Europe is a pretty small continent – the second smallest to be exact – and home to 11% of the world’s population. Most of all, it is also a pretty bloody place. As you go through the history books, the sheer amount of war, death and injustice this continent has seen is simply unimaginable. In fact there is an article on Wikipedia titled ‘List of conflicts in Europe’ and there are no 10 consecutive quiet years anywhere between 1000 BC and now while the article also gives a gentle hint that the list is still incomplete. So war and terror have certainly been among the most favourite pastimes of this continent. The endless redrawing of European map has not even stopped since the creation of the European Union. We have since seen through the Kosovo War, the Second Chechen War and quite recently the Russia-Georgia war just to name a few. The EU has undoubtedly made warfare somewhat more diplomatic however and it is true that within the borders of this Union there have been no such conflicts. So what, if anything, can the EU give to the world community and, indeed, what is its place in a world that is rapidly shaking off long-past European supremacy and dominance?
It is striking that although warfare has constantly pulled the European Nations apart and instilled their people’s heads with ridiculous prejudice and animosity, the brightest spots of scientific and social advancements have often been pan-European phenomena. The Enlightenment quickly spread across the continent and it seemed as if an intellectual unity had been reached. Artists and composers marvelled at the beauty of this continent as they were travelling through it, drawing on inspiration from all of Europe. Take Immanuel Kant, father of German Idealism. He is regarded a German philosopher but was arguably heavily influenced by other European luminaries such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume and, of course, Baruch Spinoza thus not only underlining the multi-lingual but also Judeo-Christian fabric of the European culture. Are therefore the inner-European borders not simply a relic from the past, created by kings and emperors to sustain and protect their own power and wealth?
Amid such thinking, it is baffling that it needed the rise of a powerful China with a radically different social order on the scene of world politics for many Europeans to see how much the Old Continent’s nations have in common after all. For what makes a society if not common morals and ideals? On all important accounts therefore, European nations have more in common that those on almost any other continent, bar Australia and Antarctica. This was, of course, at the heart of the idea to create a European union that can defend its values unitedly.
So as we approach the 2014 European elections what should be the EU’s future role in the world? When people ask me where I am from or what I consider my nationality to be – a deeply troubling question – I often pause and say that I am European. With most of my formerly German family having been forced out of the country several decades ago and many of them now living in the US and South America I can hardly identify as primarily German anymore. What I do identify with is the period of the Enlightenment and the many great composers, artists and philosophers it produced. After many of these ideals were suspended during the two World Wars, I believe that they carried on to reform several decades later and lead to our modern European unity and I can only see myself as European as a result. Describing myself as German makes as little sense to me as declaring myself a subject of the Holy Roman Empire. As in any vivid democracy, local government (now referring to national governments) plays an important role. But a strong European government is needed to defend our common values internationally. So to Europeans I advocate to trade in your local government passports for European ones and be proud of these common values it represents.
In order to present a strong and most importantly stable front to the world, however, Europe must be exactly that, stable. On this point there has been much quandary over the threat of an economies crisis that quickly turned into a structural one. Economically speaking, the biggest problem Europe is facing today are youth unemployment and the financing of SMEs. How much can the EU do to help and what is still in the power of national constituencies? After this game-changing financial and economic crisis, the EU’s budget has been the main source for government investment in many crisis-hit nations with its annual size being much larger than the entire Marshall plan was at its time. While local citizens always welcome such investment, the EU seemingly meddling in their affairs by creating new standards to comply with such as the ban on incandescent light bulbs are generally frowned upon. As much as ordinary citizens loathe big government, though, there are tons of rather tedious standardisation legislations that simply need to be passed for a single market to function well. Some notoriously small-detail EU regulations are, of course, taking government to the extreme but are most often exaggerations and by no means more troubling than some laws in place by national governments.
It seems to me that owed to the vast complexity of diplomacy here at home, European diplomats have become rather good at it on an international stage, too. With the EU finally being able to provide the world with a single head of foreign affairs, it has proven to be a rather useful partner for easing negotiations of all kinds. For example, it was only because of a European perspective, that Serbia and Kosovo sat on the same table under negotiation of the EU. In various conflicts in Asia and the Middle East, the EU’s power of negotiating as a bloc is emerging and becoming a force to be reckoned with. This still happens in a sort of tandem with diplomacy heads of national governments still taking back the reins themselves when a conflict takes place in one of their former backyards (i.e. colonies) where they can still exert a special kind of power. When standing up to behemoths of international power such as china, however, there are such fundamental values at stake, that Europe can (or should) easily speak with one voice, promoting human rights, democracy and free trade. Europe no longer has a monopoly on great ideas and innovation but bright minds in Brazil, India and China are creating the next great advancements. What it can be is a leader in protecting digital privacy in an age where no other country seems remotely interested in such affairs. Europe should be a leader in transparent government by making much stronger use of e-government platforms in an age where it is of zero cost to simply display ALL expenditure and policy to its citizens on an easy to use-platform.
In a much more difficult question, the EU should not just be living and preaching such values but it must, sadly, also be able to defend them. If the EU was founded as a peace-project of a union based on common values, it is ridiculous that we do not have a European army to this day, as this is exactly what an army is supposed to defend. Europe has been relying on American military dominance, which is why it should be regarded as co-author of the Iraq-invasion, the Middle East conflict and the morally detestable prison of Guantanamo Bay just as it should not be surprised by any of the revelations of the so-called NSA scandal. If we seek higher standards for our conduct of international and military affairs then we must create our own. A European Army could be an example for moral judgement, and protection of its citizens not just offline but increasingly online, too.
In summary, I want to say that Foreign Policy, Energy and the digital revolution, which is increasingly about privacy and online law are issues that are fundamentally European and that should be tackled by its Union. Amid anti-EU parties rising in the polls it is urgently important to remind European citizens of this fact and to engage them in European democracy for a Europe without the EU is a very bleak prospect.