Jaarverslag 2021

ANBI

Felix Meritis Connecting Cultures (handelsnaam van Stichting Vrienden van Felix Meritis) heeft een ANBI status.
RSIN/fiscaal nummer: 819126615

Postbus 53066
1007 RB Amsterdam
E-mail:contact@felixmeritisconnectingcultures.nl
www.felixmeritisconnectingcultures.nl

Doelstelling:

Artikel 2. van de statuten:
De stichting stelt zich ten doel: het ondersteunen van de Stichting Felix Meritis/The Felix Meritis Foundation alsmede van andere instellingen die een vergelijkbaar gedachtengoed uitdragen zulks uitsluitend ter beoordeling van het bestuur.

Artikel 3. van de statuten:
De stichting tracht haar doel te bereiken onder meer door:
-het beheren en uitdragen van de ideeën, het symbolische en immaterieel erfgoed van het genootschap Felix Meritis en de door de stichting Felix Meritis daaraan gegeven en te geven programmatische invullingen in de breedste zin.
-het is uitsluitend ter beoordeling van het bestuur te bepalen door welke instelling het voren omschreven erfgoed van Felix Meritis het beste wordt uitgedragen.

Beleidsplan, verslag activiteiten:
Felix Meritis Connecting Cultures werft vrienden in verschillende definities: verstrekkers van eenmalige giften en donateurs; mecenassen, personen die een overeenkomst voor enige jaren sluiten en personen die hun expertise kosteloos ter beschikking van de stichting stellen, door mailacties, persoonlijke benadering en het organiseren van fondswervingsactiviteiten.

Het vermogen van de stichting alsmede de vruchten daarvan dienen besteed te worden conform artikel 3 van de statuten, mede op aanwijzing van de Stichting Genootschap Felix Meritis/Felix Meritis Foundation, een stichting met zetel in Amsterdam, kantoorhoudende te Weesperzijde 34B, 1091 ED Amsterdam.

De besteding van het positief vermogen van de instelling vindt jaarlijks plaats, ten behoeve van een bijzondere activiteit of ten behoeve van een bijzondere aanschaf.

Bestuur (onbezoldigd)
Steve Austen (voorzitter)
Linda Bouws (vicevoorzitter)
Frans de Ruiter (secretaris)
Masja Austen (penningmeester)
Frederike Beltjes

Raad van Toezicht (onbezoldigd)
Quirijn Bongaerts
Huub van Haare Heijmeijer
Ton van Haaften

Felix Meritis Connecting Cultures heeft geen personeel in dienst.

Financiële verantwoording:

Balans per 31 december 2021

Debet

Liquide middelen € 5.532
Overige vorderingen € 12.921
Balanstotaal debet € 18.453

Credit

Eigen vermogen € 3.936
Schulden € 14.517
Balanstotaal credit € 18.543

Staat van baten & lasten per 31 december 2021

Opbrengsten € 16.511
Kosten € 2.815
Positief resultaat € 13.696

Toelichting

De inkomsten bestaan uit de jaarlijkse bijdragen van Vrienden en bijdragen en subsidies voor diverse activiteiten.

Hoewel in 2021 vanwege corona praktisch geen activiteiten hebben plaats gevonden is er toch een positief resultaat gerealiseerd – o.a. omdat alsnog bijdragen zijn ontvangen om de tekorten op projecten die in 2020 zijn ontstaan vanwege corona te dekken – waarmee het negatief vermogen per 31-12-2021 een positief bedrag laat zien van € 3.936.

 

Amsterdam 1997, a major step forward in implementing European citizenship

by Steve Austen & Jaap Hoeksma

The celebration of the 25 years anniversary of the Treaty of Amsterdam urges politicians, cultural and educational institutes to reflect on the role the European values play in their daily communication with stakeholders and citizens, for the sake of an even more democratic Europe.

The most innovative features of the Treaty of Amsterdam are to be found in the field of relations between the European Union and its citizens. The inclusion of the European Values into the European Treaties lays the fundament for the functioning of the EU as a European democracy.

