Is there any? Do we have only one Europe? What does it mean to be a European? What is our future, our challenges and what distinguishes us from Americans, Asians and others? Are we really united in diversity?
A Czech student, writing an essay on the European Dream, in Slovenia, during his Erasmus program, in a building with many other Europeans, and in the same time when we have the first European Games in Baku. It brings us to a question: Which countries and nations do belong to Europe, and which do not and why?
First, I would like to focus more deeply on the basics of our European Dream, then on our European values, then also on our European specifics which we can be proud of, then what differs us from others, and finally even on the possibilities of the future arrangement of Europe and mostly on our coming challenges.The reason for the Dream
An area of extinct civilization, of medieval religion domination, of colonialisms, of gradual enlightenment, of devastating nationalisms, of huge technological progress, of social failure and massive wars and totalitarian regimes, of finding a new humanity and a prosperity with social aspect, and finally a civilization of creating a new unity in everlasting peace. This is our history and this is our dream.
After terrible wars, the European statesmen decided to create a project which was supposed to secure European nations from any other wars. They continued in an idea of many others from the past, including the Czech King, George of Podebrady, and they began to build a united Europe. As Americans have their founding fathers, Europeans have them as well. Monnet, Schuman, Adenauer, Churchill and others.
The idea was simple. After the experience of expansive nationalisms and their wars, after the totalitarian regimes, after the economic protectionism and so on, we needed to build a new open Europe. An area of free nations that would live together in peace, freedom, prosperity and democracy. There should be no barriers or internal borders between them. It should be an area of free movement of goods, people, services and capital and even much more.
Of course, there is a question if we should be only economic union or even the political one. And if political, so which kind of political entity. Should we become a federation, a kind of super-state and create a new European nation? I will try to offer my opinion to these difficult questions later. Now let’s focus on what makes us Europeans.
Are we special?
I believe that Europe could become a place which truly focuses on individual. Not in the way of egoistic one who tries to seek only his or her own interests. Not even in the way of an economic unit who has its own social capital that one can sell on the labor market. But in a way of a human. Of a person with his or her own dignity. Yes, I think that Europe can be a place of real humanism. It is a question how much it is influenced by our founding fathers’ ideas of Christian democracy and how much it comes from catholic social teaching.
However, Europe is also a place of enlightenment and secularization. We believe that we do not have to have a specific collectivistic religion which would make us moral, more human and more social. We of course believe in religion freedom, but it is more. We believe that we can be better people even without a religion.
We also believe in prosperity – that all peoples’ needs should be sufficiently filled. We are not materialistic egomaniacs who want to have more and more useless stuffs, who would want to sacrifice their humanity for creating more and more economic and materialistic progress. We believe in progress, but more in the human, scientific and technological one. And if technological, then for the better good of humanity, not to suppress it.
We also believe in work. But we require that our work makes sense. That it creates a real added value for another people, for our common greater good. And we also do not want to spend all our lives and days by work for others. We want to have regulated working hours, have our evenings and weekends for our families, have vacations, sick leaves and mother’s and paternity leaves, and also have a time for our hobbies and personal interests.
We do not want only to work. We also want to play the piano, read fictional literature, write poems, sing and dance, play with animals, take care of our gardens and flowers. And more, we believe that those things are not only for the privileged elite or only for economically successful individuals, but that they should be available for all, even for the poorest ones.
We also believe in freedom. But when I say freedom, I mean the kind of freedom with a sense of responsibility. Not only a personal one, but also with the sense of duty to others, to our common entity, and to our ancestors and descendants. That we should care not only about ourselves, our families and friends, but also about our community, our city, our region, our countries, our continent, our civilization and also about our whole World.
And also the freedom should not only be formal, but also real and we are using our governments to wisely redistribute our wealth to create more opportunities for everyone. To have a high-quality educational system, to have a universal health-care and to use another instruments that provide real social mobility in our societies.
