A Soul for Europe?

21. Nov 2008 | von Peter Eitel | Kategorie: Europa

The central hall of the Dresdner Bank representation in Berlin was filled with the air of enlightened thought when representatives of politics, economy and the arts came together to seek the soul of Europe. Many a splendid thought was elaborated upon – very few however, were inspiring enough to give Europe a passionate soul. Nevertheless, nobody was short of ideas of what Europe needs now. By Peter Eitel and Christian Miess

‘Let’s go and join the clash of generations’ – Martin Wilhelm, one of the organizers could not have coined it better. It was indeed a clash of generations, a clash however that was never allowed to fully happen.

In his opening statement, Dr. Volker Hassemer, co-initiator of the ‘A soul for Europe’ project, asked the young generation to take over responsibility to put Europe back on the agenda, to make project Europe ‘sexy’ for all those that will shape the world in the future. Europe, the European Union he and many subsequent speakers emphasized, and its uniqueness should not be taken for granted but is nothing short of a miracle taking into account its history of war and bloodshed.

Norbert Lammert, president of the German Bundestag, hinted in the same direction when he strongly criticized the young generation for its apparent inequality towards project Europe, for its tendency to take the achievements of his generation as given and boring. There was indeed a notion of anger in his speech.

Technocratic directives vs. a debate for European leadership.

His anger is understandable considering the amount of work and passion he and his generation contributed towards the idea of a common Europe. But it seemed strangely out of tune with what the younger generation connects to a European soul. It is the utterly liberal technocratic ‘soul by directive, responsibility by paraphrasing the already said’ notion that defies the very essence of a soul: Passion.

Symbolic handover. The organizers Volker Hassemer and Rarita Szakáts
If it is in the hands of the younger Europeans to shape a European soul, then it is evident that they need to fill a gap the outgoing generation has failed to incorporate into their view of Europe. To them, Europe is a project of rationality governed only by directives. It is a common market governed by the rule of homo oeconomicus. It is a Kantian republic where the individual is rational, and societal demands and pressures dealt by rational solutions.

There is nothing wrong with this view. But how can the younger generation instil the passion into project Europe which its founding fathers felt they failed to ignite? Rebel? Demonstrate? Do what the hippies did?

The answer is a short and simple no. Why? Because it would precisely lead to a continuation of what the outgoing generation still does. Alternatively, it is the responsibility of the younger generation, of those that want to take responsibility for the future of Europe to set their own agenda and talk about their aims and objectives. It is a question for the future leadership of Europe where it wants to lead Europe – and thus a debate about European leadership.

Yes we can!

Throughout the conference discussions between old and young always had an air of parents talking to their child when it finally leaves the house – they in fact have not a lot to add to all that has been said during the growth of the child – but they can not let it go without giving the final advice. Oddly enough however, it takes a long time until the child is ready and willing to take responsibility for itself and others. Instead of being proactive and forging ahead, the comforting pillows of parental care and advice continue to shape one’s life and perceptions.

For the younger generation the time of shrugging but doing nothing is over now. The world is in flux, getting ever more complex and developing at a speed that does not allow for feeling at ease. The world financial crisis, the rise of China, India, Brazil and Russia, terrorism to name but a few recent issues epitomize that Europe needs to think about were it wants to head. Only if the political, economical and cultural leadership of Europe can answer this question can it instill passion.

Solutions, more or less around the corner

The battlegroud of ideas
Maybe it was the massive presence of diverse representatives from various initiatives that some people lost sight in the forest. Obviously a lot of people at the conference didn’t notice the abundance of ideas that are already existent. There are concepts, especially in the ´not-so-new-anymore´ online realm. Examples such as coolpoliticsresearch.eu, or signandsight are just the tip of the iceberg. All projects have exactly the aim of bringing Europe to the people and taking the challenges seriously. What we need to focus on is then the integration work. Still, if so many voices come together how does it work out in an effective way? But that is what Europe and the European tradition is all about: establishing structures that allow people understand each other.

What is needed is nothing less than a battle of ideas for Europe, like the one in the UK or other open fora were young professionals and future leaders can discuss their visions. Does this not carry the danger of plunging back into the age of nationalism and stereotypes? Hardly – and this is what the older Europeans ought to realize. They have done their job superbly – nothing is more firmly entrenched in Europe’s youngsters than the European idea. To them, there is no need to talk about it anymore, they simply live it. And because they have done their job superbly they ought to let go. Admittedly, the “older generation” officially gave the staff of the initiative “A Soul for Europe” to the next generation at the end of the conference to organize the next event in two years. They ought to allow their children to fly more freely and shape the world they want – because they can.


This article is also meant to encourage all readers to send links to amend to this document create a list of such projects, like the ones already mentioned. Write to info@e-politik.de and let’s get this thing started!


The pictures are subject to the copyright of A Soul for Europe (Title) and the authors.


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  1. Also zwei Deutsche radebrechen auf Englisch über eine industriefinanzierte Konferenz die zum Ziel hat, endlich auch die Kultur produktiv in die europäische Wertschöpfungskette einzubeziehen. Da fällt ihnen auf, dass es einen Generationenkonflikt gibt. Aber die Alten brauchen sich keine Sorgen zu machen: Europas Youngsters leben die europäische Idee. Nationalismus und Stereotype haben keine Chance in einem Europa, in dem sich Ungarn und Slowaken totprügeln, Romafamilien mit Handgranaten im Schlaf gesprengt werden, Ministerpräsidenten afroamerikanische Politiker als gut gebräunt loben und Parteivorsitzende mit Migrationshintergrund immer über ihren Migrationshintergrund reden müssen.
    Verstehe.

  2. Moment mal! Da muss ich unsere “zwei Deutschen” doch in Schutz nehmen!
    Erstens ist das das most delighting British English das ich seit langem gehört habe. Es entspricht auch der Idee der Konferenz mehr auf Englisch zu publizieren bzw. Artikel zu übersetzten, um auch Leser aus anderen europäischen Ländern anzusprechen.
    Zweitens ist es natürlich sehr einfach auf so zynische Weise (Kompliment, es war durchaus amüsant) etwas herunterzuputzen bei dem man gar nicht dabei war. An der Konferenz war definitiv zu kritisieren, dass Kultur instrumentalisiert und domestiziert werden sollte. Und natürlich ist die Gefahr von Nationalismus und Stereotypen in Europa noch lange nicht gebannt. ABER:
    Es wurde deutlich, dass schon unglaublich viel geschehen ist, dass nämlich die Europäer schon viel stärker zusammengewachsen sind, als es meistens von den Medien dargestellt wird, mit welcher Leichtigkeit und Selbstverständlichkeit gerade junge Menschen heute reisen, in anderen Ländern studieren, leben und arbeiten. All das haben wir dem Projekt Europa zu verdanken. Es ist noch lange nicht vollendet, sondern braucht eben jetzt die engagierte jüngere Generation, die sich einsetzt, ohne in einen lähmenden Zynismus zu verfallen…
    Die Konferenz mag vielleicht ihr Ziel verfehlt haben, Europa eine Seele zu geben, und währendessen haben sich die Ungar und Slowaken auch immer noch geprügelt, aber die Konferenz hat, zumindest für mich als Teilnehmer, ein wichtiges Ziel erreicht: den Stein des Anstosses ins Rollen gebracht. Ich durfte teilnehmen, war eingeladen mitzumachen beim Projekt Europa und das erst weckt das wirkliche Interesse sich für etwas einzusetzen.

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