The good old-fashioned political contestations – a.k.a. elections – are usually accompanied by media platforms and public spaces becoming overcrowded by political gibberish. Nothing unusual, you might say. Except in the case when, more often than not, politicians let us in on a little exposé of their deeply rooted prejudices. For the latest victim of the ‘slip of his tongue’, please meet Peer Steinbrück, leader of Germany’s Socialists.
With the German elections in full swing, busy as he must be, the leader of the SPD has recently taken a moment to reflect on a rather unfortunate statement in which he claimed that Angela Merkel lacked passion for the European Union because she grew up in East Germany. The obvious implication here is that the EU is a project of Western Europe, by Western Europe and for Western Europe. Mr. Steinbrück’s claim, however, has raised two further points I’d like to address; people of Eastern Europe have no claim to the European project, and because of their origin, their opinions on EU matters are intrinsically wrong.
The European Union is not a Western European Union. Peer Steinbrück is unjust in assuming that countries of the former Eastern block have no claim, or stake in the European project. If we accept that the trigger for creation of the European Steal and Coal Community (the first step ultimately leading to creation of the EU) were the atrocities perpetrated during WWII, then we must accept that all those nations which suffered (pretty much all, if not all with the exception of perhaps the Vatican) have equal share in the project. Of course, not all countries were convinced by the idea at first. Several made a conscious decision not to engage in the project (the UK comes to mind). Of course, none of the former Eastern block countries, which had their own share of suffering, were allowed a luxury of choice. The decision was ultimately made in the Kremlin, not in the respective capitals. Denying people of Central and Eastern Europe their role in contributing to the founding principles upon which the EU stands, while ignoring geopolitics of the late 1940s onwards, betrays a great deal of ignorance and short memory. United Europe is a project in which we all have a vested interest, regardless of whether one is from the South, North, West and yes indeed, East.
Concerning the second point arising from the statement – that one cannot be right about the EU unless he or she holds a Western European passport – I have this to say; Angela Merkel may be wrong, and if so, she is wrong regardless of her origin, and rather thanks to her political affiliation, which at its core is as Western as Mr. Steinbrück himself. By harping on prejudices stemming from one’s lack of understanding of the world beyond the imminent, Peer Steinbrück is running a risk of misunderstanding his political adversary completely. With this failure, his efforts to form the next government may be futile. As a trained military officer, Mr. Steinbrück must know that to win a battle one needs to know one’s enemy first. It is beyond me, why he is then so oblivious with Angela Merkel.