Broederschap. Pleidooi voor verbondenheid
Author, Frans Timmermans, translated from the Dutch e-Book version 2015
At the beginning of this essay Episodes of flaring up European unity in the context of federalism I have stated that Frans Timmermans (Vice chairman of the European Commission) in his book Broederschap. Pleidooi voor verbondenheid, does not talk about federalism. He is a protagonist of the present treaty-based European Union. And therefore a supporter of changing the Treaty of Lisbon, if that would further brotherhood in Europe.
Thus, I must classify Timmermans among the group of European politicians who assume that a Treaty of intergovernmental administration is able to maintain a viable European Union. Thus, without understanding that the ‘EU’s present disintegration is not caused by a nasty environment outside of the EU, nor by disobedient Member States, but by the fact that its legal and organizational foundation is so dysfunctional that it will succumb under the pressure of externally driven (geopolitical) problems and internally driven conflicts as a consequence. There might be – of course – another reason why Timmermans still favours the Treaty of Lisbon as the best foundation for the EU: if he would talk about the usefulness and necessity of a European Federation the whole European Council of 28 (now 27) government leaders and heads of states would decapitate him politically. Thus he might think that it is wise to shut up about it, for now.
Politicians who sincerely think that Europe will get a prosperous and safe future by continuing the present treaty have great difficulty in recognising that the internal crises – which they perceive indeed – precisely stem from that wrong foundation. Mechanically they turn to the instrument of adapting the treaty: even more opt-outs, compromises and concessions. To experience some years later that things have even got worse. Well, I shall not repeat the way Verhofstadt describes this misery.
There is, nevertheless, a very good reason to review this book as number five in this series. Because it deals from the beginning until the end with European basic values. In that sense this book might be valued highly as one long elaboration of the principles of the French Revolution of 1789: liberty, equality and brotherhood, while dwelling on the inalienable rights as mentioned in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That is why I review this book. A review in the sense of quoting a series of important sections. All quotations together articulate what – in the opinion of Timmermans – Europe is and should be. I do not know of any better formulations in favour of Europe. And when he begins to see that federalization is the only instrument to realize those values, we have gained another step forward towards federalization.
Literally quotations from Brotherhood. Plea for unity
“After this mixture of crises, hitting severely the middle class of the western world, the refugee crisis arrived on top of this. It is, what is called in English, ‘a perfect storm’. All plagues from Egypt come together. There we are. What shall we do about it? Moaning does not help. Nor ducking. Let’s start, I would say. Because there is so much worth living for, so much to love, to work for.” (p. 8)
“The solution is the same as has been indicated earlier by Victor Hugo: watch the coherence of things, watch especially the unity of all people in our society – a society that is inseparably connected with other societies. Dare to take the step to see this brotherhood not as a big danger but as our biggest chance.” (p. 9)
“Even I ask myself if we have not lost too much of our ability to look really at other people. If you cannot look at the world through the eyes of someone else you will lose also a part of yourself.” (p. 12)
“Being afraid of everybody: maybe fear has become the most intensive driving force in the politics of the previous fifteen years. Fear is a powerful political instrument. Nothing is more tempting for a politician than using that fear. Why? Because fear prevents observing: if people are afraid they will look for one thing only, the affirmation for justifying that fear.” (p. 19)
“There are enough politicians in Europe who would love to prove the existence of danger. If fear dominates, we only see the threat and not the opportunities.” (p. 20)
“Unfortunately, the confidence crisis affects all forms of administration, influences politics on all levels and must therefore be addressed on every level. In this respect the EU has to play the role of jointly solving problems that go beyond the influence or the power of the individual countries. Solving conflicts by treaties, agreements and laws, which were solved in the past only by means of power, often accompanied by much bloodshed.” (p. 25)
“To be clear: the people who are screaming loudly for closing borders are wishing in effect to build walls around us. They see borders as the limes of the Roman Empire: bastions against barbarism, fences to keep outside everything that is foreign. But borders are not instruments to keep certain people outside and other people inside – that is what walls or fences are for. Borders are merely demarcations, which make it easier to regulate mutual relationships. Borders make the interchange and mutual understanding easier, without losing the useful differences between communities.” (p. 33)
