Confessions of a PPE* Mind: What will you become, EU?
* Pretentious, Posh and Egoistic
Here we are; lockdown is still not over, but neither are our exams. However, it is time for me to end my confessions about the EU, as well as put an end to the important question; are we just a bunch of students with irrelevant knowledge?
In my first year, I went crazy about my conclusions when writing essays in politics or philosophy. How can I decide on the right conclusion? I made myself go over and over again, and only decided on my conclusion one day before the deadline. I had this struggle even in the beginning of second year. Then, it turned out, it is really not about what exactly your conclusion is, as long as your argument is well-crafted and backed by evidence. This is why I envy people with strong opinions, who can start their essays by already knowing the concluding thoughts.
Now, this is how I felt about opinions too. I thought there is one universal truth and an answer to all of the real world issues surrounding us, and I am the only one who is struggling to decide which answer I support. The PPE common room has brought the answer to my eternal struggle: there is no single answer.
Several weeks ago, I shared an article on Facebook which argued that the situation with Hungary “is in many ways a test of leadership for the whole EU and the EPP as well.” Even though there is a lockdown, and everyone is in quarantine, my common room buddies did not let me down. The comment section inspired this final piece from my series of articles. Where is the future of the EU heading?
Many see the EU as a failing project, where the costs are piling up, overcoming the benefits - but many think that this is just the part of the process of its development. Following the comment section below my post, a clear pattern emerged similarly to what I’ve experienced during my struggles with academic writing: there is no one correct answer. I will consider two potential outcomes of the EU here; collapse and a stronger unity.
The previous three articles showed clear problems within the EU for me: a lack of unity and inclusion.
If these are not resolved, the European area will be facing a very dangerous outcome. I am basing this first outcome on Victor’s argument that sovereign nations working together with differing levels of economic development in a supranational institution, is a fantasy. Thus, the ‘EU project’ will fail, because there is no binding force. I will assume that many conflicts and the economic burden of the pandemic that gives rise to radical political views, will lead to a diminishing trust in the European Union, and more countries will decide to exit. The reasoning behind this being that nation states are better-off individually, assuming that they will place their nation’s interest prior to everything else.
I cannot think of a total end of the EU after 70 years of collaboration. I can rather imagine that the political power of the EU will vanish, but a simplified economic collaboration (e.g. the Single Market) would still hold.
Considering all the faults and criticism, it is still impossible for me to truly predict a future like the one described above. There isn’t any system that works perfectly. However, what is an institution without mistakes that need to be corrected?
I believe the problem of nation states continuing on their own is captured well in the following quote: “Agreements between city-states are merely temporary and are over-dependant on power-balance between belligerent, as soon as this balance is shaken a state of war unravels.” (Stéphane Legrand, second-year PPL). Don’t all of us clearly remember what Hobbes was arguing about the state of nature? (easiest first year Intro to Philosophy essay on exams). In order to avoid that ‘brutish’ life - war - I see that humanity created agreements. I believe history shows a clear path of such agreements, starting from a human-to-human individual level, through agreements between monarchs and governments, up until the level of supranational entities. I can understand why some people are against the idea of supranational institutions, after having such a long history of great empires in the European area. However, I do not think I have seen such a peaceful agreement between political entities as the EU.
Therefore, as Stéphane asked: “Shouldn't we try to improve what we currently have instead of tossing our current institutions in the wind?”. This question leads me to the outcome which I hope to see to be achieved in the future:
A stronger political union.
However, it is important to stay on the track of what is realistically achievable. Unification is a process: “History tells us that it works. Take Germany which was made out of multiple kingdoms and today is a federal state, or the UK which is also a union of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Political unions take time to establish themselves and work” (Kai Foerster, final year PPE). All these regions had a language and culture in common, so the EU’s political unification is more challenging but surely not impossible. On one side, economic improvement screams for a stronger political union. In order to correct its design faults - for example, to create a budgetary union - EU institutions need more power for auditing and accountability over sovereign states. Of course, these steps should be taken by considering that governments must also take care of their nations’ interests. A combination of compromises and small but consistent steps is what it will take to reach a higher level of collaboration. I do believe that a reaction to Hungary is necessary, however, it takes time to discover the most effective methods of intervention. The problem with sanctions is that it is very hard to prosecute, and it has the risk of being discouraging, therefore I understand the political figures’ hesitation.
This process needs confidence, just like investors do when deciding on which markets to invest in. I suggest that this confidence can be achieved by inclusion, a stronger sense of EU citizenship. I return to the same aspect that I have mentioned before, a strong common interest. Until this is lacking and an EU citizen does not recognise the benefits, I understand that it will not be a priority to any of them. The good is the default, we easily forget about the benefits and take them as granted. Sadly, it is true that many human beings value things better after they are lost. Therefore, even if the EU collapses, I believe the lack of all its benefits (e.g. visa free movement between countries, developments in periphery areas, the SM, Erasmus +... - I cannot even list all the things I think of as benefits because I was born into it, therefore I take it as a default) will remind people of how many things they take for granted that are good in the EU.
I believe that this pandemic and the economic crisis can bring the countries together - just as much as it can generate conflicts. I hope Christine Lagarde comes as the ECB’s superwoman, and saves us. We might find ourselves with a charismatic politician who will be the voice of the ‘Great’ European Union, or a generation of EU positive politicians across all Europe. I would even recommend expanding the focus of the central institutions’ position to South and East Europe, as part of being more inclusive.
These are only the ideas of one PPE mind. So, this is where you come in.
Yes, you. The reader.
I come back to my first and original question that I asked. ‘So, how is all this knowledge that we gain in PPE relevant to real world issues?’
We are a generation born in the age of the EU. If you’ve managed to get accepted into Warwick, you are already acing life. Philosophy prompts you to have questions which flip your world upside-down; never forget to question whether you have been stuck in your bubble, and how to reach out from it. In economics, what Robin Naylor or Elizabeth Jones want to achieve is training our brains for economic problem solving. Politics, well I don’t know about that, since I said bye-bye to it, but as I’m sure your other PPE buddies can tell you, it's a discipline which bridges many perspectives of the world around you.
A new generation will learn from the past mistakes, create new problems for further generations to solve. A new decade is calling for you. You, who will be the next investment banker - do not forget about the EU markets. You, who will become an economist - don’t forget, people are not dumb, they are just afraid of the things that they cannot know and do not control; find a way to explain to the public what is happening with our economies better. You, who might even have the courage to become an EU politician - the EU needs you, fill the need for the voice, which, until now, only populist politicians have found the way to complete. (And do not decide quickly on questions about technological developments like AI - first, you must come back to the common room to fight over it!)
But most importantly, you will need people who disagree with your views, to challenge you, push you to your limits - debate is what the best ideas are born from.
So, here I am, reading news and articles in the early morning whilst drinking my coffee (just to be very authentic) and trying to understand it all; I explain it to myself, to others; ask questions and never stop searching for the answers.
This is what makes us real.