As the subsequent evolution of the EU demonstrates, the establishment of the citizenship of the Union by virtue of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty was not an end in itself but an indispensable element in the construction of a democracy at EU level. Obviously, no democracy without citizens. Over the decades, the role of the human beings changed from cross-border participants in the internal market to fully-fledged citizens of the emerging European democracy. This process was accompanied if not strengthened by the introduction of the values of the Union in 1997. The historical significance of the Treaty of Amsterdam is that it changed the goal of European integration from an economic effort to devise an internal market to an ‘Aristotelian’ endeavour to construct a transnational democracy and to create a European polity. Whereas the Communities could be described properly as a Union of democratic States, the EU also aspires to function as a constitutional democracy of its own.

Observatory for European Citizenship in culture & business

by Steve Austen

The overall impact of the FMCC and AMSU activities envisaged is to contribute, during turbulent times in Europe, to the current discussion about European identity and European citizenship. For the Erasmus+ 3-year cooperation project (ECHC) the initiators took the European Commission’s motto of the Social Summit in Gothenburg (November 2017) as its overarching intentions: “Strengthening European Identity through Education & Culture” and added the sentence: “and How to Manage It” as the expression of the conviction of the partners that entrepreneurial knowledge and tools are necessary to come to a promising future for the Commission’s intention. Besides spreading this notion, the ECHC project helps to develop intercultural and critical thinking about the EU project and the values it stands for. It supports the social, human and political engagement of the partners and their audiences, clients, stakeholders and networks. It promotes intercultural and civic competences of students as well as the connectivity of themes, persons (speakers, artists, journalists, politicians, teachers and students) and project partners.

Encouraged by the receipt and success of the project activities and the interest of new partners, the project initiators made all their knowledge and experiences available under the label: Observatory for European Citizenship in culture & business (formerly announced as ECHC Observatory).

One of the activities, in close cooperation with Netherlands Business Academy, is the ongoing series of masterclasses, presentations, congresses and short and long courses assisting informal and formal initiatives in the field of culture and heritage in the widest sense. These formats contribute to new management approaches of (in)tangible heritage organisations and initiatives, cultural organisations, social enterprises, civic and educational organisations as well as NGOs of a multitude of social goals.

In previous years the project selected and documented four best practices of European initiatives of various kind, emblematic in its genre and awarded with two or more characteristics out of these five: 1. Good management and (social) entrepreneurship 2. European heritage component 3. Cultural aspects 4. European values 5. Fostering European citizenship. To make the development and content as well as the impact of it accessible for a wide range of interested people FMCC produced next to a manual a storyboard, that gives an insight of format, content, historical background of themes, talking heads of eyewitnesses of major European political and cultural events, voices from students, teachers and experts, but just as a selection of the enormous database that after the project will be hosted by the follow-up of ECHC: The Observatory for European Citizenship in culture & business.

The Clown’s Tear – a lyrical impression on the dramatic events in Ukraine

by Krzystof Czyżewski

the clown’s tear
is unbearable to the sleepless
who keep vigil while darkness falls on Skakun’s bridge
blasted in defence of Bucha

it rolls down the face
of an Earth bloodied
with the pained grimace of Irpien

Denizens of Earth, dip your nib in it
this ink writes the truth still
the word shot down along with the body of Kharkiv

forget about your reasons
they know their heart is right
the defenders of Kyiv

stand eye to eye with the clown
he bows down not to statesmen
he stays put tut – against the tide – on the bridge of Zaporizhia
for before him he sees
the pregnant woman on a stretcher
and the mayor of Hostomel

he winds the dead’s light in the tear’s shroud
he flows along the wrinkle of the Dniepr into the nation’s heart
he marches towards you, along the Greek shores of Odessa

he snakes his way through your dreams
all the way to Rome
bearing a betrayed Crimea

he bears the tear of a child who isn’t Ivan’s
in whose name everything was permitted and so the Russians
shot up a kindergarten in Starobielsk

he will not renounce faith
as he bends over each one buried
in the ruins of Kherson

he reaches further than does the beast’s power
from the hell of the open sky, he marches towards you
along the rozbombiony bridge of Europe
in the tear of the Everyman
he carries the morality play’s cry
from Mariupol

the one from Aleppo Sarajevo Warsaw
the one from Guernica Grozny and Masada
he bears the nursing home for the elderly killed in Kreminna

you, tied up in your ties,
fear the clown
and like China you turn a blind eye

with false weight you detach beauty
from the good, orphaned from truth
you lose track of the meridian from Chernivitsi

you say he left the clown
behind, the Jew
from Kryvyi Rih

but this tear in the recurring tragedy
who would dare wipe it from the face
chained by the mute cry of Babi Yar

that one marches toward you
not reading from a script
he tells about Russia

make room for him, let him enter your heart
the one who sees darkness clearly and kneels
by the dead waiting in line for bread in Chernihiv

the clown’s tear
transforms the Earth, the peremoha
marches from Ukraine

by Krzystof Czyżewski

translated by Diana Kuprel

*The Polish original uses three Ukrainian words: tut = here, and refers to Zelensky’s declaration that he will stay in Ukraine to fight; rozbombiony = bombed out; and peremoha = a long- and hard-fought victory in a battle that will go on.