“Europe shows a distressing lack of solidarity within and between societies. Why? Because, in my view, solidarity cannot be pushed from the top down. Even not from the bottom up. Solidarity in a modern society is organized from the middle.” (p. 46)
“No wonder that short-term self-interest receives more attention than long-term general interest. Nevertheless, there is no other sustainable answer to our challenges than searching for a collective response. Though, this requires repairing and maintaining essential links within and between societies.” (p. 48)
“We have lost the beauty of telling stories while the need for stories might be bigger than ever. This need starts with education. Children who hear many words and read a lot become smarter. Having them read more, listen more, talk more to one another and with other generations is in my view an essential condition for building the active and committed citizenship that our society is longing for.” (p. 55)
“Europe too, urgently needs a more collective conscience about what we share and what is dividing us, about where we come from and which common destiny is laying ahead.” (p. 57)
“It would be desirable if the national arenas would feel more politically responsibility for defending the common ‘Europeanness’ instead of opposing to this European administration.” (p. 58)
“Especially the urgent and inevitable adjustment towards a sustainable society will require the utmost organizational and transforming capacities of administrations of each level: locally, regionally, nationally, European and globally. The one and only handicap for this generation – and the next one – is the insufficient support and trust for those administrations by their citizens who mandate them to take care of the required transformations.” (p. 62)
“Why did we organize European solidarity in this way? Why is European society composed in this way? Why do we have all these treaties? Because we have learned from European history that treaties are the only means to abide with each other. If we lose the basis of treaties – firm agreements – we cannot bear each other sooner or later and we will start looking again for means of power to suppress each other. That is the lasting feature in European history.” (p. 60)
“Indifference begins when we do not contradict wrong words. Thinking: let it be, no quarrel, it will go away.” (p. 82)
“My plea for Europe has to do with rediscovering where we come from and based on that discovery drawing the path to where we want to go. And where we want to go cannot be anything else than a solidary society which is organized from the inside, from the centre.” (p. 88)
“Trusting – ourselves and one another – will return to European society as soon as there is some belief again in what should be binding us, in the social contract that supports each society.” (p. 91)
“Searching the links that bind us has become of life-importance. Leaving that quest to people who think only along ethnic or religious lines of exclusion will only reinstate sectarianism. Without connection there is no trust.” (p. 93)
“Connecting is not an end in itself, but rather an instrument to make the community stronger, giving the individual and that community the chance to make the best of it.” (p. 95)
“Telling stories, connecting, elevating. That is brotherhood.” (p. 98)
After having published his book in 2015, Timmermans must have understood that treaties – as the connecting basis of the European Union – have become worthless sheets of paper. The EU-reality has demonstrated in 2016 that treaty-based duties are ignored by Member States as soon as they feel their own interests threatened. Then they shrug their shoulders about the legal foundation that is connecting them and go their own way, unpunished.
This is the typical characteristic of confederal/intergovernmental administrating: as soon as it becomes difficult the connection between the countries breaks down, states pull back within their own nation-state borders, applying new means of border security, causing that domain of anarchy between nation-states that the continental and British federalists tried to cover with cross-border law and organization to prevent new conflicts. And then, it is just a matter of waiting for those new conflicts to arrive.
I hope that Frans Timmermans – just like Churchill once did – will recognize (by seeing the already existing societal foundation pro-European unity) that only by a radical adjustment of the stately structure of Europe – namely by creating a European Federation – he can achieve his ideals. I also hope that he does not come too late, as was the case with Churchill. He offered a federal union between France and England at the time when the Germans took Paris. After World War II he still produced some remarkable speeches in favour of a European Federation, but at the arrival of the Schuman Plan of 1950 this striving for a European Federation – strongly led by England – disappeared. And at the arrival of Brexit, it fell into an abyss. At least in England. The European continent will federalize, one way or another. The question only is: who shall take the lead? And when? When it is too late, again? Or on time, now?