'Day in, day out, European member states clash on many subjects - and so they will always clash. They used to fight this out with guns. Now they fight with words. I think that's sheer progress.' These words were spoken by Caroline de Gruyter at the Europe Lecture 2017 in The Hague.
She criticized the fact that European cooperation is usually seen as only an economic and military project. 'The EU is a political project that has great influence on pacification and polarisation. As long as our school books state that the EU merely improves economic cooperation and security, citizens will never realise that the importance of Europe is much bigger.'
Caroline de Gruyter argued that citizens have little influence on what happens on the economic level, because the globalized economy has been separated from national politics. What is left for our mismatched national democratic political systems is a debate on soft issues. 'We have a democratic political system, but many European feel utterly powerless.'
The feeling of powerlessness leads to polarisation, according to De Gruyter. 'From within the nation state, we have little influence on what happens in the globalised economy. What remains are polarising issues such as the burqa, euthanasia, and integration.' It is now time to Europeanize local politics. 'Local movements and students are becoming politically active. In the living rooms, Europe is a popular topic. If we need reform, well: let’s try to bring it on.'
Paul Scheffer i, professor European Studies at the University of Tilburg, said that the EU cannot become a community of values as it lacks a common approach to security. Populist parties address a legitimate fear; the EU has a common border, but member states are each individually responsible for guarding that border.
Scheffer warned that 'if liberal-minded parties do not present a solution to the problems that globalisation brings, more authoritarian approaches as advocated by illiberal parties will become much more prominent.'
The Europe Lecture was concluded with the notion that although the European project aims to bring its constituent member states and above all, its citizens together, this has had contrary effects. 'Polarisation and pacification often go together', said the speakers.