The time has come for action.
After the Second World War, Europe established itself as the most extraordinary political invention in modern history.
The European project has put an end to bloody conflict and fratricide, guaranteed widespread prosperity for its citizens, developed an unrivalled social model (social spending in the EU accounts for 50% of the global total), alleviated inequalities, protected minorities and promoted its cultural and artistic heritage; and at present, Europe shows a keen interest in responding to climate change. And yet…
And yet this collective European adventure has gradually given way to resentment, regression, divisions and doubts, exposing itself to the pervasive advance of far-right, anti-establishment and ethno-nationalist forces.
In short, Europe has lost its driving force.
Can we place the blame on unforeseen external forces? Without doubt. The financial crisis arriving from the US, the challenge of mass migration, and the anxiety caused by abrupt changes in society due to globalisation and new technologies, have eroded the faith of European citizens in the creation of an ever more unified and fraternal Union.
“The European idea is incontestable, but unfortunately the idea of Europe turned into a bureaucracy, and now people think of the bureaucracy as the idea”, the director Wim Wenders has said.
But we must also point to the egoism of national governments, incapable of imagining effective solutions and using the tools adapted to historical, socio-economic, environmental and cultural changes – in other words, civilisation.
In a world where there are a billion more human beings than twelve years ago (twice the population of the EU), and where resourceful new protagonists, starting with China, continue to grow, the impotence of the old European states has lead to widespread hostility towards the ruling classes, civil society and now towards Europe itself. In public opinion, Europe has become – not without justification – a synonym for bureaucracy, ineffectual and bloated institutions, something all too easily made a scapegoat.
But what is the source of this immobility, upon which the extremists march? The answer is simple: Europe is only in the middle of its journey, not yet sufficiently united and integrated to respond to the world’s crises, setbacks and transformations.
The present situation is paradoxical: from 1957, the Union made good progress, because the citizens perceived it as a reality and expected results, but at the same time it did not have sufficient power (which mostly remains in the hands of national governments) to keep its promises, and ultimately lacked the necessary democratic legitimacy for action. This ambiguous position could prove fatal.
Does anyone really believe that a single member state is capable of regulating international finance? Does anyone really imagine that the internet giants would submit to national laws when their turnover exceeds the GDP of Belgium, Austria or Denmark? How can we defend social rights and the cultural exception, or confront the challenges of climate change and mass migration, by entrenching ourselves behind obsolete national borders?
Incapable of facing these challenges, national governments have lost the support of their populations, who express their distrust in their political representatives, institutions and democracy in general. Europe is a collateral victim of this process, the lightning rod for all the recriminations and dashed hopes. For Europe, the challenge is multiplied, because, in essence, it is nothing but the sum of the incapacities of various national governments.
We have long believed that after the 20th century’s tragedies of war and totalitarianism, the course was set for an ever stronger union. Unfortunately, the counter-blows of history remind us that Europe is a human creation, fragile by nature.
“The European federation is not something that will come about by magic, because there is a certain logic”, warned Altiero Spinelli. “The federation is something that the people must create, and it is a thing of our time”.
This is why the time has come to act, to go beyond mere words and to lay the foundations for the United States of Europe.
It is time to take action for stronger integration of the European area, without which we will never be in a position to compete in a world divided into macro-regions.
Today, Europe is a requirement for politics.
Without a union we will have no chance of managing globalisation and global finance, of safeguarding the resources necessary to defend our cultural and social model, of effectively combatting inequality, reducing poverty, of confronting, calmly, the challenge of mass migration, of resolving conflicts and having a position of power in decisions concerning the fight against climate change.
But greater integration will have no value if it is simply a product of necessity, of economic calculation and utility, because the edifice will remain fragile and at risk of collapsing at the first sign of ill winds. Above all, Europe should fundamentally and viscerally affirm itself as the expression of a collective will, as a feeling of collective belonging, of an identity and a shared imagination. The time has come for the European people to take control of their destiny.
It is time to reclaim a patriotism which is not based on false, unhealthy and deadly concepts of ethnicity and blood, but on the shared values of democracy, solidarity and economic, social and environmental models which we have inherited from our shared past. Thanks to its very nature, its variety, its diversity of languages, origins, cultures, religious and secular perspectives, European patriotism will inevitably be a new form of internationalism.
Europe deserves its own story, its own epic.
The European people exist and are constituted above all by the millions of Erasmus students who for thirty years have lived in Europe, recognised the scars of history, and placed there their hopes on a prosperous and fraternal future.
They form a vanguard, the first generation to be born “Europeans”. It is up to these privileged witnesses to embody the European ideal, to mobilise, organise and invent the democracy of the future.
It is up to the Erasmus generation to retrieve the audacity, the courage and ambition of the founding fathers of the European project, to create new forms of democratic action and commitment, to bridge the gap which separates politicians from citizens. It is up to them, in the end, to return the soul to Europe.
The already existing student networks, which recall the ties between medieval universities, must of course be reinforced. But it will also be necessary to create others, even more effective, structured, and capable of mobilising people.
These are motives driving “EuropaNow!”, an association created to counter the sense of impotence and unfinished business. Today there is urgent need for action, beyond appeals, beyond mere testimony, beyond resignation, to bring about a convergence of all the disparate initiatives.
Europeans, starting with the Erasmus generation, must act together, debate together, and structure their efforts together. Their task is to imagine and construct the future.
For this reason “EuropaNow!” will work in three directions:
- Identify a way to embody Europe and make the feeling of belonging to community with a shared destiny more concrete, visible and real. For the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, with news website Voxeurop, we created a short film (https://vimeo.com/211031438), designed as a scrapbook showing the clamor, the violence, the collective cinematic imagination and the battles of yesterday and today.We need to continue in this direction, intervening in public spaces, appropriating European symbols, showing that they belong to the citizens first and foremost, rather than the institutions of Brussels, and demonstrating that European patriotism is already a reality.
- Change Europe, here and now. Identify the priorities and urgent issues (economic, social, environmental, cultural, etc.) facing Europe today, develop and present concrete proposals that can, with the currently existing institutions and policy instruments of the Parliament in Strasbourg, the European Commission and individual states, become radical reforms, projects of law and concrete popular initiatives.“So Europe really can’t make it work? Then let’s give it concrete expression and seize the opportunity”, urges the former MEP, Daniel Cohn Bendit.
- Imagine the political and institutional structure of the future United States of Europe, lay the foundations for its creation as soon as possible, by means of democratic and participative constituent assembliesWe should never forget the invitation, in the form of a warning, of the former dissident and president of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel at the European Council in 1990: “Without dreaming of a better Europe, we shall never build a better Europe”
Let’s dream it, and build it,