To Europe: A Love Letter

While the world speaks of crisis I see the dawning of great opportunity for the of Europe. Western leaders hang their heads in shame and discomfort when instead they should charge bright eyed and confident towards the new future serendipitously just handed to them.  Yes the old order is dying. But what shall emerge from it; what shall be called “good” and what “bad” has not been decided yet.

Since the end of the Second World War Europe has dreamed a dream of plenitude and peace without conflict and sorrow. This is understandable given the egregious errors of the first half of the twentieth century. The prime locus of those errors was of course unbridled selfish nationalism better referred to as blind idiotic chauvinism.  Anyone who wishes to return to that era should first visit the graveyards at Verdun and then the gas chambers at Auschwitz while pondering their continued allegiance to the ‘old faith’.

Of course there is no stepping into the river of time twice for anyone, not even nation states. We cannot return to a twenty-first century version of the nineteenth century and expect a better outcome than before. Even if we could claim to be infinitely wiser than those who went before, such an unstructured competition between nations would soon lead to misunderstandings between relative equals and finally to a test of strength between the ever growing fearful. No we have danced this waltz before and the violin player has always been Mephistopheles himself. This time we shall sit this one out.

The good news of course is: that the European project has worked.

Yes it has worked. Throughout Europe nation states and their peoples have, even if at times ever so slightly, chosen Europe over their own national, narrow interests. Throughout Europe millions of people of widely different backgrounds and beliefs have shown themselves ready to make sacrifices for a common European destiny. While the elites dither, the people have dug in. Their leaders have asked much of them, maybe too much, and yet they have responded. In Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and in all the other members of the union, both big and small, there has been a great if silent outpouring of support for the European Union and the dream of cooperation and prosperity that stands behind it.  This crisis has tantalizingly shown us that a European people have already been born.

The question now is: are the European peoples ready for the next logical necessary step? Are they brave enough? Now that we better understand the great costs of not remaining together are we ready to pay the greater price for strengthening a union that must not perish.  Are we ready to give up some of the backward vestiges of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries so as to guarantee an astonishing entrance into the twenty-second? I think we are.

Many, if not all, are ready for closer cooperation; many are ready to develop a common European identity based on the best of a European heritage sprung from an unshakable belief in the Rights of Man.  Make no mistake about it: the moment is as great as 1789, 1848, 1918, 1945, and 1989. In each of those prior moments, millions decided they wanted something else, something better, and something more. And each time they were right. Today young or old, conservative or socialist, worker or intellectual, rich or poor should turn to one another and across our rapidly falling borders and say that over there I see not a “Greek” or a “Frenchman” or a “German” but a European brother or sister who I’m willing to help so that we may all help ourselves towards a stronger future.

Without solidarity and without hope there is no future. Without struggle there is no progress. Even though a strong case can be made that our European and, indeed, world elites have failed us…that is but a small, temporary matter. The truth is that we the millions of Europeans who inhabit this continent should abandon the worst of our past and join hands across the continent and say: “We are ready for a closer more perfect union. We are ready today.”

As a revolutionary of another time and place once aptly put it: “If we do not now hang together surely then we shall hang separately.”

Awake Europe! Your time is now!

Dan Corjescu teaches at the University of Tübingen’s TRACS program.