It is a rapidly changing Europe we are living in and despite being used to the speed of news, social media updates and information flows, the speed of change is leaving a mark on all of us.
The famous slogan of the European Union, of which we are all very proud of as it incorporates the true feelings of democracy, tolerance and humanism, “United in Diversity”, is becoming an alibi for some new shades of diversity we did not envisage before. All of a sudden a diversity of others has become a litmus test for our own common values, revealing the hidden truth that maybe the values that once united us are also more diversified than we thought.
So how does a United Europe look like at the end of 2015? The classical cleavage between the North and the South of Europe, which was so sharply emphasised during the economic crises, was transformed into an old mental divide between the East and the West, with its diametrical understanding of reality and social and political implications of current refugee crisis. Europe is indeed facing a subsequent crises, but history teaches us that each crisis is always a good opportunity for change. It might look challenging, confusing and chaotic in the peak of it, but crises have a potential to increase efficiency and responsibility and, hopefully, at the end, strengthen the Union.
The Union is indeed on the fast track evolution of European institutions and decision making processes. Once the mayor problems, the slowness of bureaucratic procedures and countless institutional hurdles, have transformed overnight to an on-spot consensus or shifted to the qualified majority vote (QMV) in some of the crucial decisions taken during the refugee crisis. The need to act was stronger than the need to debate. The system that has been historically known for its slowness is now engaging in its first ever test of efficiency. In peaceful times we can endlessly protract the evolution in the fields of functionality and decision making, but in crisis we are prone to take bold steps overnights. It is an interesting development for the future of the Union, cutting the red tape behind the closed doors. But whilst observing the institutional progress of the Union, which we should keep an eye on not to slip into even more centralisation and additional increase of democratic deficit, we are at the same time witnessing the societal and political changes in the member states.
There is a wide range of statehood developments in our Union, from the creation of illiberal state in the heart of Europe, to rapidly developing e-liberal state in the Baltics, from the pro-European independentist movements in Scotland and Catalonia, to the open and quite vocal advocacy of Grexit and Brexit. There is raising diversity of values and thoughts that are shaking our Union and challenging our beliefs.
Where do we stand as liberals in this palette of differences? In a wider group of diverse politicians I have recently discussed the current state of affairs in Europe and its neighbourhood; the refugees, the immigration policy, the evolving wars in Northern Africa and the Middle East. In the chaos of populism coming from both Left and the Right, struggling with superficial or fake arguments flying around the discussion, playing a chess game of emotions and personal manipulation, there was a statement from one of the discussant that hit me. When the emotions and chaos calmed down, he asked my opinion. He said that he wants to hear the liberal voice because: “Liberals are the ones who think.” Perceived as the ones who think, re-think, analyse, compare and give feasible solutions, in the crises like the economic one and emerging social one, liberal voice is needed to lead the way between the right and the left emotions. Between the right and the left collectivism, liberals are the ones who are standing in the defence of an individual, be it a citizen of European Union, refugee or an immigrant. Individual is and should always remain in the center of our policies. The success of ALDE Party’s initiative to reclaim liberalism, the raising influence and soundness of our ALDE Group in the European parliament and the revival of the liberal parties in member states make me confident that there is a light at the end of the crises.
But the challenges and the enemies are still strong. We are facing today the imposition of collective identities, raising prejudice and false assumption of the nature of people, societies, Christianity or European identity. It is not only challenging the liberal political thought, it is first of all challenging reason.
Let us all safeguard that reason in our own member states. And let’s safeguard the humanity in the Union…and moreover the Union itself.