‘It was a nice idea, but …’ Europeans on what went wrong with the EU

On its 60th birthday, people from Sweden to Bulgaria with doubts about the EU speak their mind about whether the project is worth pursuing

A triple-A rating is more important than solidarity. Were digging our own grave

Constanze
Constanze Clever. Photograph: Sddeutsche Zeitung

A few months ago, I was chatting with my husbands work colleague in a beer garden. It was about eastern Europe and the question of why those countries take so few refugees. The colleague came from Poland. He was of the view that in Europe we should first and foremost look after ourselves.

In particular, he didnt want Muslims to be allowed in. According to him, they are a threat to the Christian identity of Europe.

So of course we clashed about this Im a fan of open borders, and I find it unbelievable when people oppose open borders while personally benefiting from them. To be able to move freely is a basic right, and the essence of Europe.

In the conversation, it became clear to me: we are both Europeans, but we come from different worlds. For us in Germany, things have gone well materially in the past 10 years. In Poland, things are different. That is why it is important that we reduce the imbalance.

But were not doing that. Why must Greece pay such high interest rates on the capital market? Rich Germany pays virtually nothing. We Europeans are under the thumb of financial markets. A triple-A rating is more important than solidarity. So were digging our own grave. Unless justice quickly assumes precedence over the economy again, we wont have the EU much longer. That would be a nightmare.

Constanze Clever, 33, hairdresser, Germany

I hate the ever encroaching political union its a vanity project

Gerard
Gerard Richardson. Photograph: Gerard Richardson

I dont think Europe as a group of countries has ever really been able to unite. Cultures, opinions, approaches to everything, from business to foreign relations, are so diverse.

Trade, on the other hand now thats a really good harmoniser. People can agree on that far, far more easily. So I liked the idea after the war of uniting around trade. It didnt have to be complicated, and at first it wasnt. But then we started down the road to political union.

Thats what I hate: ever encroaching political union. Europe has become a vanity exercise for politicians with too much ambition. The euro was vanity, not based on economic reality. Im not an isolationist, far from it, but I really, honestly do not believe good government can ever come from too large and diverse a group of politicians.

Look at the hopelessly divided approach to problems like Greece, or the migrant crisis. Its a disaster. The EU cant even agree on where to host its own parliament.

There are good parts: free movement, thats obviously a benefit. But its all so badly managed. And I dont believe the EU has prevented war; Nato did that. If they turned the clock back to the EEC being just a free market alone, then I would be more than happy to stay engaged. They should take the politics out of Europe. It worked as a trading bloc, but not as this.

Gerard Richardson, 55, fine wine merchant and coffee roaster, UK

It sows a mentality that theres always money but billions have disappeared

Graca
Graca Ramos. Photograph: Sddeutsche Zeitung

First of all, the EU has been a great thing for both my countries, Portugal and Spain. The other European countries brought us back to life (after decades of dictatorship). Thats why the vast majority of Spaniards and Portuguese tend to be pro-European. Europe has pumped a lot of money into our countries.

On the one hand the EU has brought positive economic developments, on the other hand there have been negative consequences. It sows a mentality that there is always money. We have lost sight of what it is to save. People havent been watching closely enough where all these billions have gone. The economies of both countries have slumped because there hasnt been effective control over the way this money has been spent.

As a Portuguese woman Im worried about a two speed Europe . Does that mean the small countries will be put aside and suspended? We feel as a small country both protected and accepted within the EU and I hope that that doesnt change. The Eurosceptic voices in other countries worry me a lot. We must all ask ourselves what we have done wrong.

Graa Ramos, 40, theatre administrator, Spain

Nations have no rights. The EU took over everything

Jozsefne
Jozsefne Varadi. Photograph: La Stampa

The nations have no rights. The EU completely took over and everything has to happen here as they wish.

But the EU has a lot of advantages too. We entered to EU so we have to accept a lot of things, I admit, but they should give more independence to nations.

Every time the government wants to decrease utility costs or taxes, or create more workplaces to let us breathe a little bit easier, they have a problem with it. Im with the nation with all my heart. I do everything. I help campaign. Im a member of the Fidesz party since its foundation. I consider this government good and fair. Our prime minister needs a lot of bravery to stand up like this for the nation.

Did you see what happened here during the prime ministers speech? Did you see the people whistling? They think this is not a democracy, but if I had done the same when Ferenc Gyurcsany was prime minister, if I had used my whistle, they would have shot me.

Jozsefne Varadi, 87, pensioner, Hungary

Erasmus, the euro, are just sweets with a bitter aftertaste

Luca
Luca Carabetta. Photograph: Luca Carabetta/La Stampa

They draw lines on a map, take decisions from on high, and then, if they dont work, they use every economic excuse possible to justify them as necessary to maintain the unity and progress.

