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Sunday, December 4, 2016
Text: Bob Geldof at Westminster Cathedral. Part 1.
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¬†Sir Bob Geldof received a standing ovation at Westminster Cathedral on Wednesday after his Faith in Europe lecture. The notes below are the basis of his talk. "Be yourself. Rediscover your origins. Relive your Roots". That is the order that Pope John Paul II gave in his exhortation of Europe, Ecclesia in Europa. But if we are Europeans are not Irish, English, Polish, then who are we? What does being European mean? What are our roots? The Pope urged us to rediscover our true identity around "a new model of unity in diversity, as a community of reconciled nations open to the other continents and engaged in the present process of globalisation". Yeah well on current projections for the above mentioned ambition "Pigs Will Fly". But my starting point must be that an almost impossible tension is emerging between that European ideal and the reality. As Europe grows it is becoming unable to show solidarity towards itself, let alone its partners or worse the poorest people of the world. Unless we pause and examine ourselves, Europe is in danger of constructing itself into being nothing more than an exclusive rich mans club. An autistic union of comfort that does not feel responsible to its neighbours or the poor of the world. In this talk tonight, I want to argue that Europe will never mean anything unless it looks beyond itself, to live up to what it claims as common European values. We have had centuries of colonialism and war followed by decades of introversion. But we will not be able to find ourselves, or relive our roots unless we come, like all great cultures to a common sense of our responsibility to the rest of the world. A solidarity that is ultimately in our common interest. Solidarity in Europe was never part of the original prospectus. Although it is mentioned as one of the principles in the Schuman Declaration which founded the European Community in 1950, Europe has never had a motivating vision like the American dream. But the American dream was built upon an extraordinary collective act of willed amnesia whereby Americans were allowed to believe that they could forget their miserable past on this great new continental tabula rasa. Europe cannot shuck off its past so easily. There is no terra nova for this old continent. To use the Americanism we carry our baggage with us like overburdened turtles. Slowly, ponderously, heavily weighing our psychologies so that no bureaucratic structure or papal edict can remove the awful scars of memory. Perhaps a solidarity of Trauma. But that is thin ground upon which to build the new model Europe. Instead, Europe has drawn all of its energy from failure. Unlike America the European Project can be seen in many ways as an escape route from historical trauma, political failure, philosophical depravity, war, genocide, and economic backwardness. The great sum of European thought must be the idea of the individual. It is hard to see the shibboleth of "I" emerging from another continent. From the Judaeo-Christian notion, the sacred Western ideal of the sanctity of individual life, through the God-like Ego Sum, What other continent could give us Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, The Reformation, The Enlightenment, "I think, Therefore I am" Descartes had to be European. Where else but Europe would the identification of the primary psychological motor of the individual in society be defined as the Ego or The revolutionary idea of human rights whereby each individual is made inviolate through inalienable entitlements. If there are many European cultures framed around the pan-continental "I" then it makes it more difficult to have a solidarity of "Us". An identifiable "We". In order to find solidarity we need to find first who we are. And it will not be found in the dead air of the Eurocrats office nor mandated by bureaucrats fiat flags or mawkish ersatz anthems. Europe's child America was founded primarily on the individuals need for essentially unfettered existence. The need for "I" to pursue its individual happiness. And still, through its constant myth-making movies, America perpetuates the ultimate individual pitted against unknowable, conspiratorial bodies who wish somehow to hem or curtail that independence. We somehow are beginning to feel something of that in our Union and its making us uneasy. The individual as always exceptional, entire unto himself, only responsible for his own actions. Take this to its conclusion you arrive at the modern state which practises a dangerous form of national exceptionalism, answerable to no-one but themselves and pursuing their own agenda regardless of another. In Europe on the other hand we've had our fair share of charismatic leaders who have consistently led us to disaster or saved us as we gazed mesmerized by the individual brilliance or the mad charisma and slavishly followed the superior one. Of course the irony and paradox of individualism is that it can only ever work when it acts in concert for the common good. E Pluribuus Unuum. An occasional solidarity of purpose but not the same as hero-worship. A dull worthy glow of community versus the crazed mercury high of the Golden One. The lunatic savant.. Europe has had its fair share of charismatic leaders like Churchill and Napoleon and sundry unmentionables. But the people who built the EU were almost anonymous technocrats who were trying to escape from the interminable grand plans and charisma that had brought the continent to its knees. When