When Commission President Juncker reminded us, in his speech on the State of the European Union, about the year 1913, the year when people where not expecting the outbreak of the 1st Word War, he aimed to wake up the audience and remind them that events can unexpectedly accelerate at an unprecedented speed with catastrophic consequences. He could also have recalled the end of the 1920s when turbulent times ushered in the rise of fascist movements all over Europe leading to World War II. Their strength was the weakening and division of democrats. There is no doubt that historical comparisons or references are necessary. The question is: what are the lessons learned?
This week has also reminded us of other historical dates and some around 11 September: not only 9/11 in the US, but also the military putsch in Chile on that very date in 1973 as well as the outbreak of the financial crisis with the Lehman Brothers collapse on 15 September 2008. All three have shaken the world order in a long lasting way and still have an impact that reaches far beyond the historical date. Chile was the synonym for brutal military dictatorship supported by the USA and copied later in Argentina. Now we have “softer” coups within a democratic system such as Brazil, and Orban’s so-called “illiberal democracy”. 9/11 led to war: the “coalition of the willing” against the “axis of the evil” but it has not brought any progress, in particular not in the Middle East. Lehman and the financial crisis would have been a chance to tame the financial markets, but only a few timid attempts have been seen.
Post the last crisis means pre the next crisis and consequently the calls for policy change are not driven by pessimistic or negative views, but by the worry about how things will develop in the future. In democracies the determination of democrats is decisive and the different political choices should be on the table. They need to come up with the next European election campaign. If it is reduced to a battle between the pro-Europeans and the anti-Europeans, the antis will have the easy task of garnering the protest vote. If the majority of the pro-Europeans cannot stand above the fray, it will continue to be a muddling through and not a breakthrough. Political debate on the social/political choices needs to be at the core of the campaign. Conservatives can be easily pro-European and not necessarily nationalists. Naming and shaming can help, however, when it comes to identifying those who block social progress, those who oppose rules for the financial markets and those who stand hand in hand with the Orbans and Temers of the world.
Are we too political? No, we are not political enough when it comes to the culture of NGOs and Civil Society. We can and shall make our political choices individually, but we should not give up the political assessment and understanding of the dramatic historical process we are heading towards. Actors, activists, not observers. “Nothing does any good, unless you do it.”