Can Europe Make It?

What has happened to the idea of a united Europe?

Christoph Heuermann
17 January 2014

Being a 23 year old German by birth, I consider myself more a cosmopolitan. Europe has an astonishing diversity of people, culture and landscapes, but studying in Konstanz near the Swiss border, I sometimes like to have a break from the European Union. After school I went volunteering in New Zealand. Living at the other end of the world was quite amazing and brought a deep change to my life. So reading has given way to traveling. I love Europe, but not what happens in it politically. I think Switzerland as a country, with its decentralism, direct democracy and economic freedom, holds some valuable insights for the EU.

I’ve lived in Vienna and am now studying in Madrid. I’m still astonished how close we Europeans are to each other despite some cultural differences. Meeting so many exciting people makes me forget that there are borders which define nationalities. Borders are an important European issue for me. Being a classical liberal, I deeply believe in the case for free migration and free trade, both of which seem to be in trouble at the moment. On the one hand, people die almost daily while trying to reach the stronghold of Europe from Africa, drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand, the free trade agreement with the US is in some difficulty as a result of revelations about the NSA. Speaking as a cosmopolitan, Europe should be a free and open society, not closed to anyone.

But we still have a long way. Nationalism unfortunately is on the rise. My French flatmates shocked me recently, when it turned out that they vote for the Front National. Then I noticed this was not the only example, in other conversations with other people. What has happened to the idea of an united Europe? Why do actually really friendly and tolerant people vote for far right-wing nationalism combined with economic protectionism? This question bothers me.

You already see, I am quite political and idealistic, although not bound to any political party. I do not really like party politics (although I interned with a German MP last summer), thinking that changes in society are better achieved by individual efforts like (social) entrepreneurship and collective action. I can fully understand the more pragmatic approaches to European issues in times of crisis. However, Europe needs more than technocrats. It needs a vision. Indeed being political, I am not sure yet if I am going to vote in the European elections. I neither want the previous path to continue nor to vote for haters of Europe. And in Germany at least, there is not much choice in between.

Having friends all around Europe I am sad about what the crisis has brought to them. Currently living in the centre of Madrid, there are few signs of this. The city buzzes. However, many young Spaniards are trying to emigrate. A friend of mine is off soon to Germany – the country I was glad to leave. Although Germany lies in the heart of Europe, my heart does not lie there. This is not so much to do with Germany’s history, as it is about current politics and the German mentality - though I really love the vast variety of German landscapes, its beautiful medieval cities and the great thinkers born there. For that reason, I also see the German influence on European issues as quite critical. Europe should not become another Germany, it should stay as colourful as it is. For this Europe I fight, and for this Europe I hope to write and explain my ideas.

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