Defending the European Project

Europe is witnessing one of the most difficult phases of its history.  Euroscepticism and nationalism have fused into an explosive mixture that has not only increased intolerance and racism against immigrants, but has also drawn into question the entire European project. The growing lack of human and social solidarity is a reminder of the need to reconstruct the European project in its most authentic and original form.

«Any society that is not enlightened by philosophers is deceived by charlatans». This quote from Nicolas de Condorcet is maybe the most suitable aphorism for describing today’s Europe. Charlatans are destroying a great dream.

Europe is witnessing one of the most difficult phases of its history. In Europe we have had one of the longest economic and financial crises in history, while unemployment has reached a dramatic high, and nation states are enforcing their own conception of sovereignty by raising walls and closing their borders to millions of refugees. Euroscepticism and nationalism have fused into an explosive mixture that has not only increased intolerance and racism against immigrants, but has also drawn into question the entire European project, from the single currency to the Schengen-Treaty. The Europe that once sparked enthusiasm now evokes almost total hostility. What is going to happen to Europe? What we are experiencing is certainly worrying, but it is not something new. The history of Europe is in many respects a history of crises. Put bluntly, crisis is the very nature of European history.

The main problem in Europe is not so much the inefficiency of European institutions but the arrogance and nationalism expressed by states and national governments which make up the European Union. On matters of fundamental importance such as immigration or national security, national governments are demonstrating strong reluctance in giving up their sovereignty. The result is a lack of cohesion on wider Eurozone issues. The European project in its current intergovernmental form diminishes European institutions, and the classic manifestations of sovereignty – a monopoly of force, territory, and population – are weak in the European Union. That is why Europe can be an extraordinary success story only if it is capable of solving its main problems, namely improving the economic conditions of its citizens.

The importance of the EU

There are at least three reasons to defend the European project.

The first is historical. We must not forget that the project of a united Europe was created after two world wars and that one of the most important declarations for a united Europe, the Ventotene-Manifesto, was secretly written by three imprisoned anti-Fascists in Ventotene in 1941, during the Second World War. The Ventotene-Manifesto maintained that «the fall of the totalitarian regimes will have sentimental meaning for entire populations as the coming of “liberty”; all restrictions will disappear and, automatically, complete freedom of speech and of assembly will reign supreme. It will be the triumph of democratic tendencies. These tendencies have countless shades and nuances, stretching from very conservative liberalism to socialism and anarchy. They believe in the “spontaneous generation” of events and institutions, in the absolute goodness of impulses from the lower classes». The mistakes and crises of recent years should not make us forget the origin of the European project. The European Union was created to ensure peace and freedom from the dictatorships that had populated the immediate past. In short, Europe grew as part of a political project synonymous with peace and freedom.

The second reason is the defence of human dignity and solidarity. In light of growing anti-European forces, intolerance, and constant violations of human rights, the European Union is the only possible bulwark against such developments. States and national governments are the main cause of these shameful violations, because national governments continue erecting walls. Pope Francis has recently argued convincingly that «the roots of our peoples, the roots of Europe, were consolidated down the centuries by the constant need to integrate in new syntheses the most varied and discrete cultures. The identity of Europe is, and always has been, a dynamic and multicultural identity […] The soul of Europe is in fact greater than the present borders of the Union and is called to become a model of new syntheses and of dialogue. The true face of Europe is seen not in confrontation, but in the richness of its various cultures and the beauty of its commitment to openness».

The third and final reason is that a united Europe represents the only possible future. Europe is generally considered the past; not by chance is it called the ‘Old Continent’. Europe, however, is above all a past looking towards the future because it currently constitutes the most interesting political-institutional laboratory in the world. Jacques Le Goff, the great French historian, wrote that «Europe is past and future at once. It received its name twenty-five centuries ago, and yet is still in draft form. Will old Europe meet the challenges of the modern world? Will its age be a source of strength or weakness? Will its legacy make it able or unable to establish itself in modernity?» We cannot answer all these questions, but one thing must be clear. The European Union is a long term project. Accordingly, the Schuman Declaration (9 May 1950) says that «Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity».

A Return to the Ideals of the Past

Many of these achievements, such as fundamental civil rights, are now taken for granted. To recognise the strengths of Europeanism and European identity we must therefore go to other continents. It is in this way that we can understand the value of Europe and how we Europeans are linked to each other. Often in Europe we are divided along national lines, each nation claiming to possesses its own identity. Yet what escapes many European citizens is the dual dimension of their identity and citizenship, which is at the same time both national and European. Article 9 of the Treaty on European Union (Treaty of Lisbon) states that «every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship». European people will never exist without some connection to their nation. The European dimension, however, also forms part of our collective identity, giving us greater opportunities and less restrictions. It is in this context that it is also possible to work on behalf of a broader European interest.

Most substantially, if Europe continues to be divided on a national basis, it is destined to disappear. Europeans, on the whole, constituted just 7 percent of the world population in 2010 and in 2060 will have decreased to a mere 5 percent. Similarly, if the European GDP in 2010 was 25.8 per cent of the global GDP, it will be only 15 percent in 2050. In 2050 none of the European countries will be among those in the G8. It is clear that in an increasingly complex and globally interconnected world, Europe is facing significant demographic, social, and economic challenges that it can only resolve successfully if it remains united.

In conclusion, more than ever before, the growing lack of human and social solidarity is a reminder of the need to reconstruct the European project in its most authentic and original form. We must return to the ideals of the Ventotene Manifesto and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which protect dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizens’ rights, and justice. Only in this way will we be able to defend the project from charlatans.

Ubaldo Villani-Lubelli


Short bibliography:

Denis Guedj, Le Mètre du monde, Points 2003, p. 163.
Jacques Le Goff, L’Europa medievale e il mondo moderno, Laterza 2004.
Discorsi sull’Europa. Dal Manifesto di Ventotene al Trattato di Lisbona e alla Convenzione europea dei diritti dell’uomo, a cura di Ubaldo Villani-Lubelli, goWare 2014.

Suggested source quotation:

Ubaldo Villani-Lubelli: Defending the European Project. In: RUB Europadialog, 2016. URL: (10.05.2016).

One Comment on “Defending the European Project

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