Disunity again threatens the European Union (EU). The question of a constitution that suits its constituents rather than the dreams of its social engineers is the cause. The rejection of the proposed constitution by France and the Netherlands in referenda has been confirmed by the decision of the UK to defer its own. Sure, EU apologists are likely to emphasise the temporary nature of the hold-up, but it’s an important jolt to the architects of the EU that nothing can be taken for granted.
The vote against the constitution is emphatically a vote of confidence in the nation-state and national identity.
We take it for granted, but the idea and formation of the nation is a recent human invention. In fact, it’s only in the past 200 years that we’ve coalesced into such political entities. And for most of the post-colonial world, the nation-state is less than 50 years old. Indeed, we’re still coming to terms with the notion of the nation and what it implies in terms of our obligations and responsibilities, freedoms and expectations as citizens.
On top of this quite new historical experience, the newer ideas of regionalisation (like the EU) and globalisation (like the WTO) have plonked themselves. Like the “nation,” they’re defined by grander political allegiances and demand broader bases for identity formation that are not organic but engineered.
The nation-state has its limitations, and these are found in the bloodshed of international and internal class warfare. But by the same measure, the nation provides the only security that most of the world’s people are familiar with and enjoy.
Regionalisation, interstate coalitions and globalisation may be seen as corrective and even preventive intermediary structures in world politics. But if and where these newer transnational organs risk obliterating the various ethnic and cultural identities that we treasure, we will, as the EU experience demonstrates, resist.
In this respect, it’s interesting that the concepts of “Europe” and the formation of the EU were driven by Christians. In the case of the EU, various Catholic political activists and social philosophers revived and pushed the idea. They intended the EU to be a coalition of Christian nations. Strangely, the present class of EU constitutional architects who designed its stalled constitution chose in their wisdom to ignore the original Christian charter of Europe in favour of a secularised vision of the future. And this despite recent indications confirming various localised European peoples wanting a “new European society”—one distinct from the machinery of government and overarching structures of the EU (see Rumsford, 2003).
Not only did the EU constitution ignore the popular desire for a Europe renewed by Christianity, its framers chose to submit to the various populations a constitution that talks only of Europe’s “religious history,” not of its specifically Christian origin. Moreover, the drafters of the final constitution deliberately excluded references to God and Christianity of the prior draft document.
Ordinary people have the advantage of knowing where the shoes of regional and global progress pinch. In France and the Netherlands, the common people said “Enough!” to being pushed around by the EU’s elite social engineers who want them to sacrifice their traditions for the sake of greater integration into the EU concept. It has come as a great shock to the political elites in Europe to discover that their peoples want to slow down, not speed up their global multicultural future.
It’s too early to write off Europe and the EU as “a most precious graveyard,” to borrow a phrase from Dostoevski, because, as the historian H A L Fisher in 1934 put it, Europe is “a continent of energetic mongrels.” European union is a powerful and restless ideology whose appeal is enhanced in an increasingly competitive and shrinking trade world. But the blow to this vision by the recent referenda outcomes in France and Netherlands makes the EU more strikingly comparable to the biblical prophet Daniel’s vision (see “Bible Discovery,” of a final global power represented by fragmented feet of iron and clay.