“Europe, a culture of shared causes ?”

By the Council on European Responsibilities (COEUR)

1.The morning after

Both EMU and enlargement will profoundly change the Union.
EMU will enhance economic dynamism in the single market, but also expose regional disparities, uncompetitive enterprises and inefficient institutions. It will make a new relationship with the US dollar both possible and necessary. Enlargement will necessitate reform of the Union’s institutions as well as its regional, social, and agricultural policies. It will also require huge changes in the political and economic culture of the new member states in Central Europe.

2. Impetus

The context in which the Union was founded has also greatly changed. Its original aims were broadly four: to prevent war among former enemies, notably France and Germany; to combat protectionism in Europe and prevent economic warfare; to help European nations to recover collectively the power and influence – the “sovereignty” – they lost individually when they were dwarfed by the super-powers; and to link them in a system of laws and democratic institutions comparable to those that link fellow citizens within a nation-state.

Today, war among the Union’s member States has become as unthinkable as its founders planned. With the Single Market, protectionist pressures have shifted from customs tariffs to other means of action, including – until EMU – competitive devaluation. Where there were once two super-powers there is now only one. However the risk of global war has been replaced by the reality of regional and civil conflict, on and even within Europe’s borders and towards which Europe appears incapable of acting as a coherent power. The Union has established rules and institutions that transcend the nation-state; but they suffer from an absence of popular legitimacy, and are increasingly questioned by those who seek to define them in a constitution.

Political union is unthinkable without democratic legitimacy.
Such democratic legitimacy will not simply be achieved by making European institutions elected ones. The decisive prerequisite for a viable democracy at any level, be it local, regional, national or European, is lively debate between well-informed electors and elected, in short, a political community based on consensus on shared causes.

3. Shared causes

Many of Europe’s citizens regard the Union as remote, bureaucratic, and irrelevant to urgent current problems. At home, they face unemployment, job insecurity, rising crime, drugs, the development of a largely inner city underclass of virtual unemployables, and the contrasting threats of recession and low wage competition. Abroad, they have seen Europe’s impotence in Bosnia and Kosovo, its divisions over the Middle East, its inability to take firm concerted action when needed, and its dependence on the United States. A recent report to the US Congress suggests that within five years some Middle east and Asian powers will have a ballistic missile capacity to strike all parts of Europe.

For all these reasons, Europe needs new impetus – to solve its current and future problems, to rethink its strategic objectives and structure, and to re-establish mutual understanding between its citizens and its political leaders.

Europe needs to overcome the widespread cliché that it lacks a common culture, a common sense of vision, a common consciousness of shared causes and responsibilities. The challenge is to rediscover all these so as to progress towards a true European community. European culture in its broadest sense is not unthinkable. Some of the greatest Europeans have expressed it clearly.

“If we drew the balance today of our mental property, we would find that most of it does not spring from our nations respectively, but from the common European fund. In all of us the European by Far dominates the German, Spaniard, Frenchman. Four fifths of our inner possessions are European common heritage.” [Jose Ortega y Gasset]

“Il n’y pas l’histoire de France. Il y a l’histoire de l’Europe”. [Marc Bloch]

“When a Virgil, a Dante, a Shakespeare, a Goethe are born, that will determine the future course of the entire development of European literature.” [T.S. Eliot]

“Europe is the fountain of Christian faith and Christian ethics. It is the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, the prosperity and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy.” [Winston Churchill in his 1946 Zurich speech]

These quotations do not refer only to a glorious past. The cultures of Europe reside not only in its museums. On the contrary, the “mental property” and “inner possessions” of Europeans (to use Ortega y Gasset’s words) are Europe’s real riches, more important than mere physical artefacts. They are the basis of a civilization which transcends today’s political boundaries.

The challenge today is to put such “inner possessions” to work. That means to rally Europeans to shared causes such as:

  • rekindling awareness of Europe’s cultural heritage
  • preserving the freedom of thought, nurturing the sources of artistic creativity, and encouraging the spirit of enterprise
  • promoting the spread of democracy to all parts of the world as a strategy for peace
  • defending human rights and human dignity wherever they are threatened
  • maintaining an open international economic and trading system as a key to worldwide prosperity
  • working for the environmental equilibrium of the globe
  • continuing Europe’s pioneering postwar endeavour to combine emotional attachment to their local, national or religious communities with the rational objective of transnational integration, and promoting it as a model for peace for the XXI century.

Contrary to prevailing opinion, shared causes such as these are alive in the minds of today’s Europeans. This was shown unexpectedly and forcefully by the series of peaceful revolutions in eastern and central Europe leading up to the momentous change in 1989.
Another example was the surprisingly unanimous response to the atrocities in Bosnia and now Kosovo. It is encouraging that, at least during the crucial period of intervention in Bosnia, this public response swept away the entrenched foreign policy patterns in European capitals inherited from the traditional alignments of Balkan politics before the First World War.