It makes sense that we also believe in competition. But in our understanding it is not the wild and egoistic one. We understand that free market is the best way to our common prosperity and that it works on the principle of competition. But it is a competition with rules. Not only the legal ones, but also and more the moral ones.
We recognize that our cooperation can work based on this healthy competition. And so we pursue not only free market but also a fair market. We try to find sensible regulations which can provide a high quality of food, goods and services, and again for everyone, and with the understanding that also overregulation would be hurting for our lives, so we try to eliminate it where possible.
Culture and environment are also values which we care of more deeply. We try to learn from our history and we also try to preserve the beautiful things and places from our past, like our sights and monuments, historical centers of our cities and we also maintain a lot of museums, galleries and so on. When it comes to environment we try to make a place where there are cleaner ways of production, energy and our lifestyles. We try to reduce wasting and we also afforest our landscapes, build local and national parks and we pursue of having clean water and fresh and natural fruits and vegetables. We are also a culture of music and art and we find the folk traditions as important.
So it was values, but if we were something like a nation, we would probably try to find a lot of other things which we have in common and which we can be proud of. When it comes to cities we have our beautiful London, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Vienna, Bucharest, Hamburg, Budapest, Warsaw, Barcelona, Munich, Milan, Sofia, Prague, Copenhagen, Brussels, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Zagreb, Frankfurt, Riga, Athens, Helsinki, Lisbon, Vilnius, Dublin, Tallinn, Bratislava, Ljubljana and many others outside of EU like Kiev, Minsk, Belgrade, Zurich, Oslo, Sarajevo or maybe even Istanbul or Moscow.
We could also name our seas, our rivers, our mountains, our bays or islands or our languages and ethnicities. We could be proud of the largest brands of our world-famous corporations, our skyscrapers and sightseeing’s, the historical buildings, statues and monuments, our famous universities, our scientists, our artists, thinkers, singers, actors or statesmen. Europe has so much to offer to the World and we have so many things which we can be really proud of.
What distinguishes us from others?
I could write about a lot of other things. However, we can recognize our identity better if we compare ourselves with our overseas brothers (someone would say children) in the United States or with Asians or with another cultures in the World. Here might also come a comparison with Eurasian cultures, with Arabic or Muslim ones or with Africans, South Americans or Indians. Let’s start with (North) Americans.Europeans have a soul. Even it looks much more as sad or melancholic one. We do not smile at everybody. We do not say that things are OK when they are not. We are not so obsessed with celebrities and cheap entertainment. We are not so much individualistic. We are seeking for true friendship, not for business friendships. We try to have higher standards for everyone, not only for the successful. Our success is not to win over the others, but to be better people. We aren’t so religionist and if we are, it is not to feed our social hunger, but our soul’s hunger. We are not friendly with everyone and not so extroverted. We also like our privacy but more in our minds and in our feelings.
We are not so whopping, we do not make so monstrous shows. We do not want to have commercials everywhere. We want to have some things for free, we want to have some common public space, we want to have our public services and our public media with its balanced news. We see our governments in a different way. Not only as a repressive necessary evil, but also as a common body, which with transparency, appropriate decentralization and with the right people can provide us those services which Americans would rather prefer to have provided by a free market.
After what I have written, some Americans could think that Europeans are collectivistic socialists who need to have their governments to play a parent’s role for them. Sometimes it might be true but I would say it is not so easy. It is more because of our mentality. We are not so individualistic as Americans or individualistic in their way.
But we also are not so collectivistic as our friends e.g. in Eurasia. We believe in individual, we believe in people’s freedom, we believe in democracy and in the ability of everyday educated citizen to wisely choose the best representatives with the best policies for their countries. We do not believe in a supposedly enlightened leader who rules over his or her serfs. We truly believe that all people were born equal and are equal before the law and should use their natural inequalities wisely and freely for the common good.
We do not need and do not want governments which would take care of us in the sense of watching us everywhere, saying us what to think, what to read, what to write or what to speak. Although we take care of economic externalities and redistribute wealth to the less fortunate, we still believe that it is not government’s role to rule the economy, and if we give it the right, it is usually done after a long discussion and democratic consensus which takes into account the various social groups and their interests. We also value our privacy and we pursue that the big players will not destroy our values and our ways of lives only for the faster or bigger profit.