**Ivan is a reference to Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov.

Here you will find the French version of the poem, with a more extensive commentary:
larme d’un clown

Telling the Story of Europe

A Democratic Narrative for the EU and European Citizenship Education

by Jaap Hoeksma, Philosopher of Law

The democratisation of Europe is the historical endeavour to change a war-torn continent into a democratic union of democratic states. The Russian invasion of Ukraine accentuates that European integration is both a momentous achievement and a continuous challenge. For a proper understanding of the nature of the present European Union the following stages in the process of the democratisation of Europe can be distinguished.1

1 – Driven by the determination to create an ever closer union between the peoples of Europe the Founding Fathers of the EU have broken the circle of warfare on the old Continent. The aim of the 1951 European Community of Steel and Coal was in the words of Robert Schuman ‘to make war not only theoretically unthinkable but also materially impossible’.2 The conceptual innovation required to achieve this goal consisted of the pooling of sovereignty. The participating states sacrificed the principle of absolute sovereignty for the guarantee of peace.

2 – The practice of shared exercise of sovereignty proved to be so successful that the six founding states of the present EU decided to broaden their cooperation to the entire economy. The European Economic Community and Euratom, both founded by virtue of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, merged with the ECSC in 1965. As a result, the executive institutions of the three separate communities were unified. The EC Court of Justice established in 1963 that the transfer of sovereignty to the EEC had led to the emergence of an ‘autonomous legal order’.3 The Court also clarified that the law of the Communities has direct effect and, in case of conflict, takes precedence over national regulations.4

3 – The internal market, which the member states intended to create in order to boost their economies, envisaged a gradual transition from unanimous decision making to a practice of deciding by majority voting. However, the French President de Gaulle insisted on the preservation of the right of veto and blocked his country’s participation in the Communities until further notice. His ‘policy of the empty chair’ created the first existential crisis of the emerging polity and was only solved through the ingenious 1966 compromise of Luxembourg.5

4 – Despite this temporary setback the emerging common market was becoming so attractive that new member states asked for accession. After the first enlargement in 1973 the Communities described themselves in the Declaration on European Identity as ‘a union of democratic states’.6

5 – As it is unfeasible for a union of democratic states to be governed in an authoritarian let alone dictatorial way, the Communities instantly aspired to gain democratic legitimacy of their own too. They transformed their parliamentary assembly into a directly elected parliament. The first direct elections for the European Parliament were held in 1979 with a voter turnout of over 60%.7

6 – As the turnout for the second direct EP-elections saw a decrease in voter participation, the European Council tasked the Adonnino Committee to present suggestions for bridging the gap between the citizens and their Communities. While the Committee addressed the citizens in their capacity of ‘nationals of the Member States gathered in the Communities’, its proposals included the introduction of the EU flag and the foundation of the Erasmus Exchange program.8

7 – Although a severe economic recession in the eighties caused a feeling of ‘eurosclerosis’ in the member states, the Communities welcomed three new countries from Southern-Europe after they had shaken off the yoke of fascism. The increase in the number of participants and the determination to complete the internal market prompted the Communities to introduce quality majority voting (QMV) through the Single European Act of 1987.9

8 – The Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the implosion of the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact preceded but did not prevent the foundation of the European Union through the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht. Instead, the regions which used to form the German Democratic Republic became an integral part of the EU.10 The principle aim of ‘Maastricht’ was to complete the internal market. Both the introduction of EU citizenship and the creation of the single currency were regarded as the crown jewels of the internal market.

9 – As the EU is open for all democratic European states, a considerable number of applicant countries signalled their intention to accede to the Union after the collapse of communism. In reaction, the 1993 Copenhagen Summit clarified the criteria for accession to the EU by new member states.11 These criteria emphasized the need to respect the values of the EU, notably democracy and the rule of law. The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam included the values of the European Union in the treaties and initiated the transformation of the EU into a dual democracy.

