“If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
Abraham Lincoln, 1854
The lack of trust in the European Union is not only felt by its citizens, but it is also manifested in a growing spectrum; from Member States to investors, from creditors to ordinary entrepreneurs, from professors to students. Even politicians, those who should build and instil this sense of trust, manifest suspicion.
This phenomenon triggered by the lack of trust has become very complex and systematically affects the stabilization process, the economic recovery and the social peace of the European construction.
The Roots of the Problem
European citizens are eurosceptic, but they have also turned against their own governments. The reasons are clear, they are those who have been charged with the economic crisis bill in the first instance to save the banks, and now, as a consequence of the implementation of austerity measures, they were also left jobless and have to pay increasingly higher taxes. European citizens must deal with a highly specialized discourse with numbers, data, statistics, banking processes and funding mechanisms. For most people such a discourse conveys only negative scenarios.
There mustn’t be explained to anyone that such a speech is nothing more than a cover designed to conceal incapability, a lack of political will and solutions.
An index that has very well reflected the lack of trust in the European project has appeared in the elections context in Greece, Italy, France, and more recently in Germany. The electoral process has revealed the dangerous phenomena’s extent for the entire European space, i.e. the increased effervescence of nationalism and extremism.
Marine Le Pen was considered the election winner in France, winning in the first round 17.9% of the votes. Her campaign was based on the dissolution of the European project in its current configuration in order to restore the real Europe of nations. Even if the French nationalists have always had a good positioning – Jean-Marie Le Pen, our protagonist’s father, has reached the second round with Jacques Chirac, eliminating the Socialist Lionel Jospin from the race in 2002 – the percentage they achieved in 2012 represented a maximum.
Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement from Italy have shown the citizens’ degree of discontent towards the entire Europe, and they have managed to bring thousands of Italian citizens into the streets.
The Syriza party has come second in Greeks’ preferences, a few percents away from the first runner up and made possible the scenario of the Greek exit from the Eurozone, against the background of persistently denying any agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund on the sovereign debt.
All these votes won by these groups represent the popular sanctions imposed on governments who have relied on the austerity card. On the other hand, this kind of votes also means a rejection of the European Union and the euro area in their current architecture.
Populism has been overlapped by the perception of the European institutions’ lack of legitimacy, democratic deficit and a more pronounced technocracy misunderstood by people. The lack of solidarity and growth dampers brought the European club to face its citizens’ anger.
The European countries’ electoral experiences pull a warning on the forthcoming European elections, which may be the result of the intersection of indifference and voting sanction, a gloomy scenario for the European project. Most of this scenario is generated by the lack of trust.
One can also notice the same lack of trust existing between Member States and European institutions. The game is played around the trust sentiment and the unity of enforcement of the rules, sanctions, measures and mechanisms negotiated and agreed upon (however far too slowly and with too many compromises). And this trust is constantly cracking down due to the Member States’ defection. States do not understand that leadership, or more precisely assuming the European leadership, is accentuated especially by the power of example.
In the mean time financial markets have also lost trust in the governments’ ability to manage their debts. And markets annul this unpleasant feeling by means of a pragmatic approach: they increase their profits, of course winning in the most capitalist way possible from this weakness.
The circle of lack of trust is then completed by the creditor states’ doubt about the debtor states’ ability to implement reforms. By the way, what reforms? Who knew, or who really knows what necessary correct and well-timed reforms are to be implemented?
It is true that a multitude of initiatives and projects were launched: monitoring and early warning mechanisms, plans to reduce youth unemployment, fiscal consolidation plans etc. Beautifully packaged clamorous initiatives backed up by red tape. But they are shallow, with no content and clearly without results. And these attributes are so obvious that they cannot be hidden, they generate a negative perception, but par excellence fair, of European citizens.
What do the Europeans want from the EU?
Therefore the sense of being together must be rediscovered. The present slogans are no longer viable since everything has collapsed around them. A very simple approach is to listen to what people want – social security, employment, the principle of solidarity, economic security, fairness, dignity and a perspective for a secure future; that is concrete, tangible, coherent, intelligent and applicable solutions. And the political will to implement these solutions.
The sentiment of trust is built with difficultly and can easily be lost. It has disappeared, leaving room for mistrust. The reconstruction of this vital feeling will unfortunately last long, if reconstruction starts NOW!
As long as we do not know where we are going, since an endpoint is not established, we cannot be asked to assume responsibility in exchange, taken into account the fact that the burden of the crisis was unfairly and unjustly thrown onto the people. The lack of trust is natural and attracts an acute lack of interest. It is not the politicians’ fault that there is no substantial debate about the future of Europe. It is also the civil society’s fault, who was indifferent and has sometimes begun to think that the European spirit is a lost cause.
The protests in the European countries confirm this assessment, and if we also look at the statistics published in the latest Eurobarometer, we can see that 60% of Europeans do not tend to trust the European Union. The level of euroscepticism has rapidly increased in the last four years and the survey’s results confirm that the Union is facing a trust crisis.
More trust – where from?
The European Union should belong to the people and not to the European leaders. They should be both de facto and de jure in the service of citizens. Democratic legitimacy of European institutions has not been strengthened only by attributing more power to the European Parliament. What is really needed is a change of attitude on the part of the European policy makers.
An attitude which is more modest, more pragmatic and closer to the people. Including, and especially at European level, that politics is for the people and they should be involved in an effort to bring out all that is best, most productive and most beautiful in them. Not making decisions from a level that is above them.
Practically, Europe has no longer a goal to follow. Moreover, it doesn’t have any more the characteristics of a player on the global map of power. Nor does it have the energy of a fighter. It is timorous and does not know which direction wants to go. Europe has actually forgotten that it has a very simple thing to do: just to return home. But not as a preacher in the wilderness, as a warrior in the arena!