Only its founding values will save Europe

European Union flag

"Democracy is already dead, we just didn't realize it". Such a forceful statement appears at the beginning of the book 'The Tribalisation of Europe', written by the Danish Marlene Wind, director of the Centre for European Policy at the University of Copenhagen, a staunch defender of the European project, but aware that "there are those who manipulate and finance movements aimed at fragmenting, atomising and, in short, exploding the European Union".

Wind is one of the expert polemicists who have taken part in the Conversations on Europe, intense days of face-to-face and online debate organised by the Association of European Journalists in and from Madrid, with the aim of examining the situation of an EU that is attacked and besieged, not only by the coronavirus pandemic, but also by the major superpowers, which would like to see it reduced to a dependence on its own policies. 

It is true that the management of the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 has been limited to national governments, but it is no less true that Brussels has taken the lead in the second phase of the tragedy, that relating to the management of the economic crisis. This examination has shown that some European countries have prioritised the defence of freedoms while others have taken advantage of the exceptionality to reduce or curtail them. 

Freedom, equality, fraternity, the great values that emerged from the French Revolution are still in force (Paolo Flores d'Arcais). To suppress the third leads irrevocably to the relativisation of the second, and thus leaves the first defenceless. Europe should not forget its foundations, those that have made it strong and those that differentiate it from the other competing socioeconomic models (Ana Palacio). The former foreign minister and leader of the World Bank is calling for Europe to finally speak with a single voice, in her opinion one of its main weaknesses, which places it at a disadvantage vis-à-vis its two major rivals, the United States and China. 

The crisis is accelerating social and economic changes that were estimated to take decades (Roberto Sánchez). The Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructures considers that the leap caused by the pandemic is huge, but he has no choice but to acknowledge the gulf opened between Europe and the United States by American technologies. It would be astonishingly naive not to realise that some of these large companies have a turnover equivalent to Spain's GDP, which contrasts with the fact that Spanish technology companies, for example, have their lowest share prices in history.

Global warming and unstoppable energy changes

The priority of attending to the health crisis has relegated to second place what was a planetary priority before the pandemic, the consequences of climate change, caused by a global warming that continues to be unstoppable (Miguel Arias Cañete). The former Minister of Agriculture and former Commissioner for Energy of the European Commission certifies that 70% of buildings across Europe are energy inefficient, and urges that investments should take these shortcomings into account in order to shape a society that will be radically different from the one we knew before the pandemic.

He urges that energy changes take place as soon as possible, because "it is better to join in than to resist", alluding to the fact that changes in mobility will accelerate, so that diesel and petrol will disappear as motors of our means of transport sooner than we thought. This is a momentous change, which will bring about the corresponding changes in terms of professional skills, in addition to those of a social nature. 

In this same conversation, the sad Spanish laziness came to light, expressed for example in the fact that no less than eight Autonomous Communities have let the deadline pass for applying for European aid for the development of electric cars. An accusation which Juan González Barba, the Spanish government's Secretary of State for the EU, is tiptoeing around. He acknowledges, however, that there is not a single economic sector that is not going to be conditioned by digitalisation. He also said that profound changes will be essential in terms of productivity and the structural architecture of the Spanish economy. It would be necessary to add a little more diligence even to the motley and not entirely efficient Spanish administrations. 

Many of the participants in the conference agreed that the first condition for the European project to go ahead is that citizens believe in it. This is its fragility and also its main strength, but with the risk that these citizens, driven by the pressing needs of daily life, will vote for parties that are at least Eurosceptic. If the European Parliament and the national legislative chambers were to be filled with this type of political force, the result would be the very disappearance of the European Union. 

That is why Marlene Wind warns of the intensification of manipulation and disinformation by populists, whom she accuses of having appropriated the concept of "democracy" by giving that name to any of their actions, however obviously totalitarian they may be.