Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Peace, economy and values

Of course the main reason for the founders of the European Union was the longing for peace, after the terrible events of World War II. But they tried to reach that goal through economic cooperation, starting with the European Community for Cokes and Steel. They reasoned that when nations work together in a common market, they won't go to war with each other. And with succes, for in the West we enjoyed a unique stability and our economies boomed.

With the Schengen treaty, control of the borders between the nation states gradually disappeared. Later on, we even got ourselves a common coin, the euro. However, because of the diminished border control, it became easier for criminal networks to cross borders and for instance smuggle drugs from one country to the other. That's why more or less necessarily the need for cooperation in the fight against crime evolved. This resulted not only in the harmonizing of penal law, but also in the creation of institutions like Europol and Eurojust.

The last few years, (islamic) terrorism has reared its ugly head in the Western world. Even before Madrid and London. Fo instance, some of the attackers of 9/11 lived and studied for years in Hamburg, Germany. They visited Holland and other European countries as well. Essential in the war on terror is the sharing of information, because the individual countries all hold parts of the jigsaw puzzle. This does not mean that we need a European intelligence agency to replace the national ones, but we do need an institution to collect the data and analyze it on a European scale. This is what Europol already does. Apart from that, the European Union itself can contribute to the prevention of attacks. Yesterday it announced that it will contribute 15 million euro to the development of different technologies for this goal:
Vice-President Günter Verheugen said: “The recent events in London show how vulnerable public transport systems are to terrorist attacks. The Commission is determined to do its part to better protect our citizens and fund EU wide targeted research efforts.”
To return to your remarks on civil society and the views of Robert Putnam: I could not agree more that a well functioning civil society is crucial. Europe misses it almost completely: apart from the official institutions, there is no public space yet where one can be a true European citizen. Even in our own country the problem is well understood, for instance by prime minister Balkenende, who made it a key issue for his government. Former minister Thom de Graaf was working on a paper on this very subject before he resigned. The question is how we can revitalize neighbourhoods, schools and sports clubs, that lack volunteers and suffer from crime - at least in the cities. Many people want the benefits, but not the hard work that comes with it. So deeper below lies the problem of our values. Next time more on that.