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Ovi Symposium; sixty-first Meeting Ovi Symposium; sixty-first Meeting
by Prof. Ernesto Paolozzi
2015-09-29 17:57:30
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 Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Mr Nikos Laios, Attila Marjan, Drs. Ernesto Paolozzi and Emanuel Paparella
Sixty-first Meeting: 24 September 2015

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

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attilaAttila Marjan is an invited guest for this 61st meeting of the Ovi Symposium. A university professor in International Relations in Budapest, Hungary,  author and  economist, former Public Policy Scholar and alumnus at the Woodrow Wilson International Center (2010-2013), interested in the literary and philosophical aspects of the trans-Atlantic dialogue. He is also on the editorial board of Modern Diplomacy to which he contributes regularly.

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Subtheme of session 61: “Europe as an Idea and the Atlantic Dialogue” 

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Blair, Prodi, Vico, Jung, Levinas, Nietzsche, Dante, Michelangelo, Hegel, Marx, De Montaigne, Joyce, Campbell, Habermas, Rawls, Eisenstadt, Durkheim, Weber, Troelstsch, Plato, Descartes, Epicurus, Lucretius, Patacha, Havel, Dawson, Husserl, Kierkegaard, Augustine, Aquinas, Feuerbach, Benjamin, Adorno, Held, Valery, Mazzini, Croce, Spinelli, De Gasperi, Renzi, Merkel, Beethoven, Bach, Ravel, Lisippas, Donatello, Rodin, Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, Jung, Hesiod, Fellini, Mead, Albright, Klaus, Montesquieu, Geremek, De Gaulle, Leonardo, Mozart, Joyce, Kohl, Mitterand, Lukacs, Monnet.

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Table of Contents for the 61st Session of the Ovi Symposium (24 September 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Europe as an Idea: Shifting Paradigms within the Atlantic Dialogue” A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Section 2: “In Praise of a Europe United in Liberty and Democracy” A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi.

Section 3: “Europe: the Tower of Babel”  A Presentation by Nikos Laios.

Section 4: “A Europe Created out of Necessity—Is there a Place for Identity?“  A Presentation by Attila Marjan (invited guest).

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

In the light of the ongoing EU refugee crisis, we return to the issue of Europe’s cultural identity and ask this question anew: “What does it mean to be a European?” Considering the diametrically different stands taken by two members states of the Union, Sweden on one hand, and Hungary on the other, one begins to suspect that there are powerful centrifugal political forces in play which may prove disastrous for the EU.

The crisis may prove to be nothing less than a litmus test for the EU as to whether or not the principles on which it was built remain viable or are they written in sand. Any short term practical economic-political solution may prove futile in the long run unless Europeans resolve once and for all the thorny issue of their cultural identity with the ultimate aim of knowing themselves authentically and in depth (a common love of soccer will not do the trick, I am afraid), and then proceed to the implementation of the philosophical underpinnings envisioned by its founding fathers and based on ideals such as human rights, the common good, solidarity, the brotherhood of man, democracy, social distributive justice. Those ideals are part of the European heritage and assume a theoretical construct which is as old as the rationale for the ancient Greek wars against the Persians, namely the idea that is the West, of a conception of Europe that goes beyond mere geo-political economic realities and considerations: that is to say, Europe as an idea that remains to be fulfilled.

Paparella introduces this rather complex and elusive subject with a philosophical-literary analysis and excursus that attempt to clarify the difficulties that have ensued within the trans-Atlantic dialogue in the last couple of decades. Here too one can detect centrifugal forces militating against the unity that ought to be the West. Somehow, the West as an idea has been lost sight of and that may explain, at least in part, why the center does not hold. That this may be the case is hinted by the two above mentioned and wholly different approaches to the resolution of the refugee crisis, represented by Sweden and Hungary’s reaction to it.

It is not farfetched to assert that the EU is now at the crossroads and that this crisis may well become the litmus test for such a polity, as to whether or not its declared democracy and solidarity is genuine and solid  and will survive the onslaught of its enemies. The refugee crisis may end up splintering the union and pave the way for a return of a rabid nationalism underpinned by a fascist mind-set. What ominously points to it is the sorry spectacle of right wing xenophobic parties proliferating in several EU member countries; all nostalgic for the good old authoritarian anti-democratic tactics of a Hitler or a Mussolini. They have lodged themselves inside the citadel that is liberal democracy, in its very parliaments via the tools of a democracy they intend to subvert (both at the local and the EU level), quite similar to the stratagem of the Trojan horse; they are anxiously waiting for an opportune moment to strike a vulnerable and weakened democracy.

