean work and stable earnings, they also want a confirmation of their own importance. From this situation arises a ubiquitous aggrandizement of the administrative and state machinery. According to OECD data, 10 to 17 percent of government spending in EU countries goes towards maintaining the administrative apparatus, which is comparable with education or healthcare expenditures. Interestingly, Greece, a country where state bureaucrats enjoy unimaginable privileges, does not provide such statistics.
In other words, European society is drifting farther from manufacturing and is becoming increasingly bureaucratized. Europeans, despite a growth of material opportunities, find it all the more difficult to answer the questions formulated by Felix Antoine Philibert Dupanloup, the bishop of Orleans (1802-1878): Whence have we come? Who are we? Whither do we go? The lofty goal, the attainment of which an individual is prepared to devote his life to, will be imperceptibly lost in the course of paid bills and applied discounts.
Twenty, or maybe thirty, years ago the word ‘motherland’ disappeared from the European vocabulary. Most likely, the EU did not generate this tendency. Yet fact is fact. Over the seven years he has occupied his post, President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, mentioned the word ‘motherland’ only once; on November 26, 2004, he called Germany “the motherland of subsidiarity.” The EU certainly supports the development of national cultures, but folklore festivals and cross-stitch caps cannot substitute for Motherland. In the traditions of European culture, Motherland is a sacred notion, founded on the belief that one’s nation was chosen by God, in its spiritual strength and great predestination. This sense of Motherland enables man to perceive his belonging to the people, to take pride in its past, and to be ready to devote himself entirely to its future.
Do the Bretons feel that not only France but also the EU is their motherland? And how would the people in Sicily, Catalonia, Bavaria, or native speakers of Russian in Latvia answer the same question? Do the Moroccans, Turks, Chinese, or Vietnamese who have settled in the EU regard it as their motherland? And what do their children think about it? These are not idle questions. From their answers the Europeans will reveal the degree to which they want to exhibit solidarity with their neighbors in such a difficult situation as that of today. Will anyone rush to defend the ideals of a United Europe at the expense of one’s own wellbeing and comfort?
After the failure of the Constitutional Treaty, all references to the flag, anthem and coat-of-arms were removed from the texts of the EU’s fundamental documents. The words ‘constitution’, ‘European law’ and ‘the family of peoples’ vanished as well. What has survived is the affirmation of “the creation of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” on the basis of common values: dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and human rights. These values, however, are not sufficient to form a genuine pan-European identity, especially if one admits that the concept of EU citizenship has drawbacks. Firstly, only people holding passports of EU member-states can aspire to EU citizenship. In Latvia, for example, ethnic Russians without citizenship cannot hope to acquire “a greater motherland,” whatever their love for Europe or commitment to European values. Secondly, the EU treaty does not note a single obligation of EU citizens, only their rights in minute detail. Each EU resident is viewed more as a consumer of rights than a person responsible by words and deeds for the destiny of United Europe.
It appears that skeptics are right in saying that the EU dilutes traditional forms of identity, in addition to having no plans to foster a sense of interconnection with United Europe. It is our opinion that the desire to punish the EU for a vanished motherland may be the primary motive behind the actions of nationalists and separatists. Concurrently, protest groups, aside from diehard nationalists, may embrace quite peaceful and conscientious politicians. Their position may be strengthened by examples in recent European history. The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia dissolved in the 1990s with the approval of Western elites. The fact that the three former Soviet Baltic republics and the states of Central and Eastern Europe later joined the EU offered ample proof of Brussels’ undisturbed attitude towards the fragmentation of sovereign states. More than twenty member-nations of the EU immediately recognized the independence unilaterally proclaimed by Kosovo in 2008. Greenland’s departure from the EU, the Norwegians’ refusal to ratify the entry agreement for the Union, the flourishing of independent Switzerland, and the smooth withdrawal from the crisis by Poland, which did not convert to the euro, will certainly help separatists win public opinion to their side.
Separatist leaders, whether in the Basque Country, Corsica or Wallonia may argue that enduring peace, which has taken firm root in Europe, enables small states to function normally without the risk of seizure by more powerful neighbors. Another possible argument is that leaving the EU, a country can remain an element of the common European space, as Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein has. By leaving, it will not have to wage a backbreaking and sometimes hopeless struggle for reform of EU institutions and its adopted practices.
Separatists may use traditional methods of political struggle as well as those via the Internet. Gathering electronic signatures for a withdrawal referendum and campaigning for it in social networks may be especially dangerous to national governments. There also can be more sophisticated methods, such as calls for a referendum on the issue of one or another country’s accession to the EU in exchange for granting independence to some of its regions. If Turkey finally completes the long and incredibly tedious negotiations on EU entry, forces willing to bargain for a good “exchange rate” may surface. Of course, most painful for EU leadership would be the partitioning of Belgium.