When it comes to Asians, we as Europeans do not believe that our aim is only to work, sleep, eat, and have some fun and some time with family and friends. We need more from our lives. We need education not only for our jobs, but also because of the joy from the exploring and from the pleasure of knowledge. We even do not want to work so hard and so long hours and do not want to freak us out only to over-compete the World. We also like to do nothing very often, just to rest or to do things without a purpose.
Yes, my previous sentences were full of stereotypes which might be far from truth, but they are a reflection of what I see among our today’s differences between us as Europeans, and them as Americans, Eurasians or Asians and others. It of course does not apply to all nations and maybe we could find a lot of differences also here in Europe, and we could say that Britons or Germans are more like Americans and that East-Europeans are more like Eurasians.
To close my part with European values, let’s try to summarize them. I believe that our values are: the focus on human, freedom with individual and common responsibility, solidarity, subsidiarity, quality of life, preserving our cultures and environment, openness, tolerance, religious freedom and secularization and many others.
But what if we are different?
It all sounds very positive and beautiful. But maybe it is just a wishful thinking. What if Europeans are really bad in nature? What if we have lost our real elites? What if is it in our genetic code to do this? Yes, we have a lot of light times which we can be proud of, but what if the dark ones defines us more as who we really are?
Executing enlightened people for their different opinion. Having brutal wars against each other just because of religious wordplay. Destroying or enslaving origin cultures in new discovered worlds. Trying to get more space and resources for our nations at the expenses of the others. Doing genocides of another ethnicities and races. Leading class wars against our own people and suppressing other peoples’ talents just because of jealousy. How many great people have we executed, gassed, imprisoned or forced to emigrate? And are the European ideas really only the positive ones, or also Nazism, fascism and communism?
It was our past but what about today? Aren’t we too much week? Would we even be able to protect our lands without the help of the American army? Will the next generation be able to stand on their own feet and to take care of themselves? Or will they fail because they were too dependent on the hand of the government and too pampered by their ultraliberal parents? What to do with our failing welfare, especially the pension systems? What to do with our declining fertility? What to do with the danger of some places where the idea of multiculturalism failed and turned into ghettoization and radicalization of some young descendants of immigrants who sometimes turn to be terrorists?
We Europeans love theory and thinking of things but are we even able to solve real problems? Can we be the kind of problem solvers like Americans are? And aren’t we choking our economies and lives too much with some useless regulations? Haven’t we failed with not having an approach which would make young people proud of being independent small entrepreneurs or craftspeople? Aren’t we taxing too much and ignoring that tax heavens might not be founded only from the greed of the rich but also from the reason of unsustainability of such high taxation?
And yes, we love freedom of individual but haven’t we become too much collectivistic? And when I say collectivistic, I don’t mean altruistic. It might be a kind of collectivistic egoism. To rely too much on others, on governments, their agencies and publicly donated NGOs, on corporations etc. instead of relying on our own powers, our own abilities and our own decisions, and also on our families, churches, charities, foundations, local communities and so on.
We have also made a terrible moral hazard of being too generous with those who lied and cheated on us and giving them money from poorer countries to preserve their privileges and to save our dream of the single currency. And we have a big trouble with how to solve the waves of mass migration from outside of Europe. It is sadly said from the human perspective but can we really accept millions of poor mostly uneducated people with totally different habits and cultures? And how to help them and not to destroy the advantage of free movement of European citizens across European countries? How not to awake the anti-immigration, nationalistic, xenophobic or even the racist moods among the wide European public?
What kind of Europe do we want to be?
It would be nice to be a strong federation with the strongest economy on the Planet. To be like America. The United States of Europe. Nevertheless, there are a lot of reasons why it seems to be unreal. The first is language, the second is not having common media and the third is the lack of common national identity. When it comes to the last one, it might not seem to be such a big problem. At least in the future. We can have ethnic or civic nations. And when it comes to sports, we can see it on the example of the United Kingdom and their football teams – England, Scotland, Wales etc.
