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Original languague: German
Only a few years after the Iron Curtain fell, Cees Nooteboom travelled to several European countries. At that time, despite valid concerns, Europe could be optimistic about its future. Nooteboom’s travel book De ontvoering van Europa (“The Kidnapping of Europe”) is a Dutch polyglot’s love letter to his neighbours. The book tells enthusiastically of the “unity and diversity” of a continent which, after 1945, breathtakingly rose from the rubble left behind by the Nazi’s reign of terror and in which so much hope was placed.
And today? Today, these functions appear to be forgotten or at least hidden behind the undeniable problems of the European alliance. Europe has allowed itself to make too many mistakes, it has overwhelmed its members, neglected its citizens, it has too one-sidedly placed its trust in the market and surrendered to it. And along the way, Europe lost its soul. The following contributions are the brief and briefly outlined assessments of five political scientists about the current state of Europe. But as varied as these assessments may be, none of the authors are ready to give up hope for a way out of the crisis. There is too much that we stand to lose.
We need Europe more than ever
By AXEL SCHÄFER
15 March 2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the so called Treaties of Rome. The formation of the European Economic Community and of the European Atomic Energy Community laid the groundwork for what is now the European Union. In just a few months, there will be countless events honouring the political foresight and prudence of those who created the foundations in the six capital cities and allowed the integration movement to ever gain traction.
But where do we stand today? The European Union is in the most difficult position it has ever been, even though it has not lost any of its attractiveness. It is our response to globalisation. Only as a community will we be able to give Europe a voice in the future on the world stage. Without the EU, there would have been no German reunification and no successful transformation and integration of the ten central and eastern European states.
It raises the question as to whether we are still “determined to establish the foundations of an ever closer union among the European peoples” (preamble of the Treaty of Lisbon), i.e. a supranational community with federalist traits. Or will we witness the development of a loosely tied group of nations, some of which retain old, early 20th century interpretations of national identity when it comes to thought patterns and organisational structures?
At the same time, we are facing immense challenges. The migration and refugee movements, Islamist terrorism, and high unemployment require serious action. All of these developments are sources of increasing uncertainty for the people in our nations. They fear the loss of all they have accomplished and lose themselves in simple populist answers.
Refugees and Migration
For the first time, the people of the European Union are experiencing the consequences of war and terror in the form of refugees. Instead of detachedly watching the situation play out on the television, they are witnessing it right in front of them. They feel a seemingly unstoppable momentum: in the centre of the action, nothing there to separate them from it. To make matters even more complicated, a community of nations with a combined population of about 500 million people appears unable to truly cope with the challenges. The interests pursued in the 28 capital cities are too different.
The opposing views preventing a common refugee policy must finally be overcome. The integration of refugees is and will remain one of the greatest tasks for all of us, and it must be addressed.
There is a common German saying that hope is the last to die. Nobody on either side of the Channel really thought that a majority of the British people would vote to leave. The results of 23 June will undoubtedly leave their mark, but it will not herald the EU’s demise. It is not a swansong; it is a wake-up call. The way in which the EU 27 will deal with the consequences of one nation's leaving will be decisive. This could in fact be a unique opportunity to fundamentally reform the European house.
The union’s future relationship with Great Britain as a third country will rest on a balance between rights and responsibilities. If we were to allow cherry picking, it might trigger an uncontrollable domino effect with other countries. That would be the beginning of the end for the European Union. We do not want to punish the United Kingdom, but we also do not want to give it special treatment. We can and must only allow further access to the common market if the four freedoms are accepted and implemented in their entirety.
We cannot allow a whole generation of young people in some member countries to grow up without the possibility of determining their own future. In order to achieve wealth for as many people as possible, reforms and investments in every country are urgently necessary. That is why the economic inequalities within the EU must quickly be whittled down. If that does not happen, the cohesion of the EU will be in serious danger. People will turn away from Europe. Our answer must come in the form of an increased European investment programme, focusing all national budgets on investments in the future, flexible criteria of stability which encourage growth, and—especially for young Europeans—targeted programmes in the areas of education and training.
But today, there is also the risk of the destruction of the European Union at the hands of increasingly present nationalism. Overcoming the differences in political opinion in important areas is not what lies at the core. Rather, the key issue is the existence of the community as a supranational institution. Those opposed to European integration have already begun to chip away at the foundation of common values and goals. Whether it is Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Heinz-Christian Strache in Austria, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland, and now Frauke Petry in Germany: They are all united by their aversion to an integrative Europe. The reality is, historically, the EU is an unprecedented success and sets a good example of peaceful coexistence of peoples on the basis of a voluntary union of countries. However, there are many people who are receptive to the simple messages of those populists who are gaining strength. They fall victim to the fictitious tale that everything will return to the way it never used to be.
Now, governments in particular must change their attitudes and embrace Europe. In the end, we are all Europe!
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The rest of the debate "Oh, Europe..." can be found in issue 1/2017 of Politikum magazine:
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