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Europe must fix its leaning Tower of Babel

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The great danger is that the despair and alienation over the failure of Europe to deliver a future for its next generation will conjoin with the backward-looking, reactionary right in one great anti-European eruption. That would finally bring the historical project of European integration crashing to the ground.

In this context, pro-Europeans need to heed a truth of the human condition that Charles de Gaulle fully understood: Identity is rooted in the nation – that is, belonging to a unique way of life; what Johann Gottfried Herder called “volksgeist.” Papering over this truth with a currency managed (or mismanaged) by distant bureaucrats with functional acronyms in Brussels only suppressed this reality, not diminished it.

Unless de Gaulle’s “certain idea of France” and its equivalent in other nations is replaced with an “a certain idea of Europe,” the whole thing will shatter into shards of a once-vibrant dream.

The challenge for pro-Europeans is not to dismiss national sentiment, but seek to forge a common identity that leaves plenty of room for diversity while delivering opportunity and security through a strong but limited European government.

At the Berggruen Institute meeting in Paris, students from Sciences Po, the London School of Economics, and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin proposed a narrative for their post-crisis generation founded in “freedom and solidarity.” The European identity for their generation, they argued, would be bound up with the founding idea of European civilization – the universality of reason and the free individual – combined with a social model that doesn’t let fellow citizens fall into the cracks as Europe faces the competitive winds of globalization.

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