The European Venue for Green Ideas

Politics, Emotions and ‘Europatriotism’

By Dick Pels , Florent Marcellesi

In June, the Green European Journal set out to explore a new book and its concepts ‘A Heart for Europe. The Case for Europatriotism’ by sociologist and freelance political writer Dick Pels. This discussion with future Member of European Parliament Florent Marcellesi, from the Green party Equo in Spain, examines the issues at stake when trying to rethink the emotional case for Europe.


Green European Journal: Dick Pels, can you summarise what you understand ‘Europatriotism’ to be?

DP: Europe has to become more country-like. Love of country is very important and I think to be able to move Europe forward we need some form of love for Europe. I know it’s very hard to advocate any kind of ‘Euro-patriotism’ these days but we need to reinforce this kind of emotional argument. The progressive Left has neglected the emotional side of politics, to its own detriment, for too long. We can learn from populists in this regard and need to think at the European level to pitch our arguments.

Europatriotism’ is about trying to find a middle way between the narrowness of provincialism of the attachment to ‘the nation’, which has created enormous havoc throughout the history of Europe, and a humanist cosmopolitanism, which is a useful concept but too abstract. Europe so far was just about erasing inner borders and we never thought what to replace them with. We need a finite European space with borders. Of course these need to be fluid, permeable and not a European fortress with high walls. It will be very European in fact to have a vague sense of this European space. Other nations could become part of the European family but there has to be loyalty to a country-like entity and its values. This requires delineating something like a European distinctiveness.

Florent Marcellesi, do you think that ‘Europatriotism’ is Green?

FM: If we want to build Europe, we have to share something. The case of ‘Europatriotism’ that you defend is something quite close to the constitutional patriotism of Habermas, which forms the basis of a lot of Green politics. It’s quite clear that what you are defending is not built on race, nor ethnicity, nor cultural commonality, but rather something based on political order, values, freedom, democracy, and a good life (in the sense of ‘buen vivir’). If we don’t have any identity or ‘Euro-belonging’, then it’s impossible to build a strong European Union. But building identity could be at the same time very dangerous. You need to be aware of the pitfalls. When you build a sort of fatherland – in that case, with patriotism – you have the ‘us’ and the ‘them’; inside and outside. But perhaps that’s partly what we need to build a community.

Is ‘Europatriotism’ not simply a replication of national patriotism but on another scale?

DP: It’s scaling up, precisely, which is the only thing that can save Europe. All the big problems Europe is now confronted with cannot be solved by nation states single-handedly. When you think about climate change, food provision and security, energy provision and security, all those problems can only be solved by scaling up. Scaling up is absolutely necessary. It’s also necessary against Social Democrats, who try to defend the traditional national welfare state, because you also have to defend the welfare state against multinational corporations and financial markets who threaten it from the outside. It’s often said that the biggest construction mistake in Europe is the unevenness between markets and states. The only way to protect the individual citizen, who is now anxious about jobs and the economic future, is to scale up Europe politically in order to generate the power that is needed to fight bigger powers. I think the Greens have to distance themselves from the national retreat of Social Democrats and populists, and must reinvent the Left to make it into a European protection device on socioeconomic issues.

Although my book is polemical against populists, I think we need to learn from them, and ‘Europatriotism’ is trying to steal back what they have stolen from us, such as the notions of freedom, social democracy, solidarity, tolerance – all these values are our values, or at least, they used to be, and we don’t know how exactly we should defend them at the European level.

FM: I very much agree about this idea of scaling up, but I think we have to scale down at the same time. In that case, we can say that the nation is too big for small problems and too small for big problems. So right now we have to scale down to more local democracy, and to what the Greens call the re-localisation of the economy. I am talking about local problems and solutions, with local councillors in towns and rural areas. The Europe of regions and the Europe of cities. It’s very interesting right now to look at cities of change in Spain, for example, or cities mobilising against TTIP. They are putting forward new spaces of resistance and creativity.

At the same time, it is true that we have to scale up and when we talk about ‘Europatriotism’. In my view it would not be the same as national patriotism just because we are in another historical period, so we don’t have to ask such questions. Europe is multicultural with many different values and at the same time more interdependent than ever, and neither of these will change soon. So maybe we need less theoretical debate about nationalism and ‘Europatriotism’ since we are anyway in a ‘UFO’ scenario. So let’s construct it in a practical way, invent a new reality with a new vocabulary, in all its European diversity and dependency, and see what we can do and achieve. Europe is a constant experimentation without any previous model, nor fixed goal.

