Nikos Konstandaras at PostGlobal

Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. He worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press from 1989 to 1997 before joining the Greek press and has reported from many countries in the region. Close.

Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. more »

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Defend Europe Now

The Current Discussion: After Ireland voted 'No' in last week's referendum on EU reform, we're left wondering: Is the EU unraveling?

ATHENS - It is pitiful to see how little faith the leaders of European Union countries have in themselves and in the great human, political, economic and social experiment that outrageous fortune has put in their care. European integration is in danger, but not because of the Irish rejection of the diluted reform treaty that aimed to make the Union a more coherent and functional political body. It’s in danger because of the tactical incompetence and lack of inspired leadership on the part of the people who govern the member-states’ governments as well as those charged with running the EU.

The Irish rejection of the EU’s reform treaty in a referendum last week, just as the French and Dutch “no” to its predecessor, the EU Constitution in 2005, will undoubtedly lead to a chorus of declarations that the will of the voters has to be respected. And so, close to 500 million Europeans whose countries are members of the EU will have to be happy with Europe’s continued limbo because a majority of Ireland’s three million voters had a bone to pick with their government and little confidence in the future. After the French and Dutch referenda, Europe froze for about two years. The reform treaty was the EU leaders’ effort to placate skeptics who feared that the EU was taking too much power away from national governments. Now the Irish have sunk even that compromise and there is no Plan C.

In my mind, instead of all the hand-wringing about how the Irish have to be won over, it is time for the EU leaders to issue a declaration of faith in a more integrated Europe and to give the Irish one more chance to think about Europe and their place in it, rather than the more domestic concerns regarding abortion, taxes and jobs that seem to have swayed their vote. If the Irish have such reservations concerning Europe, they have two options. They can find a way to leave (while paying back at least some of the funds that pulled them out of the deep pit of their history in the shadow of the English and made them one of the richest groups of people in the EU). Or they can forfeit their representative on the European Commission, in which case they would still share all the rights and obligations of membership but would not have a voice on the EU’s executive - as a gesture of their disdain for the procedure. Either way, the Irish would be putting their money where their mouth is.

This may sound harsh, but then isn’t it even more harsh when a few hundred thousand voters should determine the fate of hundreds of millions whose parliaments said “yes” to closer European cooperation? And all this while paying lip service to the democracy of referenda?

Now is the time for EU leaders to lead their people, not pass the buck to them. If they do not believe that their country belongs in the Europe that is taking shape, they should put that on their platforms and go to the voters. If parties are elected on a pro-Europe ballot, they should then have the guts to ratify the reform treaty in their parliaments, as all but the Irish plan to do, and not hide behind referenda which are usually a reflection of local gripes and current dompestic politics rather than a verdict on the major issue that is being determined.

If I am angry, it is because I am a European and I believe that the world is a better place because of the European Union. I don’t want Europe to sink for silly reasons. I know that my country, Greece, despite its many problems is infinitely better because of its long membership in the European Union. And it is not just an issue of getting money or, for other countries, paying money: it is an issue of values, an issue of identity. Already, the world knows where the EU, as a whole, stands on human rights, on the death penalty, on tolerance, on the need for consensus and progress. Half a billion people enjoy a standard of living and social justice that are unparalleled and are the envy of the rest of the world. Europe helps develop undeveloped regions of the world. The sum of the European members’ economies is a pole of stability in the world and the euro is the currency of 320 million people in 15 countries - that’s more people than the population of the United States.

No one can deny all this. But if there is still a problem with a European identity, that is because the leaders of national governments and political parties are too afraid to state unequivocally that their country can survive and develop only as part of a greater union; they cannot make themselves look as impotent and irrelevant as they are. And so, in order to look taller at home, they leave no one to defend the idea of Europe, to present an inspired vision of what a united Europe is and what it can do.

Now that the Irish have done their bit to undermine European integration, it is time for Europe’s leaders to decide whether they and their people will have a brighter future if they remain as uncommitted to Europe as they have appeared so far, or if they would be better served by putting aside their own egos and inadequacies and drawing a line in the sand, blocking any further erosion of the continent’s future.

Europe will not be built in a day, but in an increasingly difficult and unpredictable world, those who are fortunate to have enjoyed its benefits should have the sense to know that history does not imply the implacable march of progress. There are times when achievements have to be defended at all costs so that civilization may not slide backward. This is one of those times. May it lead to a stronger union.

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