Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Europe: where is the public debate?

Why this weblog? Because we feel that one of the main problems with the European Union is the lack of a real public debate across the borders of the individual member states. Dutch sociologist Abram de Swaan of Amsterdam University pointed this out in a lecture he held in january of 2003, called "Europees beleid zonder Europese politiek" (in Dutch, and unfortunately not available online).

This lack, combined with the bureaucratic nature of the EU and its institutions, has driven a wedge between the professional politicians and their citizens. There is no such thing as a European newspaper to fill this gap and enable ordinary citizens and intellectuals from different countries to discuss these topics together. And while more and more decisions are being made in Brussels, the media - at least the Dutch - still focus on their own capitals. The result altogether is a deep mistrust of the EU by its own citizens.

We have seen both France and the Netherlands say "no" to the European Constitution. In both cases, the perspective was merely national. In general, the French fear further liberalisation and competition from the new Eastern member states, whereas the Dutch feel they contribute too much (money) to Brussels. However, this does not imply that they oppose European cooperation as such, as Dutch prime minister Balkenende rightly explained in different journals on the continent.

Anyway, the Constitution is dead, because apart from France and The Netherlands also the British (who have not voted yet) have reservations. Though this is a pity for some reasons - notably the fighting of terrorism and organised crime, which the Constitution would have made easier - it is a perfect opportunity to rethink what "we" want with the EU. Economy has in the past been the motor of the whole process. Personally, I agree with Tony Blair that the common agricultural policy is outdated, and that we should reduce subsidies and open up our markets. Then there would be no need to increase the budget, although it may already be moderate. Of course a big share of the money should go to the new member states, who have suffered long enough from being on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. This implies further liberalisation as well, for instance through the Bolkenstein-guideline.

The other main goal of the EU should be the fight against terrorism and organised crime. Only by working together and combining our efforts we can beat these international networks. To stop the ongoing radicalisation of our young muslim citizens is perhaps the biggest challenge of our time. And although I do agree with Blair that the war in Iraq is not the main cause of suicide attacks, this war has created a perfect training camp for jihadists from all over the world. In the end we will perhaps also need a common foreign policy, to avoid a new "Iraq".

But our main objective should be to attack the source of this terrible phenomenon, and that is the so called radical islam, which is spread by certain imams and in chat sessions on the web. Yesterday in Amsterdam, Mohammed Bouyeri was sentenced to be in prison for the rest of his life, for the brutal murder of cineast Theo van Gogh. His motivation for this murder was purely theological, following an extremist interpretation of the Quran. Van Gogh had insulted his God, and therefore he should die. Bouyeri swore that once free he would kill again. Hopefully he will not be given the chance to publish any more of his crazy thoughts. By the way, it was the first time in the Netherlands someone was sentenced under the new antiterrorism law. But in the meanwhile, we should continue the debate. We'll be glad to hear from you...