As I have been reiterating for the last decade or so, to proceed to the making of Europe before knowing what makes a European is a dangerous operation equivalent to putting the cart before the horse. Christopher Dawson ought to have taught us that much, if nothing else. In other words, the question of cultural identity, of what does it mean to be a European citizen, ought to precede the question of what is the purpose of a polity called European Union, or one runs the risk of building on sand.

The second brief but powerfully insightful presentation of this meeting of the Symposium is by Professor Ernesto Paolozzi who surveys for us the deep European roots that have always been constitutive part of Italian culture. One can in fact historically go back to universal institutions such as The Roman Empire, the Catholic (universal) Church, the Renaissance, Dante’s De Monarchia where a united Europe is envisioned and proposed, almost as a prophecy. Paolozzi begins his analysis with Giuseppe Mazzini, one of the foremost advocates of Italian unification who envisioned and advocated for a united Italy a democratic republic rather than a constitutional monarchy; a republic which to his mind would avoid the pitfall of an extreme nationalism and ultimately prove to be a much better fit within a future confederation of the European nations. Difficult to say, but had his idea of republicanism been listened to, it might have spared Italy twenty devastating years of Fascism.  Paolozzi then briefly surveys the work of Altiero Spinelli, one of the foremost proponents of European federalism. Federalism is indeed a complex phenomenon (as the Federalist Papers of the US testify to) not reducible to the more simple idea of a community of nations or states. Various scholars consider him one of the founders of the EU. Finally Paolozzi highlights for us some of the real and present dangers to the union exacerbated by an economic recession, the refugee crisis, and the propagation of proto-fascist parties. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic about a final positive outcome and asserts that in fact the worst seems to be over. This is indeed an encouraging silver lining within a political situation which continues to appear menacing, at least from this side of the Atlantic pond especially when one considers the menace of a resurgent Russian hegemony which aims at dividing and conquering.

The third and fourth presentations are by our regular contributor Nikos Laios and our invited guest Attila Marjan. At first glance the reader may mistake those two essays for a pessimistic view of what the EU is all about, a sort of more skeptical other side of the coin of what was announced in the first two presentations, but on deeper reflection one notices that in elaborating some of the failures and political vulnerabilities of the EU both authors shed further light on what still needs to be accomplished. Laios emphasizes the origins of the very idea of the West which is born in ancient Greece; he seems to think, as Paparella also does, that indeed Europe does have a grand mythology and story to tell that goes back to the ancient Greeks, and continues with Medieval Christendom and modern democracy and that Habermas may have it on target in postulating post-modern approaches to European culture that do not violate freedom of religion and human rights. Marjan on the other hand focuses on the present political conundrum and the general apathy of an electorate that does not feel that the polity European Union makes any difference to their lives nor do they bother to instruct themselves in the matter, at least the vast majority seems to feel that way. The educated elites seem to accept it more readily: Europeaness as a sign of distinction and superiority. So we return to the issue of the cultural identity of the EU and the making of a Europe for political economic utilitarian reasons devoid of the very spirit of that union, the values held in common, as envisioned by its founding fathers. The only two founding fathers barely mentioned in those last two essays are De Gaulle and Monnet. Very intriguing that statement of Marjan that the EU is not a confederation or a super-nation like the US but a community of nations. But the issue arises:  even in a community does not some sovereignty and self-interest have to be sacrificed for the common good? Be that as it may, that  quote of Monnet that had he (Monnet) had to do it over, he would put more emphasis on culture and less on the economy, proves very illuminating. Perhaps that quote could be the beginning of the next symposium meeting which will be dedicated to the vision and spirituality of the EU founding fathers. Perhaps a return to origins, as Nikos seems to imply, is desperately needed even before hazarding a diagnosis and a prognosis of what ails the union, allegedly not a federation (as Spinelli and Mazzini envisioned according to Paolozzi). Indeed, to make Europe first and then ponder what makes one a European, that is to say what are the values that we have in common, it to put the cart before the horse and ultimately to build on sand. It is to be hoped that a robust and spirited dialogue will ensue in the next meetings of the symposium to which even readers and editors may opt to participate. In any case, had we accomplished nothing else in this particular issue, we have at least identified how important is the problem of cultural identity before  proceeding with an appropriate diagnosis and prognosis.   

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1

 Europe as an Idea: Shifting Paradigms within the Atlantic Dialogue
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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The journey of the goddess Europe on the back of a disguised Zeus

At the turn of the new millennium I joined the on-line dialogue and debate on “The Future of the European Union.” It was inaugurated by Tony Blair and the then President of the EU Council Romano Prodi. They invited all Europhiles to participate with their own contributions and ideas and thus further the democratic spirit of the new, still evolving, polity. I began to routinely exchange observations, comments, reflections on various aspects of modern European culture and how it was perceived across the Atlantic. One of the hottest issues was that of the emerging EU Constitution.

