Confessions of a PPE* Mind: Who are you, EU?
* Pretentious, Posh and Egoistic
One thing I will never forget about Intro to Politics is Kettell discussing the question of “what is politics?” - and then diving into explaining that everything is political. Let us look at what politics, as a discipline, can offer to us. Cut me some slack, my academic knowledge only extends to first year politics. So, did I drop the discipline which would provide me with the most relevant knowledge regarding real life issues?
Honestly, if studying politics does not scare you away from becoming a public figure, I don’t know what can. I would advise you to run from the public sector. Do not become a politician; at least this is what I wish for all my close friends. I am politician-sceptic. I’ve lost my trust towards many. As it seems for me, it is a common trend to be very critical about politicians and politics. Perhaps because it is very easy to tell from our own perspective what they have done wrong. At the same time, I have the highest respect for them; waking up everyday as a leader of a state in these troubling times must be very difficult, with all the daily criticism they are facing. It is impossible to know the right decision.
Politics, as a discipline, offers several theories to describe this real-time game. What I’ve always found fascinating in political theory is power relations. It offers several theories on power distribution. Elite theory states that power and authority are concentrated within the “hands” of a small group of people. The power of the elite is embodied in their privilege, wealth and advantages in the decision-making progress. In practice, I do not wish to use this theory to construct conspiracies about the people who rule the world. I would like to point out that most of the political figures we discuss have, for more or less a decade, been a part of a region’s politics - either in governance or opposition - as the political elite. For me, the use of this term does not automatically represent something negative. There is an elected small group of people deciding on strategies to bring the economy and its citizens on a path of growth and well-being. However, I’ve come to realize that being a part of the political elite can result in becoming too detached from citizens - those who they originally intended to represent. This does not necessarily lead to dissatisfaction; however, do they lose sight of what is perhaps the most important element of being a politician?
I believe that the mixture of academic knowledge and theory, as well as the collaboration of experts and the political elite, has created a byproduct called populism.
Ivan Krastev has referred to our times as the Age of Populism. As Jan Werner-Müllet argues, “Populism is seen as a threat but also as a potential corrective for a politics that has somehow become too distant from “the people”. [...] It’s blurting out the truth about a liberal democracy that has become forgetful about its founding ideal of popular sovereignty.” Nowadays, human beings are often criticised to lead lives that are dictated by popularity: by the amount of likes we get on social media, by the amount of LinkedIn connections we have, or when it comes to articles, the more clicks the better, regardless of content or quality. This is the dynamic that we’ve gotten used to in our frantic lives.
Subsequently, this has started to dictate the tools politicians use to gain power; the goal now is to become popular, a sort of celebrity. Politicians sense that people have had enough of empty words and promises without any results, and that they crave leaders who are willing to take actions, not just discuss complex theories. Thus, populists are offering messages that fulfil this need; messages which will be backed up by actions. Just look at President Trump. He spoke of building a physical wall between the US and Mexico, something voters can visualise and see the 'benefit' of - and he fulfilled this promise. Populists know how to manipulate the public's dialogue, positioning themselves against the established 'political elite', calling upon voters to vote for someone who can bring visible change to their lives. (Ironic - the joke's on them, as when they do gain power, their group nonetheless will also become a form of elite).
I believe that the EU has fallen into the same trap, and the answer to the damaged democracies has emerged: (authoritarian) populism. So let us now look at the real-time game in the European Union.
Overall, politically, today this region offers great benefits and long-lasting peace. Before the configuration of the EU, the continent suffered great wars. After the fall of the Soviet Union many other countries joined this peaceful political ecosystem.
Systems are self-fulfilling mechanisms; if it is perceived that the benefits outweigh the costs and everyone is in favour of supporting the system, then it has a bigger chance of actually becoming successful. I remain hopeful that the system of the EU can be seen as rewarding - but this is not how every EU citizen perceives this. There are countries with EU optimistic leaders, for example, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and there are some countries with EU sceptic leaders, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán or Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski. How did the EU lose so many leaders’ trust?
From what I’ve seen so far, I believe that the EU has failed to give itself a coherent political identity. It has failed to provide a sense of common identity to many people. Populist politics gave us an answer to that. It has filled up the missing pieces by creating its own political identity, where the central message or person (without any question) represents “the people” - “Take Back Control”, “Let’s Stop Brussels”. The EU values are supposedly building blocks, that should be the ones keeping us together. However, it is unclear what tools the EU has to enact these values; what power they possess, to create a sufficient response to its member governments for saving the values the EU was supposedly created upon. Some even argue that the EU's political elite was so occupied by the idea of those values that they forgot to implement it well in joining countries. Hence, some politicians have been using this lack of identity and weakening to grasp power and undermine democratic institutions.
The United Kingdom is a different story. An old narrative has been strengthened: people felt like their long, historical identity has been lost, and they needed it back. Just before the official Brexit date, Warwick European Society hosted British soon-to-be-ex MEP, Anthea McIntyre, who said that: “It is a bigger damage not to act upon the people’s voice than the economic damage of leaving”. One of my friends from university shared his opinion under one of my posts about this, “I long for, at least in the UK, a nationalistic government that always puts the interests of its citizens first, and not the interest of supranational structures” (Victor Ulisov, 3rd-year PPE).
For me, it seems that these cases show a similar pattern - a part of one’s nation felt underrepresented, and other politicians did not take into account the severity of their needs and opinions. I believe that many in the EU do not feel like an EU citizen; and they certainly do not identify as strongly as they do with their national citizenship. It is very challenging to find a coherent political identity for the EU, as it consists of so many completely unique sovereign nations, I give the credit to that. Nonetheless, this is why it’s also hard to set out a coherent vision for its foreign policy. There is no one strong voice representing the 'Great' European Union, and many crave that voice to be able to identify themselves as an EU citizen - thus they turned to their national states to seek that reassurance.
Here we are again, finishing the political perspective in a very sceptical view about the political trust in the EU. It is much harder to predict what will be a well implemented policy; it needs time and specific circumstances. But there is one prediction that has never failed, a prediction which is a great threat to any hope that the EU will combat this growing distrust:
There is a common trend for radical political views to strengthen during times of crises.
My only hope is that this pandemic, and the ‘Great Lockdown Recession’, will eventually lead to a stronger and better unity of the European area, where substantial measures can be taken to combat radical political views. However, my views collide with others about the future of the EU. Victor, on the other hand, believes: “Those who think 27 countries, many of which are at completely different levels of economic development, can somehow work as a united force, or that EU leaders care about the average citizen in an EU country, are living in fantasyland.”
But what is the reason for these contrasting views? How can two people studying the same content apply this knowledge to the same issue, and come to such different conclusions? To answer this, we must bring the three disciplines together - as I will in my next and final article.
We have looked at the EU through the perspectives of our three disciplines. So, there is only one question left: what is the future of the EU? Am I the one living in a fantasyland?
I hope not.
As I said many times, I cannot solve it all. I am very interested in opposing and agreeing opinions too. Do not leave me hanging here all alone. Leave a comment if you wish.