THE FATHERS’ RESPONSE
The most conscientious reaction to EU problems is expected from middle-aged people and senior citizens who have already accomplished their endeavors in career, family and social life. The specific problems of this group’s members are mainly linked to changes in Europeans’ demographic behavior, and the foremost of them is rooted in uncertainty over the distribution of pensions. Europe’s population is aging; the large 1950s generation of “baby boomers” came close to turning sixty in 2010. The number of people who have reached this milestone increases by more than two million with each passing year, although three years ago this figure was a million people. As of 2014, the able-bodied population in Europe will start shrinking in absolute terms. In practically all European countries, national budgets cannot endure the burden of pension payouts. In order to cope, governments have to upwardly revise the retirement age and to change over to flexible patterns of generating pension funds, and proposing workers increase their personal deductions. Those retiring in ten to fifteen years’ time will not have an opportunity to complete all the required deductions to the funds if they did not do so earlier.
In 1970, there were four-to-five able-bodied men and women per each retiree in Europe, and in 2010 there were slightly more than three. By 2030 this ratio will decrease even more. It will be 2:1 in some countries, including Germany. And if one takes into account the fact that no more than 65 percent of able-bodied Europeans are employed (housewives and students are the largest non-working groups), then the ratio of pensioners and workers will be two to three. The existing systems of social security expenditures were not designed to handle such a ratio, and they will not withstand it in the future. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) experts say that state debt will grow to 200 percent of GDP in Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, and 300 percent of GDP in France, Greece and Britain by 2030 if the current structure of state revenues and expenditure remains unchanged. At present, state debt in the euro area is approaching 90 percent of GDP, which has already created numerous problems. In any case, national governments will have to reduce pensions. One of the gentler methods of resolving the problem is to fan inflation so it would decrease the real debt burden and the cost of pension payouts.
Another consequence of demographic shifts is the problem of the squeezed generation. Those who are forty to fifty years old have been caught between obligations to children and to parents. A 50-year-old man today often has 15-year-old children and parents who are 75 years old, because he had children later in life than his parents did. As the human life span increases, the care of elderly parents and provision of high-quality medical treatment for them require considerable physical efforts and money. Additionally, the cost of raising children becomes more expensive, and the duration of support more protracted. With every passing decade young Europeans leave their homes at an increasingly older age. The same holds true for marriage and reproduction. At present, 75 percent of young men and 60 percent of young women 20 to 24 years old across the EU live with their parents and do not have permanent partners.
Separation is especially delayed in Southern and Central Europe. For instance, 70 percent of Italian men 25 to 29 years old and 35 percent of 30- to 34-year-olds live with their parents and without permanent partners. A new word, bamboccioni, or ‘overgrown children’ has been coined to denote the phenomenon. By remaining in their parental homes until their hair turns grey, they do not strive for economic independence, instead seeking to spend their moderate earnings on fine things, hobbies and entertainment.
People in older age groups have always been critical of the EU, and the conditions of the economic crisis strengthened their negative attitudes. According to opinion polls in 2011, 38 percent of people older than 40 expressed trust in the EU, while 50 percent did not trust it. Of course, Brussels is not guilty of all the troubles. However, as the euro became a symbol of the EU, so the eurozone crisis has become a reflection of the crisis of the entire European model. The accumulation of huge state and private debts proves that the concept of ‘affluence for all’ has contradicted the rules of globalization, in which countries having cheap labor and no systems of social security enter world markets.
What can European civil society do in this situation? The first option is to mobilize forces to defend the European ideal and United Europe. The second is to retreat, hoping that the elites will somehow solve everything. Consequences of the latter scenario may be the weightiest, not in the sense of a possible departure of one country or another from the eurozone or the EU, but primarily in the sense of further strategies for the continuation of European integration and its ability to withstand the trials of globalization. Even if it eventually overcomes the crisis, the moral trauma sustained by the European community will leave the Union no chance of survival in the next ten to twenty years. The connections among the political elites, EU institutions and its citizens will be broken once and for all.
Hopes of the realization of the first scenario are small, but they do exist. One reason it is difficult to put it into practice is that, among present-day European leaders, there is no one comparable to personalities like Churchill, Adenauer, De Gaulle, Brandt, or Delors. EU institutions are particularly unlucky in this sense. With rare exceptions, the highest positions in them are typically filled by red-tape bureaucrats who failed to achieve political success at the national level. These people can run the political machine, but do not possess depth of vision, will, or charisma. When the tumult comes, they reveal their inability to look beyond the horizon and adopt slogans that could inspire a nation. The repetition of mantras about the benefits of democracy will not help in such cases.
Conscientious Europeans will have to act on their own, without relying on meaningful support from Brussels. To launch the process of EU self-renewal, they will have to frame several important issues requiring top-priority solution and gain public consensus on the grounds for such necessities. When all the problems have been called by their proper names and the mass of initiatives has become critical, EU institutions will not be able to evade action, if only for self-preservation. The most important tasks include fundamental change in the forms of governing the EU and the elimination of the democratic deficit; creating a political forum shared by all the countries, where united political forces would work out and discuss a single agenda; and beginning broad discussions of strategic tasks for Europe and the EU in the framework of globalization. Incidentally, the absence of a forum of this kind heavily restricts the field of action for supporters of a United Europe. For this reason the decisive role in preparing society for change can be played by mass media, social networks, and blogs.
If the most conscientious Europeans succeed in using the crisis to initiate large-scale reforms of the EU, the Union and the whole of Europe will receive a second lease on life. EU citizens will feel much greater solidarity than they feel today and the European ideal will be imbued with new meaning. However, if the project is unsuccessful, the EU may slide into a years-long ideological, institutional and economic stagnation.