French poet Paul Valery said: "we hope vaguely, we dread precisely". He could not know that is exactly what has happened as each country has joined the European Union for its own reasons. We know our past, we know each other and we fear ourselves. We seek protection from unwieldy neighbours, or a route back to international respectability, or a market for our countries goods. As Mark Leonard shows in his wildly optimistic new book, Why Europe will run the 21st Century, Europe is a continent with a past it wants to escape rather than a future it wants to build together. Unless you understand how you got to where you are, moving on can only be a fearful shuffling forward into a blind mans bluff future. Idealistic Eurocrats have pretended the past is of no consequence to the European project. We start anew. Year Zero is Maastricht. But it's not and all of us know this because we live who we are. We live the past by the hour. It is the great conceit of the Eurocrat that history has been disappeared by bureaucratic sleight of hand but it is also the great unspoken truth of the European citizenry that it has not. And it is precisely that murderous history which is driving us reluctantly, suspiciously together. European integration started with coal and steel production, tariffs and customs unions - rather than a "European dream" set out by politicians. The unfortunate, unromantic result is that the Union we live in today is not only a paper tiger but literally a paper mountain to go presumably alongside the other wasted mountains of unwanted butter and wheat. Europe has been built upon 80,000 pages of legislation that regulate everything from the composition of tomato paste to the protection of minorities, generating an irritated resentment at what is perceived as unwarranted, unwelcome interference in the personal by an anonymous chimera, as opposed to what is meant to be achieved, which if one listens to the overblown and hubristic propaganda, is a glad and grateful overpowering sense of belonging. The European Union has at times introduced flags, and anthems, and passports to try and make us feel European, but most of the time European integration has taken a back seat to national identity. Its laws are passed by national parliamentarians, policed by national law courts, and implemented by national ministers. And that is the way we like it. For excellent historic reasons there is little appetite today for our governments to hand over control over cherished policies like tax, health, education, defence and pensions to a European superstate in Brussels. And to be fair to the founders of the European Union ≠ they have never tried to build a country called Europe. But as a result of this essentially bureaucratic construct, Europe does feel slightly empty, even suburban as an ideal ≠ almost like what the planners of Milton Keynes would have come up with. A continent of Pooterish ambition. Even if you wanted it, Europe cannot lift its eyes or soarIt is an almost secret project. Not disguised as such but more hidden in plain sight behind a deluge of seemingly impertinent, alarmingly intrusive, and always incomprehensible edicts. It is and will remain a technocratic project of bureaucrats, sealed in the hundreds of thousands of meetings that take place between national officials every year, rather than a political project that takes centre-stage in election campaigns, that brings demonstrators to the streets, that inspires new political parties or movements. The paradox is that this very same invisibility that led to the best of the European Unions successes in the past may be the thing that destroys it in the future. Because in the beginning Europe did not impinge too much on our daily lives, we were willing to go along with it. And even its harshest critics would agree that for good or ill and I believe largely for good, it has silently changed our countries beyond recognition: 50 years of common Soviet threat formed common purpose and a common economic integration which has brought peace, prosperity, and very high levels of economic cohesion to a set of countries exhausted by a succession of wars And the bureaucratic unification of our states has been paralleled by a remarkable convergence in the attitudes and lifestyles of Europeans. As wealth grew the rise of consumerism, secularism, falling birth-rates, and shifts to more liberal social agendas have marched in ragged step across Europe. The cheap fare Easyjet generation find it as convenient to hop across to Dublin or Madrid as to go to Blackpool or Bournemouth. And with money, ease of transport and free trade we are all eating more or less the same food: the shelves in Sainsbury's and Tesco groan under the weight of Danish bacon, Irish butter, Greek olives, Italian pasta, French cheese, Belgian beer, and English pork pies. But because this process of unification went on behind closed doors, European citizens do not give even a reluctant credit to it for any of the successes of the last fifty years. Instead they focus overmuch on the failures. Some see not welcome unification but a sad homogenization of living. The bureaucrats beloved standardisation. An ironing out of difference and diversity. A great flattening of life. They rightly complain about excessive regulation, fraud, and a distant bureaucracy in Brussels. Indeed the mental image of the Brussels Eurocrat has been already painted by another famous Belgian. Magritte's little faceless man in the bowler hat and brolly staring off into nothing. And there is let's face it a great deal of the surreal about the whole Euro project. A willingness to accept as reality that