Leiden Law Blog

Us v. them or Europe for everybody

Us v. them or Europe for everybody

In the coming days a petition signed by some 56.000 people will be presented to our parliament, asking for a debate on the future of Europe and its “ever expanding power at the expense of member-states”. The main driving factor behind the initiative is Thierry Baudet, this firebrand of a young scholar and public figure so splendidly demonstrating the power of thought in action.

A few days ago his voice – still quicker than the dazzling speed of his thoughts it seemed – was heard through Radio Four, the Netherlands’ classical music channel. In a well-nigh rap-like sequence of sentences against Europe he put it again - among many other things - that “Europeans are too different” to really form some or other administrative unity.

However interesting this all is, it still leaves one with uneasy feelings concerning undertones of “us versus them”.  “We do not want to import crime from Eastern Europe do we?” Sure we don’t. But then we do want to curb crime both here and there. Or are we to say that everybody ought to mind their own business?

The same holds true for another driving force behind anti-Europeanism: “why pay for financial messes made by other people?” Or put more explicitly: we don’t want to suffer for other people’s problems.
One step further and it is implied that South and Eastern Europe deserve their fates like we deserve our relative safety and wealth. “Did not we earn all this ourselves, through good hard work? Why pay for other people’s laziness?” And so on and so forth, seldom explicitly stated but still looming behind anti-Europeanisms and in fact re-emerging nationalisms.

This “mind your own business” and “he who does not labour shall not eat” smacks of right wing politics or even populism of course. Why not be solidary with other Europeans, fellow human beings in fact, even in redistributing the fruits of our own labours? In what sense may our riches be called “the fruits of our own labours?” Don’t we flourish as a consequence of states and societies offering opportunities not being made by ourselves at all? After all, making money even in the simplest of markets presupposes public safety, an effective system of law and judicature, logistics and so much more, far beyond any individual contribution.

And whence the prediction that more Europe leads to the decline of nations? What kind of very complex empirical statement is this? How to determine what Europe’s fate will be with different kinds and degrees of unity, legal and otherwise? This is far too complex an issue to warrant any general pessimism like: “More Europe means less quality of life” and so on.

To return to the referendum: European organisations as we know it are judged to be undemocratic, in thwarting national parliamentary decision making. Thus a referendum on Europe is deemed necessary, in order to give democracy a chance against Europe after all. But then referenda are no more than alternative forms of democracy of course, not necessarily better than less direct parliamentary democracy. – Thierry Baudet has brilliant ideas, but why does he feel the need to appeal to the people? Nationalist and egoist populism will once more be the result one may well fear.

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