DP: I do think that there’s something we can learn from history and the way that nations were built during 18th and 19th centuries in Europe. There are things we need to distance ourselves from, such as how Germany and Italy were united through war. There are others, though, such as educational efforts in nation-building we can copy from. On the symbolic plane, for example, it’s very significant that the first act of the recently elected Polish government was to take down the European flag from all government buildings and then, a couple of weeks later, there were civil society Committee for the Defence of Democracy demonstrations in all Polish cities and they all flew the European flag. The European flag but also Eurovision, festivals, commemorations could be used in some contexts to symbolise Europe.

FM: Greens could use ‘Eurocitizenship’ and ‘Eurodemocracy’ when talking about identity: the former to break the connection between citizenship and national identity, and have a citizenship of residence; the second to depict Europe as the land of democracy and the many struggles for democracy in Europe.

In your book, Dick, the core values of ‘Europatriotism’ are European freedom, European democracy and ‘the European good life’. Why do they constitute ‘Europatriotism’?

DP: I think a reinvention of progressive values is very much needed because our opponents and enemies, the populists, have nationalised all of these values and left us Green-Lefties embarrassed about what it is we exactly are defending. Love for Europe began with the original notion of never-again war, which I propose to broaden and deepen in order to project the notion of a future society where violence in all its forms is suppressed as much as possible. That platform is more encompassing and, I suppose, emotionally appealing. From there we can reinvent values – freedom, democracy, ‘the good life’.

To talk about democracy for example, you can oppose the democracy of minorities to the democracy of majorities, in which the will of the people is translated in terms of the 50% + 1 vote: the majority, who is always right, and can legitimately oppress minorities. This is very much the sense of primordial and populist notion of democracy. I embrace an alternative tradition, which is more dedicated to representation, to checks and balances, to the protection of minority rights. Which, in the end, if you think logically through the need to protect minority rights, you arrive at the minority of one. You need to protect a dissident as the ultimate method of what the Germans would call ‘punkt null’ of democracy.

In terms of European solidarity and ‘good life’ I think we need to address the massive inequalities across the European diagonal divide between Northwest and Southeast. To think of a social Europe with small beginnings, a European minimum wage, collective insurance schemes, adapted to the different levels of economic prosperity. A new kind of social democracy – a Green social democracy – which would emphasise ideas of circular economy, inclusiveness, work ethic, and so on.

How do we fight back against populist forces who have been very good at “marketing” populism on the very values you talk about? Is there a potential for the Greens to reclaim these ideas as European?

FM: It’s quite clear that we as Greens have a utopic point of view because we want to be leaderless and we want people to think about the earth in general. Before being an inhabitant of a country, we are first inhabitants of the earth. It’s a Green, classic slogan. But outside of our bubble, most people don’t think like that. They think that first they have to be part of a family, a country, and then maybe something else. Greens also need to recognise that people share a kind of identity with the land. We need to understand that and see how we connect this vision with the larger reality we fight for. The worst thing we can do is to ignore the fears and realities of people, and their identity. That should be our starting point. With a goal: convert them with a positive and inclusive vision.

‘When we speak about populists, we speak about danger.’ I don’t agree with that. We have to understand better what populism means. Far-right populism, for example, is dangerous not so much for being populist but much more for defending a racist and intolerant society. But, although we disagree or have profound debates on how to change the world and what kind of world we want, there are types of populism that I don’t consider as dangerous, per se. Look at what we have with Spain, where the Greens are in a coalition with a populist party, Podemos. There are things we can learn from populists without being populists ourselves. What did we learn in Spain? That you have to think about leadership for example. That doesn’t mean doing the same as populists who have one man who’s supposed to represent “the people”, but for example think about collective leadership to represent diversity and embody change. Same with communication, where populists are much better than us. How do we want to communicate in a simple way our complex vision of society and connect our Green imaginary with the dominant social imaginary? We also have to think about the third pillar of populism: hegemony and power. It is a core issue for populists. Do Greens want to build a new hegemony? What is our theory of power and change? We have to rethink this concept. Populists challenge us on these issues.

