Growing sense of fin de siecle in Brussels

April 17, 2009


    There is a growing feeling of “fin de siecle” in Brussels  these days, a sense of degeneration, of euro-depression.
    But people across the European Union do not seem to care.

    The collective EU leadership is widely seen as weak and demoralised and the Czech government has collapsed in the middle of its six-month presidency of the 27-nation bloc, an unprecedented event that is bound to leave much unfinished business before an election to the European Parliament in June.

    Nobody knows what the EU’s institutions are going to look
like in the future, with the Lisbon treaty that is supposed to
reform them in limbo.

    The executive European Commission and the parliament are in
transition, the former avoiding difficult decisions and debates
for fear of harming the treaty’s ratification. As a result, an
important debate on EU budget reforms can’t even get started.

    The global economic crisis is forcing governments to take
extraordinary measures that do not always coincide with EU rules
but the Commission seems to turn a blind eye in some cases. But
then, the EU has always been good at fudging.

    There are also plenty of signs of EU enlargement fatigue.

    But do people care? Judging by a poll this week, the answer
is no.

    The Eurobarometer poll showed turnout in the election
could be the lowest ever. Only 34 percent of EU adults are
certain they will vote, a sign of no-confidence in the EU 

 A “fin de siecle” should offer hope of rebirth, a new
beginning. It’s hard to feel any at the moment. The EU’s
bureaucratic machine will lumber along until better times come.
But how much does anyone care?


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The matter of people not being interested in Europe has, in fact, become fairly interesting in itself, not least precisely because on any ordinary measure of things it should be the most fundamental issue politically and economically. One might also add constitutionally. Yet people nevertheless will say quite seriously that Europe does not interest them at all. This might not be so worrying if they were from countries which have not yet joined the EU, but this is the citizens of countries which already have joined, in some cases a long time ago.

I’m aware that various opinion poll soundings from around the time of the late nineties showed that British people were on the whole in favour of membership of the EU but very ambivalent about the actual policies of the organisation. They certainly voted by a wide majority to stay in the old EEC in 1975 (the only time they were given a public referendum). Without doubt, campaigning strongly against the single currency was not a vote winner in British general elections, as the party in power went into elections in 1997 committed in principle to taking Britain into the single currency. Yet many voters then said Europe did not interest them.

It seems to me that not being interested may sometimes mean not wanting openly to declare an interest, which is rather a different thing. It is also the case that people are not obliged to answer questions from opinion pollsters, and not obliged to exercise their right to vote. Maybe that would change if the European Parliament’s powers in terms of direct government were not so limited, but then this is the issue on which people are not agreed.

Posted by Howard G Kiernan | Report as abusive

Every British opinion poll for some years now has shown that the majority do not want the euro and would in fact no longer want to be a part of the whole european mess.

Posted by Billy The Brit | Report as abusive