The reassessment of Europe’s long-term objectives and structure will involve considering the new meaning of nationality, the implications of more open frontiers, the need to overcome social and linguistic barriers, and a sense of responsibility more widely shared. To bridge the gap between the European Union and its citizens, the Union will need to address their concerns more directly, vigorously and effectively, while Europeans themselves need to learn more about each other and about the Union that is being built.

What practical steps can we take to win public support for Europe’s culture of shared causes?

The fundamental answers lie in education and information.

A. Education

European nation states were promoted by national universal education. The European Commission has no major educational department, whereas national Ministries of Education are huge employers and powerful opinion formers.

  • Should the Commission seek to be more concerned with European education? If not the Commission, should another body pursue this aim?
  • Should the development of European history curricula be encouraged?
  • Should more be done to promote early language learning?
  • Could exchange programmes be intensified?
  • What other initiatives could be taken?

National education systems need not wait for European prodding. Any or all could initiate primary-level language teaching: some already have. European history and geography syllabuses and the establishment of websites and interactive computer programmes can transcend national frontiers.

  • Should one or more member governments take up the challenge?
  • Would such action provoke hostility or competition?

Private initiatives, as the USA has shown, can be crucial in initiating action.

  • Could more comprehensive scholarship systems be established in Europe (e.g. Rhodes Scholarships) in addition to the Erasmus Program of University student exchanges?
  • Could national television and/or radio stations, public or private, promote European education in a more effective way?
  • Could publishers be persuaded to extend joint action notably by facilitating translations (as already encouraged by France)?
  • Could travel agencies and tour operators be induced to include in their itineraries or literature more information about the countries they visit?

Fiscal allocations and incentives for private funding of the arts and sciences should be enhanced throughout Europe to the level of the USA, if Europe as a whole is to keep pace with America’s vibrant cultural, academic, scientific and hence economic life.

B. Information

The European Union is equipping itself to be better informed about international affairs. The appointment of a European foreign policy and security adviser may provide an opportunity to establish a crisis prediction capacity.

How can we replace the historically and culturally conditioned reflexes of national foreign policies with one designed to meet the strategic needs and duties of Europe as a whole?

Many other issues, closer to daily life than foreign and security policy can be tackled only by concerted European action.
Pollution cannot be stopped by national frontiers. Terrorists, drug dealers and international criminals cannot be allowed to shelter in other European countries. Illegal immigrants cannot be allowed to take advantage of ill-coordinated border controls.

For the European Union to meet these responsibilities its institutions must be more representative and directly answerable to the public. At the same time its actions need the backing of a public convinced that they are legitimate common concerns. Yet Europe’s citizens at present get their news, information and opinions primarily from national sources television, the press, governments – and only rarely from other countries or from the European institutions themselves.

  • Are there practical ways of broadening the horizons of Europe’s citizens beyond national frontiers?
  • What success have European media had and what lessons can their experience provide?
  • More specifically, would any news agencies be prepared to carry European commentaries?
  • Is there any scope for syndicated European articles in the European national newspapers to show how other European nationals feel, and convey a consistent flow of material to a progressively better informed European public opinion?

The Council on European Responsibilities has been created to provide a centre for reflection on these and other subjects.

The Europe of today is changing from an interstate system governed by the balance of power into a multistate society governed by the rule of law and based upon the ideal of democracy. Nevertheless, it is a Europe of common rules but not yet common principles. A political culture remains to be created. At the same time, Europeans face urgent responsibilities, which are both internal, towards one another, and external, towards the rest of the world.

The role of COEUR is to act as a “continuous conference” (to employ the term used by the founders of the Council on Foreign Relations in the USA) bringing men and women of experience and influence together from all quarters of Europe, and all disciplines. to create and stimulate thought on the nature, requirements and duties of European society, and to encourage the necessary culture of shared causes.

COEUR seeks both to inform and encourage public debate and also to cooperate with political institutions. To be effective, this means developing a dialogue with the institutions of the European Union, including the European Council whose specific role is to provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development as well as defining its general political guidelines.

In the short term (news and information) as in the long term (education), the basic cultural challenge is to create a European awareness and sense of solidarity and purpose to match and assist the growth, deepening and enlargement of the European Union. Out of the complex reality of European society the aim will be to distil values, which transcend national boundaries.

If we fail to do this, the European vision will fade into remoteness from Europe’s citizens. That in turn would provoke a new “crise de la conscience europĂ©enne”, calling into question all that has been achieved so far.