I am an energy engineer, a young entrepreneur from the Erasmus generation. I was born when Italy joined Schengen, in 1990, and you could leave your passport in the drawer to travel with family, or later to see friends in France, Germany, Denmark. Yet my Euroscepticism began when I was young, in my town of ButtiglieraAlta, near Turin. I saw the No-Tav movement (against high speed rail) grow in my valley, the Susa valley, I started studying and concluded that the projects tied to the European corridors were conceived in an office in Brussels, far away from local communities and their needs.

I believe Europe is an extreme concession of sovereignty, which flattens diversity and national identities built throughout history. I do not agree with the economic homogeneity that binds the EU together. Does that seem strange from a young person with foreign friends? Absolutely not. Beppe Grillos Five Star Movement has shown me a clear path for what I always thought, and thats why I vote for it.

In these years, Brussels has not been able to create a common welfare system, no citizens feel like Europe is closer, notwithstanding the sharing of pseudo-values and the currency. Erasmus, the euro, are sweets with a bitter aftertaste. Unitary economics, so far, has penalised us. Unitary politics, for me, does not represent us, the citizens.

Luca Carabetta, 27, tech CEO, Italy

Europe was a nice idea, but globalist politics and the euro have killed us

Luc
Luc Defrance. Photograph: Cyril Bitton

Im a wheat farmer from northern France. Thats to say Im one of those people said to be very rich, living off subsidies, smoking a big cigar. In reality, I started work at 16, have worked like a dog for 50 years and am now ruined. I realised we were finished so I sold my operation last June.

Europe was a nice idea, but its the globalist politics that has killed us that and the euro. In the rest of the world, other countries can devalue their currency and become competitive. With the euro, we are trapped. Marine Le Pen is right we should get out of it.

Europe is just all restrictions and rules. You have to keep records on crop treatments and be careful about employment rules. You are bothered on all fronts. And the slightest mistake could cost you 10,000 in CAP aid, and thats a catastrophe.

In any case, theyre reducing the aid. In 2010, I got 100,000 in basic grants; last year it was 52,000, and soon there wont be any more. Doing a job that depend on grants is not healthy. Europe would do better to create a safety net and fix prices rather than grants.

Luc Defrance, 66, farmer, France

Many Dutch people feel powerless and angry. It is time to rediscover our identity

Joost
Joost Niemller. Photograph: Katrien Mulder

As well as books I write a blog called De Nieuwe Realist (the new realist). Europe is a land endowed with a rich civilisation. It works because it is based on the nation states, and yet its goal is to dismantle nation states, which would signify the end of European democracy. That is why many Dutch people, possibly even a majority, would like to leave the EU.

People want to take back control and decide their own future. Mass immigration is a serious problem. Many Dutch people feel powerless and angry. It is time for the Netherlands to rediscover its identity.

Joost Niemller, 60, writer, the Netherlands

The Eurosceptics in my family are happy that Russia is stepping up strongly

Rozalina
Rozalina Laskova. Photograph: Zdravko Yonchev/Sddeutsche Zeitung

I cant imagine Europe without the EU and am in favour of more integration. But I sometimes forget that other Bulgarians do not think like that. I have Eurosceptics in my own family, like my mother and aunt, who are bigger supporters of Russian culture, like a lot of Bulgarians. They see and read the same Bulgarian media which speak of the supposed all-encompassing manipulation of our country by Brussels and Washington. My aunt Maria asked me mockingly whether I also get money from the Americans. They are happy that Russia is stepping up so strongly.

Rozalina Laskova, 34, cultural adviser, Bulgaria

I would like to do a Swexit just like in the UK

Andreas
Andreas berg Photograph: Andreas berg

The EU started as something different. In the beginning it was a good thing, a peacekeeping operation. But it has grown into something else: a massive, undemocratic monster, lots of people doing nothing to benefit the voters in their respective countries.

It seems to me more than half of the laws in Sweden are not decided by the Swedish government but by the EU. We vote for the government but if it doesnt have the majority of the power, how can that be democratic?

We choose representatives for the EU parliament, but I dont believe thats democratic either the ones who really affect what happens are not democratically elected. I havent read all the EU laws, only some of them, and some may benefit Sweden but many dont.

I work in the construction industry and we have seen a shift towards what they have in the UK, where people from the poorer countries come to work for you, and they do it for lower wages.

The main problem with the EU is that it incorporates loads of countries, and they are so vastly different in every way: welfare, economics, everything. To correct this the EU will have to make the richer countries poorer. So I would like to do a Swexit have a referendum like in the UK, and leave.

Andreas berg, 52, construction worker, Sweden

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