EU

Is Euroscepticism one of the key threats to the EU? When Healthy Criticism becomes Bad Medicine

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Anti-EU Flag: Photo by Honza Groh

Elizabete Marija Skrastina

There are two types of threat – those from the outside and those from the inside.

Since the first foundations of the European Union were laid more than fifty years ago, it has changed, deepened, and certainly, become more complex. In fact, one can even argue that the EU is somewhat unique, exploring new ways for states to cooperate while allowing them to maintain their full sovereignty.  A similar system has never been attempted in the history of humankind.

However, with the these changes, new challenges have arisen. It is not a secret that the EU is currently facing an “identity” crisis, to some extent. After Brexit, a new wave of sceptics has awakened as determined as never before. Eurosceptics.

Interestingly enough, the term “Euroscepticism” first appeared in 1985 in a British newspaper. Since then, in various forms, such as hard or soft Euroscepticism, economic or political, it has become a permanent component of the political landscape of the EU.  It is a truly complex phenomenon, with many issues underlying it. With every new aspect of Europe introduced, the main focus of Euroscepticism has changed – from attacking the notion of the European citizen to opposing the common currency and immigration policy, to even the critiquing of the whole idea, as we see now.

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A vandalized EU sign in Sopot, Poland, 2003. Poland elected a Eurosceptic government last year.  Photo by Tomasz Sienicki

Having a Eurosceptic party as a member of a government coalition is common practice, and criticizing the Union is usually a “job” for the right and far right wings, who have enjoyed a recent rise in public support. Yet, what might surprise you is the fact that even in the European parliament, within the very heart of the EU, we can find Eurosceptic groups. It makes sense. The EU is an international organization made up of 28 Member States. A very popular debate among politicians and political scientists presently is whether the EU is turning into some sort of federal state, like the USA, leading to criticism of its supposed power. It is true that with every new treaty signed, the European Union has come closer to resembling a federal state, even if in reality it is far from it. It is also odd, though, because, the EU only has just as much power as the Member States are willing to grant it. The EU is the Member States, although some of its critics argue that at this point, states are pressured to be a part of it, because otherwise, the state is bound to face difficulties on trade and cooperation with others. While to some extent this is true, we can find plenty of examples where states have chosen to remain outside of the EU – Norway and Switzerland, for example, or Britain, which currently in process of leaving the EU.

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A Eurosceptic poster encouraging UK citizens to vote to leave the European Union, in Omagh, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. Photo by Kenneth Allen

It should be noted, that no European Union is not an option anymore, and even the harshest Eurosceptics sense that some minimal form of integration is unavoidable. The debate remains whether the EU should be an “ever closer union” or return to its original state as a free-trade zone with minimum supranational competences.

However, the close relationships between the Member States of the EU might be seen as a powerful response to globalisation. The nations of the world are ever more interdependent, and with the influential economic and cultural position of the US and the rapidly increasing influence of China, it could be argued that, if for nothing else, Europe should “stick together” for social and economic security and international competitiveness.

Nonetheless, unfortunately, most of the Euroscepticism that we see during our day-to-day lives is not based on political and/or economic facts and calculations, but rather on “she said, he said, I heard…” This is the most dangerous type of Euroscepticism. Based on the absence of knowledge or understanding, or plain ignorance, it spreads fast and effectively, and is carefully nourished by a mainstream media that submissively give the people what they want – a bad image of the EU. It is just that simple! When looking at survey data from 2015 Eurobarometer report, 42% stated that they do not understand how the EU works. If one does not understand how the EU works, are they able to critically assess the information given through the media?

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Marine Le Pen, Leader of Front National, a Eurosceptic party in France: Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen

Looking deeper, since 2010 Euroscepticism has increased not only in traditionally sceptical countries, such as Denmark and the UK, but also in founder states, such as France and Germany. Moreover, in 2015, Iceland withdrew its EU membership application. This summer, the British voted “leave” and now we see speculations here and there about Frexit, Nexit, Gexit and so on. The founding states themselves are debating the future of the Union.

Therefore, the European Union is now threatened not only by the economic crisis and the refugee crisis, but also by an “identity crisis” – mistrust and ignorance. Scepticism itself is not so bad. There is an opposition for every practice in this world, and often the opposition only pushes for the better. The EU is a new form of international organisation, and, in fact, it is expanding into unknown territory. On that account, if justified, Euroscepticism can be seen as “healthy criticism” and is actually great for reflection on current policies. Unfortunately, at the moment a major part of the scepticism among people of the EU is more “unhealthy”, as it does not propose possible compromises, but is founded on a lack of information as well as  twisted information and thus, leads to resistance against any form of European Union. To fight this, people need to be informed, information needs to be made available and supporters of the EU must help disseminate an accurate image of the EU. To do that, first they must educate themselves on the inner workings of the Union. Eurosceptics will not be deterred by a Europhile who knows nothing of the EU.

Staying informed is the least we can do.

Stay informed with The Euroculturer and click here for more by Elizabete Skrastina.

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