which only exists in the fevered mind of the Euro managers Although many Europeans may feel a common sense of fate they do not see how EU institutions respond to it. For ten years large majorities understanding the globalised nature of such concerns have favoured common European rather than national action to deal with environmental problems, poverty, international crime, and even foreign and defence policy. However, this has not translated either into any affection for institutions in Brussels, itself a child of the globalised world or much of a sense of solidarity with other countries across Europe. Europeans countries live in self-interested amity rather than in common proprietorial solidarity. One can clearly see how my native Ireland has gained from European benefits ≠ there is hardly a single road, rail or other infrastructural change that doesn't have a sign acknowledging the EU for its financial support. And Greece, Spain and Portugal have all benefited from major fiscal transfers from richer countries. But as the EU has enlarged, its cohesion but not its rationale has been stretched to its limits. In many ways the year 2003 was a turning point. Our poor uncherished European Community shattered into a thousand factions: Old vs. new; big vs. small; south vs. east; social integrationists vs. liberal expansionists. The bottom line is that German office workers do not want to subsidise Polish Peasants; French factory workers are scared of competition from Slovaks and everyone seems uneasy with Turkey. We cannot speak with a single voice on the world stage, and we cannot agree where our borders should lie. . In the 1990s, European leaders focused disgracefully on passing the Maastricht Treaty while the Balkans burned. Europeans put their internal economic and bureaucratic cohesion above their responsibilities to their neighbours. But you cannot erect a new iron curtain, or perhaps for Europe a brocade curtain, to shut yourselves off from global problems. As hundreds of thousands of Bosnians came to our borders we turned, as ever despite the rhetoric, to Washington and prayed for help. A few years later in Kosovo, European governments were belatedly part of the solution as well as the problem. And finally in Macedonia they acted before a crisis turned into a tragedy. When I sang with my old band The Boomtown Rats I played all over Europe, from Brussels to Barcelona to Bucharest, Vigo to Vilnius, from Genoa to the Gdansk ship yards. 30 years of travel showed me the deep bond of intellectual identity that holds East and Western Europe together. There is such a thing as a European culture and it co-exists alongside European cultures. Brussels seems to misunderstand this. They call it a European ideal. There isn't one of those but there is a European idealism and it is this that has been perverted into a wholly unconvincing Euro polity. And although we finally stumbled our way into taking responsibility for our neighbourhood at the beginning of the 21st century ≠ begrudgingly enlarging to let in the former Soviet States ≠ European citizens, perhaps in retreat from the moral disaster of colonialism still lack an ethic of global responsibility. Euro romantics feel that enlargement to the east was a tryst with destiny for our continent rather than an economic and defence imperative. But this historic process of enlargement did not spring forth from deep reserves of solidarity. Ultimately it was a bureaucratic process that barely impinged on its citizens' consciousness and when it did it was with a deep unease and misgivings activating dormant atavistic fears of the Eastern hordes. The main debates were, politically and correctly, dealing with the problems of migration, farming subsidies and voting weights in the European council ≠ rather than the idealistic opportunity for a Europe that is whole and free and together. As political Europe becomes bigger, lines of countries are forming to share in our success. The revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine were a plea to share in our wealth and freedoms. The Turks are also banging on our door and here those fears become tangible and sometimes unfairly unhinged. Still, can the Turks accept our freedoms and the cultural and philosophical foundations that come with them as they surely do incredibly and uniquely in America. But it is in our inability to set out a common project that can bind people together within our continent that is stopping us from engaging with each other or our neighbours. It is creating a suffocatingly smug wall of satisfaction that hermetically seals us off from our responsibilities to the world. I don't want to knock the European project ≠ because we are better off with it than without it ≠ but we do need to find a way of closing the gaping gap that has opened up between its unresponsive, free-floating political class, this ENA-ocracy that has driven European integration and Europe's citizens. It is now fifteen years since Jacques Delors said "Europe began as an elitist project where all that was necessary was to convince decision-makers. That phase of benign despotism is over". But it isn't. The symptoms still persist. There is profound unease about the European Union that becomes apparent every time the European project meets the public: in Denmark, in Ireland, and even in the bastions of old Europe - or the polls in France today. At best there is a resigned reluctance and an unengaged reticence to being hauled like braying donkeys into something we don't trust and is inexplicably unanswerable and unknowable to us. A brave new Eurofuture.
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