However, the EU’s vision of utopia is a matter for debate. It aspires towards creating a new nation or super-state. This already comprises a geographical area of more than four million square kilometers and a population of 508 million people from 28 nation states. It is hungry for expansion and greater integration. Its founding principle is “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.” The objective was initially included in the 1957 Treaty Establishing the European Community and has survived ever since in the EU Treaties. (See House of Commons Library Briefing Paper “Ever Closer Union” in the EU Treaties and Court of Justice case law. No. 07230. November 16, 2015, p. 3.) Insofar as this necessitates, in substance, the effective destruction of 28 nation states’ sovereignty with little democratic mandate, the EU is a danger.
What is clear in the eyes of more and more voters is that the EU now primarily exists to serve various elites and interest groups who benefit from it to the exclusion of others. One recent survey of 10,000 “Europeans” and 1,800 members of the elite – decision-makers in politics, media and civic life across the EU – showed that 37 percent felt that people like them had benefitted from EU membership, in contrast to only nine percent of the public. Some see this reflected in the Brexit vote, claiming that voting Remain or Leave was about class and inequality, a fracture between the “globalised middle class and the anxious majority,” the “left-behind” turning the tables on urban cosmopolitans: indeed, divides in “identity, values and outlook.” Others watch with alarm at the EU’s underwhelming response to Spanish police beating up Catalonians seeking peacefully to determine their own future, forcibly removing them from polling stations, firing on crowds with rubber bullets, dragging young women away by their hair. Jan Zielonka in his aptly named book, Is the EU Doomed? (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014) started by setting out his credentials as a “genuine European.” His reasons why the EU may be doomed include its unrealistic vision; inability to remedy greed, selfishness, and conflict; and inability to reform itself (p. xiv). Prins observes how the EU is reaching the natural lifespan of any political apparatus without a demos (p. 79).
Margaret Thatcher commented on the infinite malleability of the idea of Europe:
If you are pious, it is synonymous with Christendom. If you are liberal, it embodies the Enlightenment. If you are right-wing, it represents a bulwark of barbarism against the 'dark continents.' If you are left-wing, it epitomises internationalism, human rights, and Third World aid. (Quoted in William Collins. Statecraft, 2002, and republished as an extract in On Europe, 2017, p. 12.)
She concluded it was empty. If empty, it is a vacuum which has yet to be filled – and history sets dangerous precedents for this.
The key protagonists of the early European project in the 1950’s included some no doubt who shared an explicit moral/religious vision for its future. As Nick Spencer of the British think tank Theos has observed, they were overwhelmingly Catholics from Christian Democrat parties. Frank Furedi’s Populism and the European Culture Wars (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018) identifies several important statements by key figures in the history of the EU who sought to put Christianity at the heart of the European vision. For example, Robert Schuman in 1958 justified a democratic model of governance that was “deeply rooted in Christian basic values,” whilst Jacques Delors in 2011 recognised the major role of Catholicism and Christianity in Europe’s constitution (p. 14).
Furedi identifies how dramatic the change from that earlier vision has been. Specifically, he argues that in the run up to a 2012 European Parliament debate, policymakers portrayed the new Hungarian Constitution’s references to its national and Christian traditions as dangerous (p. 12). Guy Verhofstadt, noteworthy for his antagonism as the European Parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator, demanded a report be drawn up to investigate whether there was a breach of “our values.” Others insisted that Christianity was alien to the EU’s values. One French MEP went so far as to declare that “European values are not Christian values” (p. 14). Unsurprisingly, Furedi has roundly criticised the EU for its advocacy of 1945 Year Zero History. This approach has enabled Europe to avoid having to come to terms with its messy past and permitted the erasure of Christianity from its official memory (p. 91).
Christianity rejects the idea that a perfect society is just around the corner and, therefore, treats (or ought to treat) all such claims with scepticism. There is a need for spiritual discernment, as visions of a perfect society can be overwhelmingly seductive. Any proposed utopia must address these basic questions: How does utopia address flawed human nature? How can utopia be internalised rather than compelled? How does utopia treat those who wish to leave or join it from outside? Is utopia based on spiritual values, or is it materialistic? How does it care for the common good, for the weakest – the unborn, the elderly, the disabled? Who does utopia really benefit: the common good, or an elite group, whether determined by race, class, wealth, education, linguistic ability, or another factor? Does it allow for the fact that one person’s dream another person’s nightmare?
Despite the EU’s utopian pretensions in its declared values, there are obvious weaknesses waiting to be put to the test. The second part of this article will evaluate the EU’s response to the Brexit vote and will explore an alternative non-utopian vision for Europe.