I began to realize that despite the disparate complex viewpoints and perception of European culture expressed usually in an essay form, there is nevertheless a fundamental guiding thread, and it is this: the awareness that an essay, besides elucidating a specific subject, is also a reflection of the self on the self, a revelation of the mind at work within, at times in contrast to the spirit of the age, as indeed is the case with any human artifact. Those artifacts in turn mirror the culture of a civilization as narrated and transmitted via language.

Man makes language and artifacts and symbols, but paradoxically, as Giambattista Vico and Carl Jung have well taught us, the opposite is also true: language and artifacts and symbols make Man. It occurred to me that part of the uniqueness of the essay form is to give the reader a glimpse as to where the self is coming from and where it is heading as it dialogues with other selves across time and space. What was unique in this transatlantic dialogue is the fact that the dialogue was occurring not only among elite intellectuals, populist or not, but also among ordinary citizens.

In other words, the dialogue went beyond systematically defined academic positions rigorously argued, underpinned by “clear and distinct ideas” leading to unassailable logical conclusion; rather, the dialogue was challenging the academic mind-set to relinquish the privileging of rationalism over the poetical, to involve his/her imagination, to interact rather than merely react to the text, to courageously attempt the exploration and the discovery of new ground across disciplinary boundaries. For, it is at the edge of boundaries that life and knowledge, experience and theory, meet most fruitfully. This was to be expected, given that rational logical arguments underpinned by “clear and distinct ideas,” are not congenial to the essay. The essay form resists both extreme rationalism and self-absorbed diary writing unconcerned with the larger issues of the times.

Etymologically, essay means “an attempt.” Both the author writing an essay and the reader reading it, need to find the courage to attempt something new keeping in mind that to pour new wine in old wineskins may mean losing the new wine. In reading and interacting with an essay, both author and readers are challenged to give up old comfortable assumptions without forgetting them and make an attempt, i.e., to carry on a brave novel exploration of the issues at hand from its origins to the present, beyond rigid disciplinary boundaries.

There are various aspects of the European cultural identity and its transatlantic dialogue that remain to be explored. That dialogue, if truth be told, begins way back in 1492. To facilitate the exploration we will need a sort of “leitkultur”  or cultural guides if you wish that will allow us to navigate the stormy ocean of the transatlantic dialogue where the icebergs of nihilism and extreme rationalism float silently by in the tick of night. Giambattista Vico is undoubtedly one such guide, another is Vaclav Havel, another is Emmanuel Levinas and another is Christopher Dawson. And there are many others, we could go back to Dante and his vision of a United Europe. Those admirable and exemplary visionaries, mostly poets, historians and philosophers, are to be considered the original architects of a New Europe.     

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Four Exceptional Cultural Guides of the European Union: Vico, Havel, Levinas, Dante, Dawson

Vico is considered by many scholars the culmination of Italian and European Humanism. This interest led me eventually to the writing of a book on the hermeneutics of Vico’s speculation on the interface of language, history and literature. Likewise, literary theory and criticism, and their nexus to cultural anthropology, otherwise known as hermeneutics, are prominently featured in this book’s ruminations, under the stimulus of the emergence of the European Union’s Constitution in 2002. In as much as a constitution is analogous to the vital signs of a body politics and reflects its value system, its analysis is essential for determining that body’s moral and social health as well as suggesting an appropriate diagnosis and prognosis.

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But to return to the above mentioned existential philosophical aspects, these reflections, more than with the being of Man, are concerned with the ongoing journey of Man. A spiritual or intellectual journey may imaginatively originate at any point on the hermeneutical circle, to eventually return full circle to its place of origin. This paradigm which believes that in the beginning there is the end and in the end there is the beginning, may at first appear cyclical and closed upon itself, merely immanent, a sort of Nietzschean eternal return, but in fact it is more like a forward, or even upward moving spiral. To be sure, on a spiral one can also move downward, as Dante’s descent into hell amply suggests, but even there it eventually leads to the other side of the earth and then upward, via the mountain of Purgatory, to the final destination in heaven, God’s vision. Indeed, for Dante the way up is the way down. This Vichian structure of the narration of Man’s journey is not always linear narration and may at times make the essays appear contradictory. But such is the story of Man, as imaginatively remembered and as narrated to oneself, beginning at any place of the hermeneutical circle.

Contrary to what one may think when entering the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s narration does not begin with the creation of Light by God but with the drunkenness of Noah. It is via narration, rather than via logical clear and distinct ideas standing behind words, that Man discovers that he is his own history and that while the cycles of the “story” may recur, they also move spiral-like toward a providential final purpose or “telos.” We may then be surprised to discover that transcendence and immanence are not mutually exclusive but complementary to each other. The mind’s restless cognitive operations reflect at least that much. The same inventor of the essay, Michel de Montaigne, some five centuries ago, jotted down this acute insight into the nature of his essays as they related to his own self: “If my soul could only find a footing I would not be essaying myself but resolving myself” (from essay “On Repentance”).

