Time to change our mental maps

Posted on 11. October 2012

by Marian Cramers

Marian Cramers NEWI wholeheartedly support Lukas Brück’s idealism and the point he makes. I, too, believe that Europe is far more than a necessary evil in times of globalisation and that the current crisis is financially manageable and can be solved, given the crucial commitment across the member states.

However, let us not mistake a wish for a destiny. The financial transfers and political will which existed between East and West Germany was extraordinary and a historical success for the (re-)unification of a nation. But today we see separatist movements across the whole of Europe, and they are not necessarily related to economic considerations.

Both countries I have personal experience with – Belgium and the United Kingdom – are confronted with separatist movements that are far more advanced in their efforts towards regional independence than I would like. In Spain too, separatism is no longer associated with a terrorist organisation operating on the fringes of society, but with over a million citizens taking to the street to demand liberation from Madrid. Let us not assume that unification and integration is inevitable and simply a matter of time, when the zeitgeist in Europe suggests that patience and tolerance for governmental experiments is wearing thin.

The role of the EU in this century’s ambiguity has been unclear for too long. In this matter, it can take either of two directions. The EU can be the catalyst for the political unease, economic fear and civilian resentment that is growing in the European nations, acting as the symbol for missed opportunities and loss of wealth and influence. In this case, it would likely be reduced to an awkward vehicle of incomplete treaties and ineffective policies, perpetually weakened by consensus-seeking procedures between alienated states.

Or, preferably, the Union could become the umbrella under which Europeans can establish an advantage that is far more important in a globalised age than artificially maintained economic stability: self-determination. Today’s generation is living in a professional and social environment where identity is more diverse, multi-layered and seemingly contradictory than ever before. As a consequence, the nation state is becoming somewhat irrelevant at best, and a severe limitation to individual ambition and development at worst. The EU could offer a solid alternative and has already taken a major step in this direction by opening its internal borders for 500 million citizens to live, study and work wherever they see potential. Given the risks and controversy under which these decisions were made, and the short timeframe it took for all this to become self-evident, there is no reason why Europe cannot also take the psychological step and accept the conceptual EU as the safe and stable supporting structure within which we can pursue a personal identity that embraces all the rich, intriguing options this 21st century, globalised world has laid out for us.

Too often throughout past decades, the EU’s problem has been defined as a lack of European citizenship, popular engagement or defined cultural unity. I believe the EU’s strength lies precisely in the fact that it does not impose, but genuinely invites the continent’s inhabitants to individually pursue more than their nation states initial offer. And I desperately hope the current crisis does not put an end to that groundbreaking achievement.