10 – The construction of a democracy at the level of the Union received a decisive impetus the proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU at the Summit of Nice in 2000. Eight years after the introduction of EU citizenship the new status still remained an empty vessel.12 The citizens of the Union did not enjoy more rights than those already attributed to them by virtue of the fundamental freedoms of the internal market. The Charter brought about a fundamental change and granted the new citizens a full political, economic, social and legal status. It was, in effect, the Magna Charta of the citizens and enabled them to confidently declare: ‘Civis Europaeus sum.’13

11 – Although the rejection in 2005 of the Constitution for Europe by the electorates of two founding member states was regarded as a serious setback, the ensuing impasse was rather quickly overcome through the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. The unique and unprecedented hallmark of the Lisbon Treaty is that it construes the EU as a democracy without turning the Union into a State. It formed the completion of the quest for democratic legitimacy of the polity, which had started with the identification of the then Communities in 1973 as a ‘union of democratic states’. Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty citizens are entitled to perceive the EU as a union of democratic states, which also constitutes a democracy of its own. In short, the Lisbon Treaty constructs the EU as ‘a democratic union of democratic states’.14

12 – The consequences of the Lisbon Treaty proved to be far greater than politicians had foreseen. The EU Court of Justice had already established before the entry into force of the new treaty on 1 December 2009 that the new status was to be regarded as the fundamental status of the nationals of the member states.15 In consequence, the EU Court abolished the  requirement for EU citizens to cross a border in order to ‘activate’ their rights as citizens of the Union.16 It ruled in subsequent verdicts that EU citizens can also invoke their rights against the authorities of the own country, even if they have been convicted to imprisonment for breaches of national laws!17 In the high profile-case of a jailed politician, who had been elected in 2019 as a Member of the European Parliament, the EU Court of Justice finally established that the EU has an autonomous democracy.18 By delivering its verdict in unequivocal terms the Court confirmed beyond doubt that the EU has been construed as a democratic union of democratic states. Acting within the limits of its competences, the EU has to meet similar requirements of democracy and the rule of law as it demands its member states to respect.The implication of this development for the position of the EU in the field of foreign affairs is that the Union has been granted the status of ‘enhanced observer’ with the United Nations. In terms of the UN system of global governance the European Union can be qualified as the first-ever democratic international organisation. In consequence, the EU is the only international organisation to have been invited by the American president Biden to participate in the 2021-2022 Summit for Democracy.19  

Conclusion While democracy cannot be taken for granted in any member state, European democracy is an unprecedented experiment in transnational governance, which must be nurtured and has to mature. Moreover, there is absolutely no guarantee that results once achieved will not be undermined or lost afterwards. The contemporary backsliding of democracy is a global process, which also affects member states of the EU.20 While member states are free to voluntarily withdraw from the Union in line with article 50 TEU, they have to respect the values of the Union in their capacity of EU member states. However, as membership of the EU presupposes mutual trust of the member states in each other and in the union, the EU still has to learn to defend its values against erosion from within. The Russian invasion of Ukraine also demonstrates that the Union must be able to protect itself against foreign aggression. Under the present circumstances, the EU should consolidate and deepen its European democracy, while defending it simultaneously against erosion from within and against foreign aggression. The EU can face these challenges with confidence in the knowledge that it has created a new form of international organisation with an equally innovative system of governance. The EU is a union of states and citizens, which works as a European democracy. It may not be an ideal democracy of perfectly democratic states but it is the first transnational democracy in human history and it needs the engagement and participation of its citizens to succeed!

City Campus Dordrecht now facilitates Ukrainian education for Ukrainian students based on its long-term and lasting relationships with Ukrainian universities.

Dordrecht is probably one of the most underestimated cities in the Netherlands. Only a short train ride away from Rotterdam and Amsterdam you will find this over 800-year-old city with its beautiful monuments, canals, and rich heritage. While Dordrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, it didn’t have a university till 2019, the year that the Netherlands Business Academy moved part of their activities to the Wereldwaag building in the city centre and by doing so giving birth to City Campus Dordrecht.

City Campus Dordrecht

With City Campus Dordrecht (in short: CCD), the higher education institution (HEI) Netherlands Business Academy (NLBA) offers a broad spectrum of higher education programs focused on personal attention and tailored content. Together with partners from the Netherlands and abroad, CCD offers international programs at their Dordrecht base and at a variety of foreign universities in Europe.