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The Drunkenness of Noah as depicted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel

It is through the attempt to know the workings of our mind, that we may hope to arrive at self-knowledge and begin to realize that in the final analysis, the way to a recovery of transcendence and humanistic modes of thought in Western culture cannot possibly be an Hegelian-Marxian historical paradigm of inevitable progress, or its corollary, manifest destiny, allowing colonizers of various stripes to ride rough shod over native cultures, but rather a new humanistic Vichian-Joycean paradigm intimating “back to the future;” the awareness, that is, that paradoxically the emerging new Europe is neither old nor young, but novantiqua; that old stale unimaginative cultural paradigms rooted in a Machiavellian “real-politick mind-set” need to give way to a more Vichian poetic approach. For the journey into self-knowledge is integral part of our essential humanity, and not only as individual human beings, but also as people, nations and even entire civilizations and as humankind as a whole. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm but the contrary is also true. This can only be so if there exists indeed the universally human.

That question of identity is inescapable, for without self-knowledge, one will inevitably fall prey, along the way, to the seductive voices of false sirens and gods, even when they (like the mythical bull) arrive on time and promise an adventurous journey. Those voices (even when they seem to be the voice of Being itself) make it nearly impossible to focus with the mind’s eye on the final destination of one’s journey. For the question “Are you leaving and arriving on time?” hides a deeper, more crucial question: “On time for what?” Unfortunately, too many political-cultural leaders are running headlong toward the future nowadays in fast cars devoid of a rear-view mirror; and this is happening on both sides of the Atlantic.

The horizon is vast, but keep in mind however that, as mentioned, this maze of cultural issues is to be kept within the framework of self-knowledge. For, besides empirical knowledge of the sciences, mathematical knowledge, and metaphysical knowledge, there is another overarching kind of knowledge: self-knowledge. Joseph Campbell used to enjoin to his audiences: “find your bliss!” The goddess Europa surely must have expected bliss or she would not have left a secure shore to head towards the unknown on the back of a bull. This metaphor is also valid for entire cultures. It is the injunction to search and to find one’s identity, rooted in one’s origins. Vico’s philosophy can become a needed navigating chart once we opt for leaving behind the desolate shores of pure rationalism, technocracy and consumerism, to sally forth on the high sea of the poetical for an adventurous imaginative journey of self-discovery.

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The German Philosopher Jurgen Habermas

The German philosopher Habermas has challenged taken-for-granted assumptions in a seminal essay which envisions a post-secular Europe. He poses the above quoted challenging question to European culture’s conception of modernity as seen through the prism of secularism and its corollary aversion to religion’s role in the public agora. Habermas addresses the debate in terms of John Rawls’s concept of “public use of reason” and proposes that secular citizens in Europe learn to live, and the sooner the better, in a post-secular society; in so doing they will be following the example of religious citizens, who have already come to terms with the ethical expectations of democratic citizenship. So far secular citizens have not been expected to make a similar effort. He is not alone in that challenge. In the year 2000 an essay came out written by Shmuel Eisenstadt, an Israeli sociologist, titled “Multiple Modernities (see Daedalus 129: 1-30) which right from its outset challenged the taken for granted assumption that modernizing societies are convergent, as well as the notion that Europe is the lead society in that converging modernizing process.

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Shmuel Eisenstadt

This is what Eisenstadt writes on the very first page of the essay: “The notion of ‘multiple modernities’ denotes a certain view of the contemporary world—indeed of the history and characteristics of the modern era—that goes against the views long prevalent in scholarly ad general discourse. It goes against the view of the “classical” theories of modernization and of the convergence of industrial societies prevalent in the 1950s, and indeed against the classical sociological analysis of Marx, Durkheim, and (to a large extent) even of Weber, at least in one reading of his work. They all assumed, even if only implicitly, that the cultural program of modernity as it developed in modern Europe and the basic institutional constellations that emerge there would ultimately take over in all modernizing and modern societies; with the expansion of modernity, they would prevail throughout the world.”

In other words, Eisenstadt is saying that modernity can come in both secular and religious versions. This notion, of course, contradicts the theory that modernization necessarily implies secularization and that the United States is a mere exception to this rule made safe by the proverbial separation between State and Church. Rather, what Eisenstadt is suggesting is that the United States and Europe should be seen as two different versions of modernity. Which in turn leads to this crucial question: is secularization intrinsic or extrinsic to the modernization process? More to the point: is Europe secular because it is modern or is it secular because it is European? Depending on how one answers that question, one will assign exceptionalism to either the United States or Europe. In fact, they are two different ways of being modern. The Chinese wish to go one step further and even prove that one can be modern without being democratic. That experiment bears watching closely because it would sever the link between democracy and so called “free markets” and prove Marx right by revealing that indeed Western societies are what many outside the West believe they are: decadent materialistic societies paying lip service to democratic ideals and human rights but ultimately interested only in the selfish amassing of wealth and capital; which is to say, one can be prosperous without being democratic.

