Europe has always been a place of refuge for many. The people migrating to Europe in the hope for a better life have become more and more. At the same time, Europe appears to get less and less safe for its inhabitants. A lot of people are coping with unemployment in the wake of the financial crisis, and Europe has to recover from horrible terrorist attacks.
The last “Kultur und Wirtschaft” conference was about Europe’s ambiguous reality and about its potential. “In Europe we don’t have many natural resources.” said honorary president Erhard Busek in his opening speech. “What we have is our brain and, hopefully, also the heart to handle it reasonably.”
Do we understand each other?
The European Union counts 24 official languages. This means 24 different ways of looking at the world. The number is even larger if you count all the unofficial languages and dialects as well. This gives rise to the question if we understand each other. The answer is: not as much as we liked, and maybe even not as much as we used to. Austria and Hungary, for example, share a long history together, but today Austria’s and Hungary’s understanding of the term “democracy” couldn’t be more different. Hungarian president Viktor Orbán suppresses minorities, while in Austria, we see it as the duty of the majority to protect minorities. Nationalism is very strong in Hungary, while Austria still identifies as primarily European. What happened? “It takes time to develop a democratic understanding.”, says Ernst Gelegs, office manager of ORF Budapest. “That’s what Hungarian intellectuals keep telling me.”
Is there a European people?
The project of the European integration is as big as it is unique in the history of the world. And like any good project, it takes time. Also, setbacks seem to be inevitable. “Today we see a pile-up of crises: the economic crisis, the NSA crisis, the Ukraine crisis, the refugee crisis.”, says Johannes Voggenhuber, former member of the European Parliament. A few decades ago it was the common understanding between politicians that the European integration is irreversible, and that after the introduction of the Euro, the European identity would follow. “Today we know: the European integration is not irreversible. The European integration can fail.”
The European integration is a process and it isn’t finished yet. There are still many gaps between the people of Europe. But we shouldn’t forget that we already bridged many. The European integration began with the simple creation of a common market for coal and steel with the goal to prevent further war between France and Germany. Today, we have young people identifying as European and acting deeply compassionate towards their fellow Europeans who are affected by crises in other member states. “Europe is a promise. But it is not yet delivered. We are the ones who will have to deliver it.” says Voggenhuber.
Do we still believe in the European idea?
Europe is and always has been a continent with a variety of cultures and a variety of opinions. It has always been clear that Europe will have to learn how to use this variety to its advantage. That was already old news in 1957 when the European Union was founded. “United in diversity.” is therefore the European motto. 58 years after its formation the visions of how Europe should look like still differ. Especially in the current times of crises, we will have to learn how to bridge the gaps between these different visions, cultures and opinions to fully unfold Europe’s potential.
Variety has always been the explosive threatening to rip Europe apart. At the same time variety could be the glue holding us together. In today’s world, where the future is so uncertain, only variety can be the solution. Uniform societies produce uniform mindsets and uniform ways of problem-solving. But the problems we will face in the future are manifold. Only a diverse society with a variety of mindsets can be prepared to all future challenges. “United in diversity” could be more than just a catchy slogan. It could be our way to a truly strong Europe that is well prepared for the future.
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