In this post, ALDE Individual member Alejandro Almau argues that the defence of the European project does not depend on spontaneous feelings of belonging, but rather, that such emotions can arise from the rational acknowledgement of its merits
I was tempted to call this a ‘thought letter’. I decided to go with love because, as I will explain, it is actually both and, well, it sounds better.
First I should clarify that to me, true love is not the result of a sudden emotion that could go away as it came. Not a whim of the soul that defies explanation.
When I think of why I love my girlfriend I don’t find myself in clueless wonder. I could name dozens of reasons why I think she’s great, why I care about her and why it would be foolish to leave her. Chemistry definitely plays a part too, especially in getting started, but beyond that, there has to be actual reasons to serve as the foundation for any lasting relationship, romantic or otherwise.
In this time of shameless sentimentalism I am often accused of being cold for presenting ideas of this kind, but I disagree. I find that there is nothing more heart-warming than the deeper form of love that comes from the certainty that the reasons of affection are real and will not vanish overnight. I resent the notion that magic and lack of explanation are preferable. That’s called ignorance.
In politics, feelings are volatile and dangerous. While important to our humanity (crucial in fact), sentiments are not the ideal material to build governments on. The benign love for one’s country can easily turn into xenophobia under the wrong circumstances. A seemingly harmless feeling of pride for one’s heritage often becomes the justification for racism. These are not theoretical risks. We have seen it happen too many times in Europe.
There is a place for feelings in politics though: after reason. Not before. I love the European Union and what it represents. Not because of the colour of its flag or the harmony of its anthem, but because of the strength of its reasons.
There was a time when we humans lived in tribal societies. We developed social conducts of cooperation and empathy among us, but also feelings of distrust and aggression towards those outside the tribe. We carried those instincts with us throughout history.
We created bigger and more sophisticated political communities, and still, for centuries, we all had to adopt the king’s religion and live as subjects, not citizens. Even after the enlightenment, we took the idea of the tribe and turn it into nations. And so, with our nation-states, victims of nationalism and collectivist ideologies we kept killing each other through countless wars and abhorrent genocides.
It took the death of millions, the ruin of our once shinning empires and the lost of our standing in the world to realise that our tribal inclinations were holding us back. That we had plenty to be proud of, just not of what we used to be.
From that realisation the most successful political endeavour of our times was born: The European Union. Through trade and cooperation we were able to build a new age of shared prosperity and peace in what used to be a continent of almost perennial war.
The European Union is not a nation. Nor does it need to be. It is not a union in religion, language, or any heritage other than our common commitment to democracy and the fundamental rights that it entails.
I love the European Union because it represents our ability lo leave our worst tribal instincts behind us and build a political community based on laws rather than just feelings. One that celebrates that we can be ‘united in diversity’ by creating bonds far greater than those coming from our primal instincts.
I love the Union, not out of an irrational emotion, but because its flag reflects the colours of peace and democracy, for so long denied to so many. Because its anthem echoes the voices of the voiceless who suffered religious and political prosecution in this land for centuries and are now free to chant for joy.
Our Union is far from perfect, but we love people even though no one is, not even my girlfriend. Although to be fair, she is as close as it gets.