What the concept of multiple modernities implies is that Western (especially European) modernity is not the only conceivable one. It can come with indigenous differences. It would be enough to consider India, the largest democracy on earth which enshrines religion as part of its heritage and cultural patrimony. If one takes a careful look at the world outside the West one immediately notices that it is religion which defines the aspiration to an alternate modernity. That may well surprise the “enlightened” European mind, but there is such a thing as a Russian modernity inspired by Russian Orthodoxy, an Islamic modernity, a Hindu modernity, and what may surprise them even more, an integrally Catholic modernity. They are not illusions as the old classical secularization theory tended to imply.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of all might be that, as hinted above, that in many parts of the world the West is perceived in a pejorative way, as propagating a decadent. hedonistic culture of irreligious materialism. Such a perception is reinforced by both the influence of intellectuals, usually heavily secular, and the omnipresence of the Western mass media, much of whose content can indeed be defined as materialistic and irreligious. If that be true, it ought to be of great interest to the practice of diplomacy of Western democracies. At the very least, this crucial question ought to be asked and discussed: What are the consequences of taking seriously the empirical sociological fact that for the great majority of the world’s populations in the 21st century, it is not only possible, but quite normal to be both modern and religious? Might this question make a difference in the kind of paradigm that we construct in the West to understand a little better the nature of the modern world, be it European, American, Asian or African. Is it really “enlightened,” as the age of Enlightenment surely supposed in Europe, to isolate the vast field of the sociology of religion, or should it be restored to its rightful place in the overall global social agenda?

II

The renowned Church historian Ernst Troeltsch once boldly declared that Europe had ceased to be Christian in the 18th century. Of course such a statement referred not to individuals but to the cultural identity of Europe as a whole. Some post-modern thinkers not only would wholly agree with that statement but would also point out that indeed the 18th century is the watershed separating Christendom, so called, or the old Europe, and the new modern Europe. This New Europe, after World War II has finally transformed itself in the European Union and is based on purely neutral, that is to say, non-ideological, economic, scientific, educational foundations.

The issue I’d like to explore in this section of my presentation is based on this crucial question: Are those foundations reliable and solid enough by themselves, or is there something sorely missing? That is to say, is the absence of spiritual foundations, a sign that a more perfect union transcending nationalism will forever elude the European Union? Let’s see.

Some post-modern philosophers attribute the problem of modernity to a mistake made at the beginning of Western culture, to Plato in particular. They assume a continuity between modern rationalism and the principles of reason as formulated by the ancient Greeks. Others draw a distinction between the original principles of rationality and their modern interpretation. They trace the root of that distinction, with its dramatic political implications, to the modern turn to the human subject as the only source of truth and its consequent pragmatism. A turn initiated, to be precise, by Renè Descartes, widely considered the father of modern Western philosophy.

What post-modern thinkers eject is not only Enlightenment rationalism, but also the original Greek form of rationality. For them rationality is little more than behavioral attitudes, a sort of incessant self-correction and perfectibility patterned after the experimentalism and self-correction of science. This is considered progress, in fact it is branded as deterministic inevitable progress: the newest is always the best. Allegedly, it does away with disastrous and destructive universalist totalizing ideologies, the grand scheme of things a la Hegel, the grand narrations, often at war with each other. The argument is this: better be more modest in one’s goals and humbly attend to immediate social and economic needs. Welcome Epicurus and Lucretius, away with Plato’s grandiose Forms.

What is conveniently side-stepped are some fundamental issues at which we shall look a bit more closely. Indeed, the ineluctable fact is that Europeans no longer agree on spiritual values; those values that, despite political conflicts, were in place prior to the Enlightenment. It took the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka (who in turn greatly influenced Havel) to dare, in the middle of the 20th century, propose a return to an idea that used to be characteristic of the European tradition since the Greeks but in the 20th century is seen as a scandal and an anomaly: the care of the soul conceived as a great respect for truth and the intellectual life, holistically conceived.

Plato had claimed that it is through that life that we, as human beings endowed with a soul, partake of the life of the Ideas and share the life of the gods themselves. Later, Christians adopt this notion but change its direction. For Christians theoria, or contemplation, remains the fundamental principle of any viable culture. Bereft of it, a civilization is left with nothing but a sort of aimless and blind praxis leading to its eventual destruction. Christopher Dawson for one explored and clarified this idea.