Academic program

City Campus Dordrecht offers NVAO accredited Masters, as well as accredited Bachelor Business Administration courses in preparation for the Masters. In addition, CCD offers master classes, summer courses and Mini MBA programs. CCD has a strong foothold in Ukraine where it maintains educational co-creation programs with some ten private and public universities. CCD, NLBA and partners are looking forward to continuing the relationship with staff, professors and students of these HEIs, for the sake of their individual wellbeing, freedom and the future of a better Europe.

Steve Austen, director MBA European Culture, Heritage & Citizenship at NLBA/CCD

On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV – How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist

Joseph Sassoon Semah

[The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia]

[Please note: ’Hare Hunting’ was a [codeword] euphemism for killing Jews by the Nazi troops during the Holocaust]

GERHARD-MARCKS-HAUS, BREMEN

April 2022 – February 2023

Joseph Sassoon Semah: How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist

4 INTERVENTIONS BY THE ARTIST

Joseph Sassoon Semah (b. 1948) has been a regular guest at the Gerhard-Marcks-Haus since 1997. “Guest” is a central term to his art. He is a descendant of the last Chief Rabbi of Baghdad and now lives in Amsterdam. As an Arab Jew, he presents a perspective on the history of modern art that is shaped by his origins. In doing so, he both critiques and complements our thinking. In 2022 and the beginning of 2023 we will present four interventions by this artist.

When Sassoon Semah lived in Berlin in the late 1970s, he became interested in how German artists processed the subject of the Holocaust. This led to research into the work of Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) and Wolf Vostell (1932-1998). Vostell was one of the first artists in Germany to integrate photos of the mass murder into their artworks, while with Beuys it was primarily the “interpreters” who discovered references to it in his works with fat and felt. Sassoon Semah is also interested in the role-playing of the two artists, for example when Vostell dressed as an Orthodox Jew in order to refer to a culture that had been destroyed in Germany and Europe, or when Beuys showed a Hitler salute, that was then reinterpreted as art. In the group of works shown in the Gerhard-Marcks-Haus Sassoon Semah refers to famous works of these artists and interprets them through this.

The drawings and sculpture demonstrate how Sassoon Semah reads and develops images. The cross-section of the railroad track (the logistics of mass murder) can also be interpreted as a Hebrew letter, literally transgressing the common reading. In Jewish iconography, the horns recall Abraham’s rejection of human sacrifice. As musical instruments played at important ceremonies in the synagogue, they refer to the deeds of man and sometimes to the redemption of the people of Israel. Sassoon Semah invites museum visitors – most of whom have some Christian background – to immerse themselves in a world of imagery that is unfamiliar to them. By radically reinterpreting European artworks, he turns them into places of exile for a vanished culture.THE PROJECT

Joseph Sassoon Semah has done extensive research into Joseph Beuys’ work, values and ideas and based on this research and texts he will analyse the deeper meaning of the (secret) symbols used by Joseph Beuys for ‘On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV- How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist [The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia]’. He reacts to them using new monumental sculptures and a series of old and new drawings, performances, texts and meetings.

This project wants to raise public awareness about the missing information on Joseph Beuys. Information that has been disregarded during this celebratory year or has been evaded to avoid uncomfortable confrontations. A new project about the reading of Beuys’ ‘shrouded’ art by the Jewish-Babylonian artist Joseph Sassoon Semah.

We cooperate with among others Gerard-Marcks-Haus Bremen, Goethe-Institut Amsterdam, Duitsland Instituut Amsterdam, Deutsche Bank, Lumen Travo Gallery, Redstone Natuursteen & Projecten, Maarten Luther Kerk, Advocatenkantoor Birkway, Landgoed Nardinclant/Amsterdam Garden, Geestelijke Gezondheidszorg Amacura and The Maastricht Institute for the Arts. After completion of the manifestation a complementary publication will be compiled.

© Stichting Metropool Internationale Kunstprojecten

The project is realised in part with the support of Mondriaan Fund, the public fund for visual art and cultural heritage and Redstone Natuursteen & Projecten.

 

Aanzienlijk groeiende belangstelling voor Europa

door Steve Austen

Een betrekkelijk onbesproken aspect van de uitslag van de Tweede Kamerverkiezingen is de winst voor de Europese zaak. De enige twee partijen die zonder voorbehoud inzetten op uitbreiding en versterking van een democratisch Europa, D66 en VOLT, zijn de grote winnaars van deze verkiezingen.

