We are told that the South Americans see Europe as a continent paralyzed by fear. Why is this? Why is it that a continent that has led so many changes, and saw itself as the center of the world, now looks like a worn-out land? Why, attacked by the savage Taliban of austerity, do the citizens react so timorously that they crouch a little lower every day?
Europe's fear has to do with its living standards. The EU's middle classes are riddled with paranoia, hypochondria and paralyzing anxieties, which the governments have fomented to impose the hatchet-blows of austerity. Governments tend to conceal bad news for the sake of their image. In this crisis, however, they have opted for an apocalyptic line, keeping up a running fire of gloomy auguries, so the public will uncomplainingly submit to radical measures, which so far have had only negative effects for the majority.
But above and beyond the immediate causes of the culture of fear that has chilled Europe to the bone, there are causes that go back a long way. Of the three aspects of the EU - bureaucrats, states and citizens - it is clear that for years the first two have been joining forces to sideline the third. The combination of the technocratic despotism of Brussels, and a set of inter-governmental balances ever more inclined to German hegemony, is lethal to democracy. Brussels directives, emerging from obscure offices and the lobbies around them, have minimized the role of national parliaments and their laws. The authority of the stronger countries, especially Germany, has reduced others to supporting actors. Where are the citizens in this show? How can their voice be heard?
Bureaucrats and states believe the idea of a federal Europe truly based on the citizens' votes is a mirage. The Brussels bureaucracy has been especially disastrous for the quality of democracy. It is a technocratic caste that proposes to lead Europe autonomously and for its own benefit. In its view, political life is a superficial and much overrated phenomenon, and only a rational bureaucracy can give effective leadership. So that, far from having any political project, its only aim is to maintain its power and position.
Above and beyond the immediate causes of the culture of fear that has chilled Europe to the bone, there are causes that go back a long way
This negation of democratic politics, which squares perfectly with the conservative hegemony that began in the 1980s, is the driving force of a political culture based on concepts such as efficiency, stability, security, growth and productivity, and systematically disregarding the basic concepts of justice and equity. Justice, even in the sense of reaction against flagrant injustice, has been wiped out of the EU's political language. Without justice, what is left but fear?
To this institutional degradation we must add the left's incapacity to propose an alternative. It has not even shown a desire to do so. Pushed into mimicry by the right, it has left empty the space for critical thought, which looks more and more like a solitary hobby, with no possibility of concrete political results. So politics decays, fear spreads and indifference reigns. Subjugated by technocracy, politics yields to economic power. The European social model, in the interests of the Brussels caste, the lobbies and the strongest country, is watered down. Yet politics cannot be entirely dispensed with. It reappears in territories that are well known: in claims of national identity, or in the promise of solutions known to be impossible, which we call populism. How long fear will take to turn to indignation, and this into politics, will determine the future of this EU which, seen from without and from within, looks forlorn and grounded on shoals. The appeal to national identity is not enough; we need serious discussion on the social model, and on democratic reform. The fear in Europe is the result of a systematic exclusion of citizens from the EU project.