Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union at the end of June, a discussion has been unfolding regarding the direction which this project should take. Regardless that such change only ever occurs after the fact — in this case, the belief that the EU needs reform was only publicly acknowledged by those in power after the UK referendum, although this has surely been apparent for a long time — the content of these discussions is both interesting and promising. And despite the divide which is slowly etching its way through public and private spheres alike, severing the propagators of an ‘ever closer union’ from those who wish to regress, politically speaking, to the smallest functional (national) unit, there is something distinctly opportunistic about the current societal ethos.
As the weather continues to improve and another summer is almost upon us, the number of migrants dying in the Mediterranean Sea in a desperate attempt to reach the western world is on the rise once more. In just one week alone, reports claim more than a thousand drowned, their lifeless bodies now washing up on the sandy beaches of Libya, Greece and Italy. As this mass influx of migrants into Europe, from Africa and the Middle East in particular, is slowly ebbing into the second year, we can, once again, witness an underlying problem suffocating modern-day politics: the short-sightedness taking hold of decision-making.
The word ‘idealistic’ is becoming increasingly linked to dogmatism, to extremes that few wish to identify themselves with. In this sense it is becoming dirty, foul, insulting; the hidden, or perhaps no longer hidden connotations associated with it suggesting a mindset of being undemocratic and irresponsible. Yet idealism may also be used in a very contrasting way, in the sense of political consistency: a fight against double standards and unjust, situational treatment of citizens. Idealism in this sense is a worthwile pursuit, because it allows not just the determination of underlying principles reflected in certain value-based needs, but far more the homogenous installation and application of these principles in a system that represents all citizens, and not just those who happen to find themselves in a specific jurisdiction at a particular moment in time.
Since the founding of the EU in Maastricht in 1993, the European idea has surpassed mere economic cooperation to both political and social spheres, and beyond. Citizens living within any of the countries encompassed by this label increasingly identify with ‘being’ European, and certain European ideals have begun to crystallise out. Values such as human rights, freedom of speech, the acceptance of racial and religious diversity; the list is long, and the shared support of such values, indeed their implementation, universal. Through its creation the European idea has opened the door for a shift away from extreme forms of nationalism that ultimately lead to conflict, and offered the possibility of collectively solving previously untouchable problems. This extension of human cooperation into the field of politics that was formerly kept isolated between nations thus presents us with a real opportunity for meaningful change. Such potential has quickly become reality, and European citizens have seen their average quality of life rapidly augment: open borders; a reliable and trustworthy judicial system; the establishment of vast safety nets by the state, to name just a few.