It is slightly perplexing but the great panjandrums of the European Union, the promoters of the Project, were genuinely shaken by the two "No" votes last summer. Perplexing, because the European Integration Project has never been envisaged as a popular or democratic one. Sprinkled through the sayings and writings of Jean Monnet, Altero Spinelli and other founding fathers is the certainty that the people are not to be consulted on this because they may well take the wrong views. Indeed, referendums of the last decade or so have proved just how prescient those founding fathers were. The people do, quite often, take the wrong road.
Despite this dislike of democracy and accountability in which the European Integration Project is rooted there has been a good deal of squawking about the "need to reconnect Europe with the people". The fact that the use of the word "Europe" in that way is one of the reasons why people are not "connected" with the project did not occur to the European great and the good.
The Laeken Declaration called for a European Convention to solve the problem of the gap between Europe or, rather, the Integration Project, and the people. What the convention produced was a several-hundred-pages-long, detailed Constitution that exacerbated the whole problem by eventually producing two negative votes, not in one of the pesky, marginal late-comers like Denmark but in two core countries: France and the Netherlands.
No question about it, the project is in trouble and something has to be done. The answer the commission came up with even before the two votes was the obvious one, given the mentality behind it all: more and better communication, i.e. propaganda.
They appointed the Swedish commissioner, Margot Wallström, to handle the task. She was appointed Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication as well as one of the Vice-Presidents of the institution. She is blonde, female, quite attractive, with no major scandals in the background and, it was felt, she could project a positive enough image of the EU and the commission. It seems nobody bothered to check into her rancorous and difficult political career in Sweden, where she became something of a liability to her party.
Wallström launched into her job with zest. She traveled round Europe and, even more enthusiastically, around the world; she made speeches; and she introduced a novelty: her own blog. The idea was that she would talk to the people of Europe, hungering for reassurance about the European Integration Project, directly and informally.
The blog became one of the greatest embarrassments. Updated irregularly, it is a mixture of fluffy-bunny blurting about the joys of spring and the beauties of the many places she has visited (at the taxpayer's expense) and solemn lectures about the greatness of the European project. At first, it was happily infested by eurosceptics of many nationalities who pulled apart the arguments to the point that a desperate call went out to the employees of the commission and the European Parliament to join the discussion with serious arguments. Mostly, these seemed to consist of praising Wallström and her wonderfully wise words. More recently, the forum has become dull and repetitive as even the eurosceptics have decided they had had enough.
After the two referendums, Wallström and the Commission decided that the subject of the "people and Europe" had to be tackled anew. Over the last few months there have been various documents elaborating on Plan D: Dialogue and Democracy.
Papers have been produced to spur discussion on the best way of presenting the European Union to the people. Media projects have been created and more are being discussed. Solemnly, Wallström has told her readers that democracy was not an easy concept to inculcate and ignored the many comments that pointed out the undoubted presence of democracy in the member states and the EU's undermining of it.
The problem is not the way the EU is communicating but what it is communicating. The idea of European integration was never that popular in strictly democratic terms but could, at one point, inspire people. It was the bright future that would shake off and overcome the horrors of the past. Its proponents managed to convince themselves that it was European integration that preserved peace in Western Europe. Sometimes, in a mood of exultation, they even affirmed that it preserved the peace in the whole of Europe, maybe the world. None of it was true and the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia, with the EU's sordid part in it, proved that beyond any doubt.
At the bottom of the ideology of European integration there are several insoluble contradictions. Its purpose is to "preserve and promote European values". By this only the positive values are meant. But these flourished in Europe precisely because it was not integrated. That's contradiction number one.
Contradiction number two has to deal with the other European "values" that are, alas, less admirable. The other supposed reason for integrating Europe is to prevent the recurrence of some of the horrors of the past. (There remains the problem of Communism, also a supranational ideology.) So we integrate in order to further European values and to overcome European history that grew out of those very values. Added to which is the undoubted fact that European history has changed and evolved as have the values. Ossifying some of them is hardly the way to square all these different circles.
There is one other contradiction. The ideology and structures of the Soviet Union, for instance, worked towards a specific end: the creation of a new type of person, the homo Sovieticus. The ideology and structures of the European Union are working towards the end of .... maintaining the European person, who had managed to survive and develop for centuries without the European Union.
Wallström and her fluffy blog cannot deal with all these problems, though she is vaguely aware that if she does not do so, the propaganda war will be lost. And once that is lost, the rest will follow.