Voor Europa-watchers niet geheel onverwacht. De nogal luidruchtige pleidooien voor een Nexit of voor een beknotting van de Europese samenwerking beginnen sleets te raken, terwijl uit de meest recente uitslagen van de Eurobarometer blijkt dat de Nederlandse bevolking steeds meer vertrouwen krijgt in Europa en dus in het Europees burgerschap.

De toename van de positieve waardering voor Europa is opmerkelijk: was in 2019 36% van de Nederlanders positief over Europa, in 2020 was dat al gestegen tot 49%. Ook de gelijktijdige afname van de sceptici onder de Nederlanders met maar liefst 8% (van 21% naar 13%) moet een niet te missen boost geven aan de pro-Europa partijen in ons parlement.

Het lijkt erop dat het grote succes van VOLT, de eerste transnationale politieke partij, gevestigd in alle EU lidstaten, vooral ook het succes van het Erasmus+ programma van de Europese Unie markeert.

Dit programma voor jonge onderwijsgenietenden in alle lidstaten en daarbuiten trekt jaarlijks meer dan 900.000 deelnemers, verbonden aan meer dan 110.000 opleidingen die gezamenlijk goed zijn voor 25.000 samenwerkingsprojecten. Het budget, in de vorm van bijdragen in een gedeelte van de kosten, bedraagt meer dan 3,35 miljard Euro per jaar.

Felix Meritis Connecting Cultures maakt al 3 jaar deel uit van zo’n samenwerkingsproject, waarbij vooral de samenwerking van onze zusterorganisatie de Amsterdam Summer University met de Netherlands Business Academy als lead partner van het internationale consortium van groot belang is.

Wie de discussies over Europa met belangstelling volgt en zo nu en dan kennis neemt van de tv-programma’s, essays en boeken van en met o.a. Geert Mak, Jan Zielonka, Ivan Krastev en Ferenc Miszlivetz zal ook de recente publicaties van Jaap Hoeksma1 en Caroline de Gruyter met genoegen lezen.

Beter wordt het niet’ en ‘Beter in Europa’ zijn complementair, en van harte aanbevolen.

Caroline’s eerste boek over Europa, ‘De Europeanen’, werd destijds in de Shaffybar van Felix Meritis ten doop gehouden, mij viel de eer te beurt een woordje te spreken. Niet veel later werd in de Zuilenzaal onder leiding van Jaap Hoeksma zijn fascinerende bordspel Eurocracy door een geïnteresseerd publiek van binnen- en buitenlandse Europadeskundigen met groot enthousiasme gespeeld.

Het is geenszins een onverwachte coïncidentie dat beiden nu gelijktijdig op onze site opduiken.

[1] Zijn stelling dat Europa een democratische Unie van democratische Staten is, heeft Hoeksma o.m. uitgewerkt in The Case BundesVerfassungsGericht versus EU Court of Justice.

Beter in Europa

door Jaap Hoeksma, rechtsfilosoof en Europadeskundige

Caroline de Gruyter heeft een prachtig boek geschreven, maar het wordt in Europa wel beter. De auteur heeft in Wenen en Brussel gewoond, de hoofdsteden van het oude Habsburgse keizerrijk en de huidige Europese Unie. Aan de hand van persoonlijke ervaringen schetst ze een indrukwekkend beeld van de rijkheid van beide culturen en laat ze de lezer gul delen in haar eigen voorkeuren en antipathieën, zoals de Habsburgse bals. Zij wijst tevens op de staatkundige en volkenrechtelijke overeenkomsten tussen het 19e-eeuwse Habsburg en het eigentijdse Brussel. In het voetspoor van de onvergetelijke professor Pangloss uit Voltaire’s Candide trekt ze haar conclusie: van alle denkbare werelden is de EU de slechtste nog niet.

Wat is de Europese Unie?

