06 - the-future-of-europe

(in red: EU countries that use the euro, in blue: EU countries that do not use the euro)

Introduction .
Nowadays, Europe is a subject matter that has been largely thought about,  debated about and written about. One of the reasons is the euro . Others recurrent themes are the economic crisis and EU bureaucracy.

In 2015, the new British government announced a referendum on European membership and legislation to opt out of the European Convention of Human Rights. Paradoxically, the more Europe is discussed, the more blurred the picture seems to get. What is this 'Europe'? Are we talking about the European Union as an identity? I believe that if we can answer this question, then we can envisage European perspectives for the future. If we don't, then Eurosceptics will provide the answer that we do no longer need a European structure.

In 1950, 65 years ago, the Robert Schuman, French foreign secretary established the foundations for a European confederation of sovereign states based on the principles of democracy. The post-1945 meaning of democracy is encapsulated in those simple words: Freedom, equal opportunities, cooperation and human rights, as well as the rule of the people. The Schuman-Plan saw a cooperation regarding commerce and finance and an free-circulation of people, capital, goods. The concepts can be extended as we constantly discover new implications. One thing is sure: the Europe in our future must continue to work on these foundations. Modern times demand modern thinking, and challenges need to be accepted. This current piece is an update for a work I wrote in 2001 for the European Office of Social Democrats based in Vienna.

I would like to revisit the opinions, wishes and surreal proposals expressed in the original essay. I would like to contribute some answers to the debate and examine my own views on the matter. 'Europe' and its challenges have fascinated me as long as I have been capable of grasping the concept. Being born in 1966, I would have been slightly too young to have an informed opinion on the UK joining the EEC in 1973, however, I remember being excited see Greece in 1980 and Spain in 1982 joining and I have always regarded the EU member states as a united dysfunctional family. Is there a future for this dysfunctional family?

1) Our common heritage

It is important to define what the European notion means to us. Therefore, I am starting with the ideological history.

We know that cultural exchanges have existed for a long time. For example, during the Renaissance, the Dutch philosopher Erasmus had a publisher in Switzerland and corresponded with Thomas More, the English politician. The German painter Holbein found employment at the Tudor court in England. The Italian Leonardo da Vinci worked at the French court of King Francois I. Neo-classicism brought the Italian architecture of Palladio and inspired the Grand Tour where cultured minds visited Italian towns and enjoyed its art. The Romantic movement was also widespread in Europe, it united literary figures such as William Wordsworth, Walter Scott, Clemens Brentano, Madame de Stael in a common aesthetic appreciation.

Merchants also spread their wings across Europe. We remember the Hanseatic League which united trade between towns in the North Sea  and Baltic Sea. We had the Rhine and Danubian trade routes, the tapestry trade that went from Lyons to Lisburn. Or the Lombard financial system that became the roots of the banking system. Or what about the coffee trade that spread from Turkey to England via Vienna? There are countless other examples.

During the 20th C, the French Historian Jean-Baptiste Duroselle argued that Christianity is central to the European identity. I do not subscribe to such a claim. Europe has been the home of different ideologies and faiths. It has been the birthplace of the Papacy, the Protestant movement, the Orthodox church, communism, social-democracy, liberalism, capitalism, esoteric societies, secularism, Ashkhenaz judaism, Moorish Islam and it has been the home of countless thinkers. There is not such a thing as pure origins. And even if we followed the linguistic route, then we would discover that our languages are derived from a dialect spoken in Asia, that our pre-historical pottery bears similarities and that the origins of humanity possibly take us as far away as Africa. The European identity has existed as long as people, tribes and nations have been cooperating together on our continent. The European identity is connected with the legacy of our continent.

Another cliche relates to the idea that 'Human Rights' originated with the French revolution. Indeed, France can be proud of the Declaration of Human Rights that is enshrined in its constitution. However, the concept had been around from a long time. We find such ideas in the ancient Greek philosophical school of Stoa, in the works of the German Calvinist jurist Johannes Althusius and the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius. The Dissenters, the Quakers and everyone who fought against slavery and religious/political intolerance can claim to have played a part in establishing human rights in the European consciousness. The English jurist Albert Venn Dicey wrote about the British Habeas Corpus Acts that they "are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty". Social reformers have convinced that fair wages, decent work conditions, universal suffrage, gender equality  the end of child labour are acknowledged rights.

All this common history unites our countries. In the words of the poet John Donne 'Nobody is an island' - we are united in our diversity. 

(to be continued)

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