So, the next question is this: can such a principle as advocated by Plato play a role in the spiritual unification of Europe? Which is to say, must the commitment to reason abandon a sort of rationalistic universalism that opposes it to an anti-rationalist particularism? To deepen a bit more: is not abstract rationalism and its irrationalist reaction responsible for much of the ominous nihilism which Nietzsche for one claimed hovers like a menacing specter over Europe? Has it not, in fact, corrupted the very principle of reason that, up to the Enlightenment, had constituted Europe’s spiritual identity? Has it not turned wisdom against itself?

Prior to World War II, the philosopher who most acutely perceived the spiritual crisis that rationalism has caused in Europe was Edmund Husserl. In a famous lecture delivered in Prague on the very eve of one of the darkest chapters of modern European history, he said this: “I too am quite sure that the European crisis has its roots in a mistaken rationalism. That, however, must not be interpreted as meaning that rationality as such is an evil or that in the totality of human existence it is of minor importance. The rationality of which alone we are speaking is rationality in that noble genuine sense, the Greek sense, that became an ideal in the classical period of Greek philosophy.”

All we need to do is give a cursory look at Husserl philosophy of phenomenology to be convinced that Husserl regarded modern objectivism as the quintessential expression of this rationalism. It reduces the world, which for the Greeks was a spiritual structure, into an object, and reason into an instrument for manipulating matter.

One may ask, how did then Husserl view the spiritual identity of Europe? He advocated that the particular must be fully reintegrated with the universal, and idea this that Kierkegaard too had proposed. And this is what Husserl says about it: “Clearly the title Europe designates the unity of a spiritual life and creative activity--no matter how inimical the European nations may be toward each other, still they have a special inner affinity of spirit that permeates all of them and transcends their national differences…There is an innate entelechy that thoroughly controls the changes in the European image and directs it toward an ideal image of life and of being. The spirited telos of the European in which is included the particular telos of separate nations and individual persons, has an infinity; it is an infinite idea toward which in secret the collective spiritual becoming, so to speak, strives.”

But the question persists: is it possible at this point in its history to revive the spiritual idea of Europe? An idea that, despite its violent historical conflicts still ongoing in Bosnia, has kept its people united within an unrestricted diversity? Food for thought, to be duly digested by those of us who, like Husserl, are perceptive enough to sense the spiritual crisis he was talking about. Stay tuned for more explorations next week of this idea and some possible answers to the intriguing questions it raises.

In his The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity Jurgen Habermas attributes the failure of the Enlightenment to the intrusion of foreign elements which derailed its original program of full human emancipation. He finds nothing wrong with the project itself, aside from the fact that it was prematurely abandoned for a romantic return to some form of pseudo-religion, such as the worship of nature in the 19th century, the era of Romanticism.

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Undoubtedly there is something unfinished about the Enlightenment but contrary to what Habermas believes, it is not the execution of the project that failed to reach a conclusion but the concept itself. Many question nowadays the very principle of rationality that directed Enlightenment thought. This may sound as a paradox, for indeed it is the adoption of reason by the Greeks and the subsequent synthesis with Christianity as achieved by Augustine and Aquinas which distinguishes European culture from all others and defines its spiritual identity.

To be sure, the real culprit was not reason or rationality but rationalism which was unknown to the Greeks. Rationalism is a modern invention inaugurated by Descartes and consisting in a separation of the particular from the universal and assigning supremacy to the universal while misguidedly assuming that a rationality constituted by the human mind could function as the same comprehensive principle that had been for the Greeks. To the contrary, a rationality of purely subjective origin produces mere abstract, empty concepts in theory and pursues limited human objectives in practice, mostly narrowly focused upon economic and political concerns. Einstein had it on target: our era is characterized by perfection of means and confusion of goals.

Indeed, in developed societies where economic concerns have become all-important and dominant, the protection of sub-national identities and minority groups are at risk. One place where any obstacle to economic development has been successfully eliminated is the United States, usually mentioned as a model of federalism encompassing many nationalities. Many EU politicians advocate a United States of Europe. That may sound progressive but it remains a chimera given that the nationalistic and regional identities are still very strong in Europe; nor is it desirable.

It would be a mistake for the EU to imitate the US and attempt a repetition of a mega-nation which would translate into a super-power bent on power and the forcible exportation of democracy (an oxymoron if there ever was one). The price that will have to be paid will be further erosion of Europe’s original spiritual unifying principles, the very roots of its cultural identity, and the embracing of a bland mixture of varied cultures leveled to its least common denominator. Soccer games heralded as unifying principle may indeed be emblematic of that mistake. What some Europeans fail to grasp is that what keeps so many ethnic nationalities and groups together in the US is a constitution which guarantees certain basic rights transcending nationality and even the very power of the State in as much as they are conceived as inalienable. Those enshrined ideals make “a pluribus unum” possible, as the dollar bill proclaims.