The second problem could be solved through the whole-European public television which would broadcast in English and for free in every European household. And it brings us to the language. It is of course logical that we have so many official languages in EU. However, the next generations will be able to speak English and even if we maintain our mother tongues, we will be able to communicate with everyone across Europe. The problem is that our mother tongue will always be the first for us.
And there are also another things which could help us to be more united and to feel more like a (super)nation. For example the (direct) president election. If we would choose the leader of Europe like Americans do, and with so huge and for months lasting debates among several important issues, I believe it would really help us to feel more like Europeans.
But this is very problematic. We are not a federation. And it doesn’t seem that we would become one in the following years. The social, cultural and mostly political identifications of Europeans are much more tied to the national level. And I am afraid it is not only the domain of East Europe. When I watched the election debates from the United Kingdom, it really seemed that Britons do not want to melt themselves in a new European nation and to lose their own national identity, sovereignty and independence, indeed. And it is much more difficult because they feel probably not even so much as Britons, but mostly as English, Welsh or Scots. But at least they have the same language (or very similar, if we count the accents) and the common head of state.
And it is not only UK. Someone could be happy that the eurosceptic party UKIP did not succeed, but would it really happen if they had a proportional voting system? And what about the National Front in France, the Pegida movement in Germany, the right-wing populist parties in North Europe? Can we ignore it if we know that it is not only a minority of extremists, but that those movements and parties have a huge support across the average middle class citizens who are just afraid that they will lose their culture, their civilized society, their security and the other things?
And we should not only be careful when it comes to North-Western Europe. In the Eastern part we have Victor Orban and his much more extreme version Jobbik. And mostly it is not about the parties which we have today but more about the ideas which can logically occur. In those countries are not many Muslim immigrants or their children. But they can see the potential problems in West Europe on their televisions. The riots and terrorist attacks in London or Paris and many other timely revealed attacks which were planned in Belgium, Germany etc.
And it is not only the fear of immigrants or potential terrorists where European nations could be afraid of losing their national identity and their ways of lives. It might also be a huge liberalization in the area of social issues which might imply (and I hope that very often wrongly) that it is causing the decadence of Europe. And they might think that if they close their countries, they will be able to resist it. Or worse, they might to reorientate themselves on another kind of society and state than liberal democracy is, and they would want to put themselves closer to Eurasia, and with all what comes to it. Closed and directed society, oligarchic economies, and intolerance to diversity and various opinions.
However, it might be much worse in Europe. What if the hunt for Jews from the past would turn into the hunt for Muslims? What if there would happen another holocaust? What if the countries would once again begin to protect their economies and then would cause another wars? What if we turned from Europe of free and united nation states into a Europe of totalitarian, isolated and nationalistic states? And it is necessary to say that nationalism or fascism are not the only threat.
I have mentioned the North-West Europe and the East one. But let’s see what is happening in the South. Syriza won the election. The radical left-wing and populist party consisted of communist and socialist parties. Greece used to be on the successful path to recovery before the election. Now it is on the path to bankruptcy. And did the people win? Did democracy or the freedom win? Did Europe win? No, it will be stock exchange speculators who will win. It will be Chinese corporations who will win. Not the people of Greece. They might enjoy some artificial public jobs or cheaper energy for some weeks, but then they will cry. And we will be happy if some left-wing intellectuals will not be right and Greeks will not turn from radical left to radical right.
But the inspiration of Syriza might come also to Spain or Croatia or other countries. Maybe it will be seen as a bad example to follow but who knows. Anyway, it brings us to another kind of Europe. If we can imagine the extreme of total disintegration of European Union, let’s imagine what could happen instead of the federation. In my opinion it is very problematic with federations in Europe. And not only here. It seems that federations has automatic tendency to become much more centralized during the time. And I am afraid that with centralistic countries like France we would not become a new Switzerland, a new Germany or a new America.