How do we articulate a European identity with the current plurality of identities? How do we address people when populists dominate by playing on fears or local identities, and when more and more mainstream parties also adopt an anti-EU, Eurosceptic discourse?

DP: We need to regain self-confidence first. We need a convincing story, us progressives, on what Europe is all about. It’s like trying to find your footing again and I think the populists are the biggest force now and they challenge us, which is good, because we need to go deeper in our self-examination.

Populists play their cards mainly on anti-elitism and anti-pluralism but are not always anti-democratic and therefore we need to join forces with them in the political landscape, even though I of course exclude from those the far-right such as Jobbik or Golden Dawn. Similarly we need to recognise on the Left – Die Linke in Germany or Parti de Gauche in France – that these parties are similar to the right-wing in terms of opting for the national protection of the anxious working class. But they do so because they recognise the deep sentiment of anxiety of people, especially those who are out of work due to globalisation.

FM: We always talk about the things we have to do better, but a lot of good things are happening right now. I am not being optimistic, but realistic. For example, in Europe, we are building transnational relationships. For the Greens, during the European elections in 2014, Ska Keller was a good example of building transnational relationships. Good transnational leadership is about a few key persons known in Sweden, Germany, Spain, Greece or Poland. We also need some transnational press. We don’t have a European newspaper although some are doing this – the Green European Journal, for example, or more and more partnerships between national newspapers translating articles from each other. The Panama Papers affair was the result of a European investigation consortium of newspapers. In newspapers all across Europe most issues are the same: refugees, TTIP, Euro crisis, terrorism. That’s a European public space! We are going in the right direction, we just need to go further.

Is this perspective limited to a progressive, well-educated segment of those living particularly in Western Europe?

DP: There needs to be transnational leadership where people are able to really communicate a vision of what Europe can be. Educational language is important, too. In this interview, different nationals are talking to each other! Probably not perfectly and in international English, but it’s enough. So European culture is developing, and I’m afraid English will be the lingua franca and there is no other way, but it’s also a good thing. And it’s growing. So when populists claim that there will never be a European democracy because we can’t talk to each other, it’s a lie.

In your book, Dick, you write that patriotism in Europe is for all of us while describing a very clear divide between North-Western and South-Eastern Europe. Do you think that the so-called ‘periphery’ can be the laboratory of new ideas? Don’t you think this divide is too severe on EU diversity?

DP: The point of the values I defend as European values is precisely to be polemical against cultures and traditions within Europe that are still not up to these values, such as forms of religion collectivism, or nationalism, or lack of solidarity in Eastern Europe regarding the refugee question, etc. You could also turn it around and say there’s a lack of solidarity from North-Western Europe towards the South, so it’s a mixed proposal. I think North-Western Europeans can pontificate on a number of things they have developed and furthered – recognising the equality between men and women and with regard to sexual preferences, like in the Netherlands, for example. Those are “export articles”. There are a number of values that could be exported from North-Western Europe towards South and East. This could be an educational project, and it could look a little bit elitist but we need to realise also that elites are not always bad. There’s also the other side of the coin, in that the rich need to redistribute wealth towards poorer countries in Southern and Eastern Europe.

FM: When you say that we have to export values from the North, you should look at Spain, which was one of the first nations to legalise same-sex marriages. So who should export to who? I think it’s not an issue of exporting power and values, it’s an issue of transnational democracy. We don’t have to export to someone; we share the same struggles. Grassroots struggles in the South, for example, gave a lot back to Europe. The Indignados have been a source of inspiration to many other grassroots organisations. We need to think more about transnational struggles and democracy and how we can converge all the struggles together.

And lastly, we need to consider the model of the North-Western European countries in sustainability and ecology terms because to live as the Dutch, Swedish, or British, you would need some three planets at least. Even the welfare system isn’t sustainable at all because it survives on the exploitation of the South, its resources and people and of future generations. The good life in that sense is not working. We need not a Spanish system, not a French system; but a new system. One of the reasons populism scores so well at the moment is because we are not able to understand the crisis of civilisation around growth, production and consumption. To tell people that growth will continue is to lie, which will further feed mistrust and this is what populists capitalise on. At least as Greens we can put the idea on the table that growth it over, it is not a solution, but a problem, and we can posit that a new model is needed: not Dutch nor Spanish, a European dream, in a post-growth society.