I wrote this article for last year's May 9th, but I believe it is still valid today. With a few complements. First and foremost the title. Today it should be "This year's May 9th Is the Scariest Ever", because almost 70 years later Europe is (was?) again on the brink of a war. The memories of the events that led to World War II have surfaced again with the annexation of Crimea by Russia to the surprise of many in the west. Second, it should be complemented that euroscepticism is on its way if not to claim a victory (in some countries, like France for instance, it has practically prevailed) at least to emerge stronger in the first really different European elections. And third, propaganda has returned. That ugly and dreadful propaganda we remember from the horrible years of communism. Generally, though, I still believe that the conclusions in this text and the recommendations are still valid today.
For sure, however, it will not be the last because from a day of unification it has been turning more and more into a day marking how much the division has grown. In the period before the eurozone debt crisis, the EU was the unique project, succeeding to overcome hostilities and wars in Europe, for which last year it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Five years into the crisis, however, the romantics from the post-war unification is gone. It stepped aside to let in mistrust, fear and even hatred. Borders are little by little closing, money is starting to withdraw, the single market is ever less single, protectionism stalks from everywhere. Nationalism is in its peak, somewhere mixed in a dangerous cocktail with populism. The common European values are being interpreted in various ways from Budapest to London and from Berlin to Sofia. And all this against the backdrop of the getting clearer reality that neither a step back is possible nor a step forward. EU has reached a stalemate.
What went wrong?
In the euphoria from the fall of the Berlin wall and the desire the countries on its right side to "return" to Europe, an important detail was ignored - what had those countries went through while the Wall was there. And here we should not talk only about the Berlin wall, but also about the walls that separated the Spanish, Portuguese and Greek dictatorships from the quickly recovering thanks to the Marshall plan free European world. Spain, Portugal and Greece spent a large part of the 20th century under dictatorship. Portugal and Spain joined the European Community in 1986 only a decade after they got rid of the tyranny. In Greece, dictatorship also disappeared in 1974 and the country became a member of the EU even faster than the Iberian countries - in 1981.
And in 2004 was the "big bang" in enlargement when the EU joined 8 countries from the former communist camp, the divided Cyprus and the tiny Malta. The big wave of enlargement was completed in 2007 when labouring along, almost limping, Bulgaria and Romania managed in, although with a crutch. This is when the shape of the big problem started to emerge. The problem of the lack of understanding and knowledge. The lack of clear conscience what does a tyranny like the communist dictatorship, a military or any dictatorship does with people and societies. And most of all, the lack of knowledge how much time is needed the historic accumulations to be overcome in such a way to make the EU a really homogeneous community between equal in rights subjects that do not create problems for each other, but walk together in one and the same direction, helping each other. Helping, not dragging each other.
In short, the big mistake from the romantic period of unification was the imposition of too broadly articulated criteria which did not in the least reflect the real capabilities of the accession countries to fulfil them in the foreseeable future. And the price of this mistake is very high. Greece shook the entire eurozone. Spain and Portugal are hardly making it above water. Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria show signs of going back to the totalitarian past, bluntly violating the democratic principles. Moreover, they have proved completely resistant to assimilating the European values the way they are formulated in the EU treaties.
The result of this mistake is that Schengen is closed for Bulgarians and Romanians, one by one many member states are seeking ways to close their social systems for the citizens of the young EU members. With every new wave of the eurozone debt crisis there is a talk about an exit of the guilty country, even about a break-up of the entire EU. UK is threatening with an in-out referendum and Croatia is the only one that is trying unnoticed and quietly to become the 28th member, carrying on its back severe economic and post-Yugoslav problems. Against this backdrop, the European Commission and the European Central Bank in a joint choir with the Europarliament are calling for more integration and even for federation.
What to do?
Now it's not the time for celebrations. Neither is it time for finger-pointing. It is a fact that the EU has significant problems that endanger its construction and future. The most reasonable thing is to start discussing a new beginning. A new deal, if you like. It is high time to admit openly that we are neither equal in the EU nor will we be any time soon, which is why the rules have to be adapted according to the level of evolution of every member state. The way some countries are given an extension of their deadlines to correct budget deficits, the same way special attention should be paid to the countries that have problems with transplanting democracy into their societies, economies and legal systems.
The countries whose political and economic systems have collapsed, should be put in special programmes, similar to the adjustment bailout programmes for the eurozone countries. A political troika, as I proposed recently for Bulgaria. This would probably be humiliating for these countries, may be it will be tough to accept if ever, but this is a less painful way than leaving the EU under pressure until the moment it bursts beyond repair.
This year's May 9th is the saddest so far in EU's history. Europe was supposed to be the place where we move, study, work and live freely, without restrictions. Instead, not a few people are already ashamed to admit they are Bulgarians and German citizens feel uncomfortable to speak their language in Athens. Instead of being united in diversity, we are divided. Now is the time to rethink what unites and what divides us and try to change it. May 9th is a very appropriate date to begin.