De toelichting die de auteur op haar in de titel verwoorde stelling dat ‘het niet beter wordt’ geeft, is gebaseerd op het vastgelopen debat over de aloude vraag wat de Europese Unie is. Wetenschappers en politici hebben zich sinds de oprichting van de Europese Gemeenschappen na de Tweede Wereldoorlog vooral gericht op de vraag wat het nieuwe samenwerkingsverband zou moeten zijn. Volgens de federalisten hadden de Gemeenschappen en de EU een federale roeping en dient de huidige Unie naar het voorbeeld van de VS een soort Verenigde Staten van Europa te worden. De soevereinisten stellen daartegenover dat de onafhankelijkheid van de lidstaten gewaarborgd moet worden en bepleiten de totstandkoming van een Europa van de Vaderlanden. Deze impasse vormt de achtergrond, waartegen de schrijfster tot de slotsom komt, dat ‘het niet beter wordt’. De Unie moddert maar wat door. In de ogen van de federalisten doet de EU steevast te weinig, maar in die van de soevereinisten altijd te veel.

 De Conferentie over de Toekomst van Europa

De verschijning van ‘Beter wordt het niet’ valt samen met het begin van de Conferentie over de Toekomst van Europa, waartoe de Europese Raad na de totstandkoming van de Commissie-Von der Leyen heeft besloten. Het doel van de conferentie is zowel om een betere verstandhouding tussen de burgers en de EU te bewerkstelligen als om de democratische legitimiteit van de Unie te vergroten. Het gaat erom de EU een democratische grondslag te geven, c.q. de democratische fundamenten van de Unie te verstevigen.

Deze taakstelling dwingt ertoe op een nieuwe manier naar de EU te kijken. De vraag die beantwoord moet worden, luidt of de EU als een democratie kan functioneren zonder een staat te vormen. In het traditionele dilemma van federale staat of confederale unie van staten is de democratie geen probleem. In de benadering van de EU als confederatie functioneren de lidstaten op democratische grondslag, terwijl de democratie in de federale benadering vanzelfsprekend op het niveau van de nieuwe staat gestalte moet krijgen. Omdat de EU op basis van het Verdrag van Lissabon uit 2007 onmogelijk als een staat beschouwd kan worden en evenmin aan de vereisten van een confederale statenunie voldoet, staat de conferentie voor de historische taak om aan te geven of en zo ja hoe de Europese Unie als een Europese democratie kan functioneren.

Europese democratie

Zeventig jaar na het begin van de Europese samenwerking komt de vraag, wat de EU is, dus opnieuw aan de orde. De beantwoording van deze vraag begint met de vaststelling dat de EU niet in de bestaande categorieën van statenunie of staat begrepen kan worden. Dat brengt uiteraard niet met zich mee dat de EU niet bestaat, maar dat er nieuwe termen en theorieën ontwikkeld moeten worden om te verklaren hoe de Unie als samenwerkingsverband van 27 staten en ruim 450 miljoen burgers werkt. Zo bezien bestaat de eerste stap uit de constatering dat de EU een nieuw subject van het internationaal recht vormt: de EU is een Unie van Staten en Burgers. Het Verdrag van Lissabon regelt de inrichting en de werking van deze Unie. De belangrijkste conceptuele eis die het Verdrag aan de Unie en haar lidstaten stelt is dat beide aan strenge eisen van democratie en rechtsstaat moeten voldoen. De EU is niet alleen een unie van democratische staten maar functioneert zelf ook op democratische grondslag. Vanuit het oogpunt van de burgers kan de EU op basis van het Verdrag van Lissabon dus geïdentificeerd worden als een democratische Unie van democratische staten. Deze vaststelling brengt met zich mee dat de EU op mondiaal niveau gekenmerkt kan worden als de eerste democratische regionale organisatie uit de geschiedenis.

Conclusie

Er is geen enkele reden om te veronderstellen dat het in de EU en Europa niet beter zou kunnen worden dan nu. We staan integendeel aan het begin van een nieuw tijdperk. De lidstaten hebben ieder voor zich weliswaar een meer of minder lange democratische traditie, maar de democratie van de Unie staat nog in de kinderschoenen. De burgers en de lidstaten moeten nog leren omgaan met een transnationale Europese democratie. Het functioneren van de Unie als democratische internationale organisatie op het niveau van de VN is ook voor verbetering vatbaar. De EU moet enerzijds de onmisbare schakel tussen de staten van Europa en het globale bestuursstelsel van de Verenigde Naties vormen en anderzijds laten zien dat regionale organisaties van staten ook democratisch kunnen functioneren. Het besef dat het beter moet en kan, vormt een onmisbare voorwaarde om uitdagingen van dergelijke omvang met opgeheven hoofd tegemoet te treden.