European Elections Special

Vive la différence!

The British are loyal, the Germans responsible and the Italians could not care less: These kinds of clichés hold the key to Europe’s future.

Originally, the term “Europe” referred to “the occident continent” or “the darkened place where the sun sets.” Will it continue to be a geographic reference point or become a place with its own distinct identity?

Back in 1946, Winston Churchill first floated the idea of a United States of Europe. Half a decade later, this dream seems to have been infected with Eurosclerosis, an ailment that can only be cured with actions and new ideas of what Europe should look like in 2034.

Whilst peace has taken hold inside the borders of Europe, the search for its true heart and soul has made little progress. Europe has many faces and many identities but so far, the idea of Europe as a community of shared values – rather than a leviathan on hollow pillars – has remained a dream.

That is because the core of European patriotism is still terribly provincial. The Bavarians remain suspicious of the Prussians, the Scottish continue to revolt against the English and Catalonia has drawn up all the boundaries necessary for secession. Many Bavarians have more in common with Austrians than with Northern Germans.

Clichés contain a lot of truth

The question of how much truth lies in cultural clichés deserves some attention. It is likely that the results of a survey done by the Foundation for Future Studies in 2007 will hold true for the next decade or two: virtues differ from country to country. Loyalty thrives in Britain, as much as a sense of responsibility does in Germany and justice does in Finland. Meanwhile, the Italians seem less bothered with reliability than anybody else. Vive la différence! What seems like a collection of harsh clichés is actually pretty accurate in determining the values that European people hold.

While borders have been lifted, we see that people’s habits and idiosyncrasies do not change as quickly. Tourism analysis has shown that the Germans beat everybody else to the deck chairs, the Danish never leave the bar and the French tag along anywhere in search for constant entertainment. Many travel reports read as follows: the drinks are mixed by the Spanish and at 3 am the last Dane gets carried out of the bar. At the breakfast table only the Germans eye the strawberry yogurt, whilst the Italians prefer a hint of orange and the French stick with apple.

Aside from the clichés that many of us try to resist, Europe is also becoming a melting of different wisdom and recipes of the good life that combine notions of “savoir-vivre,” “dolce far niente” and the German “Gemütlichkeit.” It has also become clear that the things we have in common correlate much more strongly within our respective regions than within states and countries. Here we can envision a Europe where young people grow up on Karl Marx and Coca-Cola, read Luther’s texts online whilst joining Pope Francis is his global fight against poverty. Or visit a musical before attending the evening prayer at a mosque.

Time for pragmatism

That is why the Europe of 2034 is a Europe of diversity. It is a Europe of people not bound together by one single and unifying currency, but by a lingering sense of solidarity and the pragmatic necessity not to let any member state down. The European Union will gradually become a roof-like structure that gives shelter and protection to all those standing below it.

But Europe is also faced with pressing issues. Inequality within Europe is growing ever larger and many Europeans doubt that the fruits of the Union are being distributed fairly. All the while, fears of dramatic decreases in prosperity, terrorism and the expansion of the role the internet plays in our daily lives now constantly accompany us.

There will be no reliable data protection in 2034. Cyberoptimism won’t survive the plight against Europe-wide cyber criminals that eradicate wealth and snatch identities. In 2034 Romano Prodi’s advice will still hold true, we need to be pragmatic about Europe, we need to radically rethink the way we “do Europe”. Here, the “doing Europe” is the part that will take some time to learn.

Read more in this debate: Eike Wenzel, Anni Podimata.

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