The future of Europe ..What do we want to be as Europeans?

The future of Europe ..What do we want to be as Europeans? We need to keep practising.  Otherwise, people who might fear that they have nothing to lose join the forces of nationalism and isolation. ”Todays challenge is to make sure that Europe is for everyone” report by Dr. Theodore Theodoropoulos.

I don’t think that any of us wants most of all to be European or American, Chinese or African. I think that most of us want to be human. To be a woman or man, national, European, human. It takes practice to feel at home in a diverse world. It is hard. In my experience, the most effective practice is to have something to do together – that makes it easier to overcome our language, cultural and other barriers. As we see with fighting climate change, international terrorism and tax avoidance.

As Europe slowly recovers from the longest economic recession in its history, the jarring crisis management of Greece has highlighted its weakened political foundation. The lack of solidarity between members of the European Union is evident in their inability to formulate a common solution to the large number of refugees arriving at Europe’s borders. The terrorist attacks in Paris, too, have raised questions about the values of European society and of decisiveness in foreign policy.

Europe’s leaders are in crisis-fighting mode; they’re reactive and often uncoordinated, according to a new report by the Global Agenda Council on Europe. Under the title Europe: What to watch out for in 2016-2017, the authors point to some of the region’s moderate successes:

”The Eurozone has not splintered; Russia is smarting under Western sanctions; some burden-sharing on refugees has been agreed. Busy with short-term problems, however, Europeans have taken their eyes off more profound, long-term challenges. How the European Union copes with its immediate problems in the next couple of years will determine how the continent will fare in decades to come”
– Global Agenda Council on Europe

— Europe: What to watch out for in 2016-2017

Certain areas of concern dominate the debate: the inflow of refugees, the Greek economy, Brexit, instability in Ukraine, populism, terrorism and the rise of extremism. For more information, take a look at this explainer on Europe’s greatest challenges.

The rise of extremism

First on the agenda is the terrorist attacks in Paris. How should Europe respond to the menace of extremism? The best option is for European nations find a solution in common, says Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France. “Terrorism must bring Europe closer together. It’s not just Paris that was struck.”

In fact, it’s a worldwide war on terrorism, he continues, that requires all states to act together, exchanging intelligence and overseeing flights and airports. Syria doesn’t only concern Mediterranean countries, after all.

Schengen: a fairweather system?

The Schengen agreement is crucial; open borders have benefited Europe well, says Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands. There’s also the Dublin system, he adds, but we need to reform it first.

Nothing is harder than to really know yourself. We often find that friends know us better than we know ourselves. As a European, I think the best way to understand ourselves is to think about where we came from.

Who are we? Respect for diversity, and respect for the individual, are more than just political values in Europe. They also define who we are as Europeans. Europe today is marked by the development of our identity through our history: conflict, fighting, killing. Societies without democracy and with only men in charge until very recently. And where until very recently, not only women, but many minorities as well, did not have full rights. Europe is a small place, but within that space we have a great diversity, of languages, cultures and traditions. In the past, those differences have led to one war after another. In most European countries, the national day is a celebration of freedom and getting rid of others. We celebrate our own countries’ victories, and the defeats of others.

Even though many EU nation states are only twice as old as our European Union itself, we have national myths, songs, fairy tales and movies that tell of wonderful national identities that are centuries old. One basic truth is re-told every day in our languages, cultures, traditions and political cultures, in the way we interact with our families and friends. Everyone, or almost everyone, is national before – maybe – being European. Our history has taught us that you can’t build a peaceful Europe by trying to get rid of those differences. You can only do it by understanding and respecting your differences, and finding ways to work together on the things you have in common. By seeing differences not as a threat but simply as something interesting, sometimes something we can learn from, sometimes something we can wonder about.

But even in all our differences, we are connected and woven together. The national artists that we cherish the most – painters, poets, composers and writers of whom we are each proud in our national culture – have travelled Europe to find inspiration. To learn. Today the “Great Bake Off” is seen in many European countries. In one Danish season we learned that pastries with names that suggest French or Austrian origins were really Danish inventions, whose creator found inspiration in London, Paris, Vienna. When I watch the “Great Bake Off” in France (“Le Meilleur Patissier”) it is so obvious that it is different, but that we all appreciate cakes, competition and companionship.

Understanding and respecting EU differences
Understanding and respecting EU differences

Niuqennaem. Even in the languages we speak, you find so many words that have been taken from other languages. In Danish, for instance coffee, kiosk, garderobe, sweater, are all from other languages – and yet now very Danish. The more that Europeans have travelled and studied and worked across the continent, the more this understanding and tolerance have become part of who we are. We build on that experience to tackle the big challenges that don’t stop at national borders, like climate change, international terrorism, and tax avoidance. The other essential part of being European is, a powerful sense of the need to stand up for the dignity of every person in our society. It’s the idea that was expressed in the European Convention of Human Rights, that no political idea, and no economic interests, should ever be treated as more important than the humanity of individuals.

How do we want to see ourselves?

In our values we aim to contradict our history: we are all born equal, and human dignity and equal opportunities are our mission. Every human being counts. Guaranteeing human rights is still a challenge – a challenge that all countries are now facing in the form of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Some – unfortunately – react by saying that the very basics have to be redefined. Others of us believe that we have to strive to improve. But even so, the description of Europe in the programme for today’s event still stands. The tricky thing is to reflect it in the reality of everyday life.

Todays challenge is to make sure that Europe is for everyone
Todays challenge is to make sure that Europe is for everyone

I think this is why Europeans are so determined that we should have strong laws to protect their privacy. Because controlling what happens with our information is an essential part of defending our identity. I also think it’s why the social market economy is such an important part of being European. Because it reflects a moral conviction – that we can create a good life for ourselves and our children but that prosperity does not come at the expense of human dignity. That those who can’t find work, or are sick or elderly, will not be left behind. The memory of the twentieth century is starting to fade. No one under the age of 30 remembers what a divided Europe was like.

But I don’t think that is changing who we are. When I speak with young people, I find that if anything, they are even more committed to respecting our diversity and our humanity than their parents. We have learned to respect the diversity of European nations. But we also have to do the same for our fellow Europeans with origins outside the EU. I know that there are powerful instincts that encourage some people to stir up hate between different races and religions. But it was the same instincts that once made European countries treat each other with suspicion and fear. We have overcome that fear, and I believe we can also overcome the fears that affect us today.

The other challenge is to accept that human dignity is about more than just a safety net. Democracy, human rights and social protection are the basic requirements for a civilised society. But they are not enough on their own. People also need to feel that they have a fair chance. They need to see everyone, big or small, doing their bit for society. Because our human dignity is not just about rights – it’s also about fairness. So that, if you like, is a perspective from inside.

What do we want to be as Europeans?

I don’t think that any of us wants most of all to be European or American, Chinese or African. I think that most of us want to be human. To be a woman or man, national, European, human. It takes practice to feel at home in a diverse world. It is hard. In my experience, the most effective practice is to have something to do together – that makes it easier to overcome our language, cultural and other barriers. As we see with fighting climate change, international terrorism and tax avoidance.

We need to keep practising. To bring people together, and invite them to take responsibility. Otherwise, people who might fear that they have nothing to lose join the forces of nationalism and isolation. And those who know they have something to gain stay silent. And our challenge is to make sure that Europe is for everyone.

Sources: Dr. Theodore’s Global Economic Review September 2016, QGN, Caye Global Report 2016-2017E, BBC, Europa Economic Review, WEF, EU Analysis Report, WEER, Reuters, Bloomberg, WB Report 2016, IMF EU Report 2015-16.