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The time has come to save Europe, the planet, humanity. This can only be done through a new, courageous democratic process. Indeed, while we tend to reduce democracy to a mere electoral procedure, also an important one, Europe and the rest of the world have totally forgotten what it means to be a community, to search the truth together and to foster a full human development. Democracy has been reduced to the choice of the best political, cultural or consumerist product to be bought by atoms called citizens. Therefore, community is a word that can be manipulated by European populists in order to get consensus; the truth is something decided only by tribunals, or imposed with violence in other parts of the world; and growth is considered only as the annual change in the GDP, without any reference to happiness, relations, sense. We lack a strong democracy, as something more than a merely electoral procedure, exactly at a time when the use of reason, together with overcoming one’s egoic identifications, is the only hope to deal with issues such as climate change. The tragedy of two world wars and of millions of victims was followed in our continent by an ambitious, brave idea such as the European project. But that tragedy provided also a chance to philosophers such as Hannah Arendt to describe the risks of mass society, or to the Frankfurt School to denounce the violence arising from the use of human reason only as an instrument to pursue an aim. The identity problem of Europe is the identity problem of democracy. It is a philosophical, and an existential matter. Europe was the place that developed a sense of tolerance, after centuries of wars, and it did so through dialogue, universities, newspapers, coffee houses, and, of course, parliaments, towns, families, personal relations, faiths, religions, atheists. The dream of Europe was the result of the suffering of nations, meaning of mothers, father, sons, daughters. Therefore, something very concrete. The lack of wars, for more than 70 years, has been an outstanding and historic achievement for Europe. However, the increasing polarisation of politics, for instance in the United States, the rise of populism and racism, the inability to act faster against climate change, are signs that, together with wars, also the sense of community, or at least of an ethic dimension of life seems to have been lost. The philosophical problem of democracy is the inability of societies to become communities, to create what Habermas calls a public sphere, in order to decide on what is right and meaningful for us as humans. Most of our decisions are economic ones and, while they are very important, they are based on assumptions that could at least be questioned by a rational, autonomous human being. For instance, some of these questions that could be asked are the following: is technology really more important than humanities for the European future? The fact that infertility has strongly risen among Western males is only a medical, scientific issue? Should European youngsters care only about getting a job or also about forming and expressing their identities through work, in order to avoid becoming what Hannah Arendt called “animal laborans”? Europe can only be a free, deep community if its States become so. And this requires what, in my book “Exchanging Autonomy” I defined as functional autonomy: we act on the basis of some values, instead of believing in some values just because they are needed to convince ourselves of what we do to survive. And democracy and Europe require also an existential change. A change thanks to which the inclusion of the other is not only a political and philosophical option, but the natural outcome of feeling whole with humanity, the environment, the planet, the universe. Until we overcome the tendency to consider as an enemy whoever is different from us, just because we identify ourselves in some traditions, or ideas, or nations, or parties, the philosophical idea of democracy is going to remain an abstract one. This is a time when climate change, maybe more than any other challenge, is endangering all humanity. Europe can be a leader in dealing with it, not only through concrete actions in limiting CO2 emissions, but also in thinking about a different economic paradigm, for which the quality of production is as important as quantity, for instance. Europe and humanity need to be saved. Technocratic solutions might be useful, in some cases, but they will never be enough when we need reason, communities, truth, development of humanity, and values that can be exchanged, applied, communicated. Populism, that manipulates the sense of belonging of people, on one hand, and neoliberalism, that tries to convince people that they only belong to what they consume, and that everything can be commodified, are both very distant from what we need today. We need individuality beyond individualism, communities beyond mass societies, a public sphere beyond mere markets where also information is a product. The time is now.
I think we have a problem with the democratic voting system as it applies to the EU migrants – people of one EU country who made a home in a different EU country, but did not change citizenship. Perhaps the best examples here are the Eastern European countries. The problem that I see is that, if you are a migrant (say, leaving Romania and making a home in France), then you become somewhat deprived of your democratic right vote – you can vote for the President, if the government in your original country is so kind as to make it easy for you, but you can’t vote for the parliament, nor for the local elections. While in your new home, you have no right to vote at all. In my opinion, this can currently cause a big problem in this scenario: Imagine that you were living in a poor EU country, where the future looked bleak, and thus you sought a new EU country that could give you a better future. The same happened with hundreds of thousands others in your country, or possibly millions, throughout the years. Now, several years after you have left, a populist political party comes up in your country of origin, blaming everything on EU and promising paradise to the people, and election date is coming. If it’s an election for the President, you might be able to find a city where to go to vote in the foreign country (not necessarily, but likely possible). If it’s for the parliament, then you can do nothing – the laws in your country of origin may state that you have to be there in person, in the county where you are registered, in order to vote. And for various reasons you can’t afford to travel to that country at that time. This basically means that you are deprived of the right to vote. And thus can do nothing to prevent a populist party from coming to power. And in a country that had been so heavily depopulated by migration, you can bet that a very good part of the people that remained are poor and many have never left their town / city ever, and may thus live in a fairytale of the populist party’s making. I think that poor people and people who never traveled outside of their country are most likely to fall to populist propaganda, and it’s sad if those who did travel and live in a different EU country can do nothing about it. I believe it would be great if EU migrants could vote for the national parliament of their country of origin, regardless of where in the EU they made a new home. I also believe it would be great if the EU could come up with some guarantees / laws for all of its member states – e.g. to demand electronic or remote vote, to guarantee that all EU citizens are able to vote for their country of origin (so as not to depend on national government), to be able to contribute to the future of the nation they may one day return to.
If EU really wants to be a democracy, then I believe that EU should be able & willing to initiate referendums. 1. When the politicians of a member state do something that is contrary to the values of EU, I believe EU should be able to ask the people, not the so-called representatives of the people, whether they agree or not. We all know that any political party can come to power by promising heavy tax cuts and great raises of salaries and pensions, and after they win the election can go forth and do what they actually wanted to do, perhaps even do exactly the opposite of everything they promised. And in such case, the people are usually have absolutely no power to change them. 2. I believe that certain matters that are relevant to all EU member states should require the people to answer whether they like it or not, not the nation’s representatives. That’s because people will not take responsibility for the actions of others (i.e. of their so-called representatives) – and so, if the national representatives will not actually represent the will of the people, then the people will blame it all on EU: “The EU imposed on us! The EU forced it upon us! EU is anti-democratic!” And such referendums should have priority over the will of the national politicians.