The Central Library has listened to an intense and passionate debate on the future of Europe, and its challenges ahead, held at the Goethe-Institut in Brussels. Karl Schlögel, a German historian, and Luuk Van Middelaar, political philosopher, Member of the Cabinet of the President of the European Council, and Herman Van Rompuy’s speechwriter, met for this event titled “Europa – die ohnmächtige Macht?”
What follows are some key points of the debate:
Is Europe’s success story coming to its end?
Europe is seen as an impotent power because we lack a shared vision of what Europe means to us, and because we have a Monetary Union without having a real Economic Union. However, building an Economic Union requires trust, and rebuilding trust will take time. We need to reinforce awareness among national politicians that it is their role to uphold the decisions they have taken in Brussels, and to explain to citizens why decisions have been taken.
The EU has brought its 28 Member States much closer. It is fascinating and moving how all these states are now capable of working together at the Council of the European Union, and how well leaders interact at EU summits. And also how they defend their own vision of what it means to live together as Europeans.
There is the sudden awareness that countries which share the same currency share the same destiny, we are still under this shock. The crisis has made headlines in all member states. The crisis has been experienced as a common crisis, which European countries have to fight together.
The stakes are high in the Russian crisis
The crisis with Russia is likewise a painful wake-up moment. Everything that we thought we were constructing easily and peacefully is now at stake.
The question is, what do Europeans do with these two awakenings?
Concerning the geopolitical crisis, we are still slumbering. Even though Europe’s reaction to the Russian aggression to Crimea has been more forceful than what analysts had predicted. It has not been a piece of cake for Putin to split the Ukraine. There was a sense among political leaders that the stakes were going beyond economic stakes, that this was about the stability of the European continent as such. Under the pressure of events we had a united front. It means that we can have some confidence in the face of possible future crises.
There is consensus that we will have to face moments which will further test our ability to make sacrifices. Will the people agree to finance a multi-billion euro rescue package for the Ukraine? How far will our solidarity go when it comes to helping a country under attack to survive a winter, if the gas pipe is closed?
Putin is the master of the ‘escalation dominance’ game, and he knows how to play with the internal discrepancies among EU Member States. Also, we Europeans do not want to use the same means as the Russians. There is an asymmetry of the tools. After all, the EU is a peace project, not a war project.
On the positive side, there is a new awareness of the East of our continent. In public opinion, the European map in all our heads has changed. Eastern countries are now included in the heart of Europe. Next steps have to be cultural exchanges and the reinforcement of neighbourly relations.
Building a nest for the bird
Among young Europeans, there exists now a generation which has never experienced borders in Europe and which finds it hard to imagine life with borders. Multilingualism is ever increasing, and the soundscape of Brussels and many other European cities is truly international. The ‘Generation Erasmus’ has excellent language skills and increased European awareness. This European awareness is the best anchor for the EU.
Entrepreneurs, tourists (thanks to low-cost airlines) and students move around more than ever, and it is they who create the basis for Europe. They constitute the European dream.
Free movement of people would not have been possible without the political Europe, the founding fathers of the EU who created the vision and the circumstances that enabled this new Europe. And the daily efforts by staff of the EU institutions are targeted at making all this possible. Summing it up, there is an objective alliance between the political project of Europe and the people.
However, there is also a wide public disenchantment with the European idea. This is because the European project rests almost exclusively on the breaking down of barriers and borders, while what has been forgotten is that people also want a place of protection and belonging, they to some extent want borders.
Many people fear Europe because it is breaking down too many borders. This is why nowadays the EU is seen by many as an intruder to their own identity and protection.
A bird wants to fly but it also needs a nest. The EU has focused for too long on the aspect of flying (freedom of movement) and not enough on the nest (people’s need to belong).
Find all our Library’s holdings written by Luuk Van Middelaar here, as well as further reading on Russia, Ukraine, european integration, political philosophy, euroscepticism and on the history of Europe.