As the recent conflicts in the Balkans have shown only too well, it will prove quite difficult for Europeans with different languages reflecting diverse cultures to create a United States of Europe, nor should they. As it is, all the worst features of American popular culture are imitated, even by those who are anti-Americans, while the best is largely unknown or ignored. That is not to deny that one of the major achievement of the European Union has been the preventing of a major destructive conflict on the continent at the level of a world war for the last sixty years or so. However, to count on mere political-economic motives to completely free Europe from its past destructive legacies may be a miscalculation. Calling oneself a Newropean will not do the trick either. It would suffice to take a hard look at the xenophobia which has raised its ugly head and pervades the EU especially its most affluent countries. Superficially it seems directed at immigrants coming from outside Europe but often the real target is a neighboring country. It’s happening as we speak.

What seems to be lacking within this economic, political, educational coordination that is the EU is a deeper kind of integration based on an inclusive spiritual idea. How is this to be achieved in a secular democratic society pledged to protect the rights of all its citizens and their diversity? A nostalgic return to the Greek-Christian synthesis and the Christendom of medieval times (at times imposed politically) will not do and is not even desirable. That was a synthesis meant for Europeans Christians (many of them forced to get baptized by their kings who found it politically convenient to switch from paganism to Christianity), not for non-Christians, not to speak on non-Europeans which are now counted into the millions in Europe.

In any case, it is undeniable that at present no spiritual foundation for a genuine unification exists. The present proposed Constitution which nobody even calls constitution any longer but a compact, mentions a fuzzy kind of spiritual heritage almost as an after-thought. Many Europeans don’t seem to be too concerned about such an absence, if indeed they even perceive it. And yet, some kind of new synthesis is needed. Unfortunately, it will not even be envisioned, never mind implemented, unless Europeans, begin a serious reflection and a debate on the original idea to which Europe owes it cultural unity and identity. That carries the risk of being perceived as an old Europeans, maybe even an anti-modern and anti-progressive, rather than a Newropean, but I would suggest that without that original idea, which precedes Christianity itself, a crucial novantiqua synthesis will not be perceived either and we will be sadly condemned to repeat our history. What exactly that idea is will be explored in the next part of this article.

And what is this European original foundational spiritual idea that precedes even Christianity? Simply this: a commitment to theoria, the theoretical life which in its Greek etymology means the contemplative or reflective life in all its various aspects: the philosophical, the scientific, the aesthetic; in short the primacy of a holistic life of contemplation. All this sounds strange to modern and post-modern ears accustomed to hear praxis and a purely pragmatic notion of rationality emphasized over and above theory. Marx, for one, expressed such a mind-set in the 11th of the Theses on Feuerbach with this catch-all slogan: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world differently, the point is to change it.” Indeed, but to start with praxis is to put the cart before the horse.

Unfortunately, postmodern theories, in an attempt to reject an extreme kind of rationalism, have also rejected the primacy of reason understood holistically and ties to the imaginative, which had ruled Western thought since the Greeks. Precisely the belief in that primacy, together with a common faith that could envision the transcendent, had been one of the spiritual foundations of Europe. It was that kind of devaluation and departure from foundational traditions that Husserl was decrying before World War II.

Here the question naturally arises: is it still possible to revive the ideals behind Europe's spiritual identity? If this requires returning to a common Christian faith and to a pre-modern concept of reason, it will prove practically impossible. Science demands a more differentiated notion of reason than the one inherent in ancient and medieval thought. As for the common Christian faith that forged such a strong bond among Europe's peoples, many Europeans have lost it, if they ever had it, and most recent immigrants, many of them Muslims never had it to begin with. This is not to forget that Moslem civilization in Spain during the Middle Ages was more developed and advanced than a Western civilization devastated by the Barbarians.

Does the above reflection intimate perhaps that Europe must be satisfied with a merely political, technical, scientific, and economic integration? Such a spiritually "neutral" union does indeed appear to be “enlightened” in as much as it avoids the unfortunate conflicts of the past. Furthermore, many Europeans today think that social and cultural differences obstruct or slow down the process of economic growth and social progress. Why, then, don't all Europeans adopt English as the common language for science, business, and technology, leaving French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Scandinavian languages to private life?