Today it is a coalition of Christian democrats, Social democrats and Liberals who lead the European Union. But what if social democrats with radical left and with greens, who are mostly somewhere between these two, would get a majority? What if they wanted to change Europe into, not a federation, but into a superstate that would directly redistribute the wealth, which would adopt the welfare systems from nation states on the European level? What if they wanted to regulate the economy from Brussels and also to nationalize some companies? What if they brought the minimum wage on the European level?
And the fuel of their policy would not be the main problem. There would probably still be free election so another parties could win and make another policies on the European level. But what if they were less in the spirit of today’s Europe? What if the new superpower would want to manage European society more in the Chinese or Russian way or also this with the combination of so huge influence of largest multinational corporations and special interests like in America?
What if we turned from the trial of spreading socialism across all Europe to the reality of spreading there a new kind of corporatist and etatist totality? There could also be welfare policies, even the very inclusive ones, but there could be very huge approach on the efficiency and also on the security. There could be less democracy and less subsidiarity. It would be more centralistic, more professionally managed, more controlled and worse – it would work. And people would accept it because there would be ways how to convince them to do so. They would be already too much materialistic, consumerist machines who would be convinced by direct commercials created exactly on themselves.
However, it is time to come back from this dystopias or federative utopia and to look where we are today and where, in my opinion, we should come. Today the European Union and the integration in Europe at all works better than most people think, but does not work so well as it could and should do. We have difficult processes of implementation of new union rules, we respect the majority of states and the majority of citizens, we have the yellow and red cards of national parliaments if the principle of subsidiarity is broken.
But we have a problem with not having clear common policy on immigration. We create new regulations on businesses and our lives which might not be necessary. We sometimes break the principle of subsidiarity. We often waste our common money through union donations on things which could be provided by the private sector or local governments. We have no clear vision of what kind of Europe we want to be.
My idea is that we should be a multispeed Europe. Maybe one day all European countries will be united in one European federation and we will be an equal partner of America or China. But it needs time. If some countries do not want to participate in the political union like Switzerland or if some countries do not want or more cannot participate in the Eurozone like Greece or do not want to have the same currency and monetary dependence like UK or Denmark, it should really be their right to do so.
We should do much more to strengthen the European identity. Above I proposed some instrumental ideas, but it is not only about what more we could do, but sometimes about what less we could do. For example, if the majority in the European Union would force the member states to accept the refugees on the bases of quotas, then I am afraid it would only strengthen the anti-EU opinions among the wide European public. And it would be possible to mention another examples where people have the feeling that they cannot decide on themselves, but that someone else who they even directly have not elected decides behind them.
Learning from each other
The main way how to strengthen the European identity in Europeans should according to me be made in the cultural discourse. We should try to find not only what joins us but also where we can inspire ourselves among each other. The working economy and institutions from Germany, the tradition of parlamentarism and the politeness from UK, the successful integration of immigrants and tolerant society from the Netherlands, the sense of duty to our own country and the romance from France, the sense of good cuisine or importance of fashion from Italy, the transparent and efficient public space from Scandinavia and so on and so on.
Western Europe has an opportunity to learn from the Eastern Europe. To learn from our failed experience of government-directed economy, from our anti-communist instinct and the caution before similar efforts of etatization. And there would be a lot of things to mention where we on the East could learn from the West, starting with the real rule of law, independent media, the positive attitude towards our own state and towards our own democratic elites, having wisely regulated economies, cultivating our public manners or with having strong civic societies and large public participation.
In all cases, it is a question how much is my view of our common European Dream influenced by my idea of the Czech Dream or to which extent I was writing more about the Central Europe, and not the whole Europe. We will also have to define our future relationships with former Soviet republics, and with Turkey and with other Balkan states. Maybe these countries will never consider themselves as European and West countries. And when I mention the West, it seems that in our century it will not be only about the European integration but also about deeper integration with the USA and other Western countries which also the European ones are its actual part.
(This article was written as an essay during my exchange program in Ljubljana in 2015).
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