Tuesday 18 May 2010

The European Dream is not dead

Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times just has proclaimed "The Death of the European Dream" and Dominique Mosi of the Harvard University calls us "Europe's Doubting Generation", and they are both kind of wrong.

For Rachman it is the eurozone crisis that puts into question Europe's ambitions as a dynamic global superpower, thus destroying the European Dream, and Mosi uses his experiences with College of Europe students in Natolin/Poland trying to convince us that the youth's vision of a common Europe has been replaced by self-centred pragmatism.

The European Dream, as I wrote some time ago, has never been a unified dream, definitely non that was shared by all citizens and not even by all so-called "elites" all across Europe.

The European Dream has been to create unity in diversity, it has been to prevent wars happening between European countries, it has been to allow freedom of movement, to create a common market, a common social model or even to create a common demos etc.

The thing is that we have moved quite far on all these lines, it is just that Europe and the world around it have changed, too, in the course of the last decades.

The European Dream is now embedded in a different world and in a different Europe. Europeanisation, globalisation, migration, and communication have changed the way we live and think and interact, and they have changed the way Europeans perceive themselves and the rest of the world.

However, the present Eurozone crisis is not the end of the European Dream, it is a proof that the European Dream has become a truth.

National and European leaders are having debates about common economic solutions that affect all the EU and the Eurozone, and even though the national leaders are tempted to please their national audiences, their discourses are European and they are part of a true European discussion. Their argumentation is about a common European good, not so much about the national goods.

At the same time, there is a sudden awareness in the member states that political choices of leaders from other European countries have consequences for the lives of citizens in one's own country, and the national press has the typical reaction to portray these political differences as national differences, because this is still their thought process.

It's just so easy to depict different views over policy choices as a fight between nations, although in fact this is an important discussion about how to best govern our common Europe. But that is a problem of the press, not of Europe. The press is too lazy to make this a political story and so they focus on the superficial national attributes of those involved.

So this is not so much about nations than it is about different ideologies, some of them transnational and some of them influenced by specific national experiences and national political debates (but they are still ideological debates, not national).

I am sure that our leaders are actually very aware of that, and it's a pity to see the national and European press construct this as a fight that is about whether we should have a common Europe or not.

For me, the political fight we are seeing is the proof of a common Europe, not an indicator of its bad state. And even if this was a fight of nations, it is still a political fight and the European Union's system is advanced enough for that this will remain just a political fight - quite an unlikely scenario 60 years ago!

And this normalisation process of European life and politics is also true for the observations Moisi is making in Natolin:

He says students don't go there anymore because they believe in Europe but because they want a degree. This is not a sign of the problems of Europe, it underlines that the European Dream has become a normality that is now embedded in the life choices of young Europeans.

In Natolin (and elsewhere), students from all over Europe meet in a university because they think what they get there will qualify them for the jobs they want to do (whether that is true or not). For Moisi, the fact that there is a diverse body of European students in one place doesn't seem to be noteworthy; the fact that they can come to Poland without visa or special permits and that their degree will (very likely) be accepted all across Europe is not even worth mentioning although these are social and political advances that we are all profiting from.

The European Dream is not dead, we are just witnessing the intersection of two distinct phenomena that change our view on Europe and our dreams: The normalisation of Europe as a common space and a large financial and economic crisis.

The crisis makes that political conflicts break up that may be hidden in more quiet times when there is a larger cake that you can share among everyone. This crisis also makes that economic and social competition between citizens from all over Europe is higher than usually, raising the pressure and thus fostering both self-orientation and pragmatism in choices of education and places to live (instead of promoting self-referential idealism).

Meanwhile, the normalisation of Europe makes that we seem to be looking more at the defaults of the present system and how we can solve the problems it creates instead of looking ahead into a bright but unknown future and instead of celebrating the successes of the past. At the moment we are learning that finetuning the European Dream can also be hard work from time to time, and that hard work can be exhausting physically and mentally.

But that is a snapshot of 2010, and things will move on. They will move on for the better, because there are a still many people who see that a common Europe and the European Dream were the way out of the dark ages of the past.

The European Dream is not dead, it is there, and many of us are living this dream - very well aware of the luck that we had having grown up in a European Union, one in which we look at each other as different but equal, and one in which we don't mind having a good political fight with friends and partners today and a glass of wine tomorrow to talk about our common plans.


Anne Albinus said...

Very good article! I agree.

Concerning the students that Moisi mentions. They have probably not grown up with solidarity.

Don't we need a socialdemocratic revival in Europe?

martinned said...

Hear, hear!

C's Europa Blog said...

Guter Artikel, es wurde gesagt, was gesagt werden musste. Der Europäische Traum wird nicht sterben, doch womöglich ist er in letzter Zeit aus den Köpfen so mancher Person verschwunden ... Nichts desto Trotz gibt es auch für Ideen und Träume Hochs und Tiefs ...