Again, this may sound strange to post-modern ears but if the European Union were reduced to a means for smoothing out political and economic transactions among its member states, not only would the individual states, not to speak of regions, more and more lose their identity, they would also be doomed to play a very subordinate role on the world stage in the future. Even today, only a half century after the United States has economically and politically come to dominate the world, its powerful media and commercial enterprises have deeply affected the languages, the communications, and the cultural patterns of Europe. The effect is most visible in the smaller nations. Thus in the Low Countries the language of the news media has become infected with American idioms, bookstores are filled with American publications or translations thereof, television and cinema compete for the most recent American shows or films--all this at the expense of linguistic purity and respect for indigenous literature. The result is a general decline of native creativity. For is even more sad is that what is being imitated is not the best of American culture (which is there if one takes the trouble to look for it) but the worst and the mediocre.

Be that as it may, whoever controls the economy of another country is likely to control its culture as well as Benjamin and Adorno and Marx have well taught us. Building a strong economy of one's own, as Europe is doing at present, is a necessary step to resisting such domination. But that alone may not be sufficient.

If the European Union were to be reduced to an economic union, its leveling effect on European culture would in the end be comparable to the one the United States has begun to exercise. We are all Americans because we all drink Coke; and we are all Europeans because we all go to soccer games on Sunday! To the contrary, Europe's political and economic unification must be accompanied by a strong awareness of a distinctive cultural and spiritual identity. This is the reason why the dispute over Europe's Christian heritage is so important. In writing the preamble to the EU constitution, the most significant element in the European tradition is erased at the peril of building on political sand, as Kurt Held reminded us in his essay on Europe titled The Origins of Europe with the Greek Discovery of the World,” with the following words: “A European community grounded only in political and economic cooperation of the member states would lack an intrinsic common bond. It would be built upon sand."

The American techno-economic model of a political union is not suitable for Europe, especially of a Europe which has forgotten its spiritual roots and in the past has substituted them with political ideologies. Being a new country, with immigrants from various traditions, the United States had no choice but to build politically on a spiritually and culturally neutral foundation but the separation of Church and State is deceiving. Its spiritual roots remained strong and were in fact a unifying principle. This base enabled the United States to integrate the economy and the social institutions of its states into a strong and coherent unity that made the most powerful nation in history. But the glue that held the uniform structure together were the ideals of the Enlightenment (ultimately based on a Judeo-Christian ethos) as enshrined in its Constitution. There is a lesson there for Europe to be pondered carefully before embracing anti-Americanism or, even worse, a slavish imitation of all the worst features of American culture.

Contemporary Europeans have preserved their diverse languages, customs, and histories, even at the regional level, and that points to an appreciation for tradition and heritage which is indispensable for a strong cultural identity. But, to reiterate, Europe needs a strong spiritual reintegration as well as a political-economic one. That requires that it assimilate essential parts of its spiritual heritage: the Greek sense of order and measure, the Roman respect for law, the biblical and Christian care for the other person, the humanitas of Renaissance humanism, the ideals of political equality and individual rights of the Enlightenment. The values left by each of these episodes of Western culture are not as transient as the cultures in which they matured. They belong permanently to Europe's spiritual patrimony and ought to remain constitutive of its unity. None can be imposed in a democratic society. Yet none may be neglected either, the theoretical no more than the practical, the spiritual no less than the aesthetic.

In recent times Europeans, discouraged by the self-made disasters of two world wars, have been too easily inclined to turn their backs on the past, to dismiss it as no longer usable, and to move toward a different future declaring themselves “Newropeans” with a new identity. In the years after World War II, the model of that future was America. In recent years, Europeans have become more conscious of their specific identity and are beginning to intuit that such an identity resides in the past; it stems from a unique past, created by the hundreds of millions of men and women who for three millennia have lived on "that little cape on the continent of Asia" (Paul Valery) between the North Sea and the Mediterranean, between Ireland's west coast and the Ural Mountains. It has given Europeans, in all their variety, a distinct communal face.

This new awareness of cultural identity makes Europeans view the entire continent and its many islands, not only their country of origin, as a common homeland with common purposes. This unity of spirit in a rich variety of expressions must be remembered in forging the new European unity and ought to be mentioned in the EU's constitution. It ought to be remembered also by many Americans whose roots are indeed Europeans, and in that sense are also Westerners and inheritor of Western civilization, while at the same time accepting and integrating other experiences: the African, the Native American, the Latin, the Asian.

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2

In Praise of a Europe united in Liberty and Democracy
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(Translated from Italian by Emanuel L. Paparella)

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Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872)

Inevitably each one of us looks at Europe from his perspective. Italy, has a European tradition with deep  and well consolidated roots. To stay with contemporary history, it would be enough to remember the work carried out by Giuseppe Mazzini, his Giovane Europea (Young Europe), his dream of seeing Italy (at the time disunited) as well as the old continent united under the sign of liberty, democracy, republicanism.

Even if not uniformly and with various characteristics this idea that is Europe has been present within the best of Italian culture. It would be enough to think of the very popular History of Europe of Benedetto Croce which he wrote during the fascist regime announcing, almost as a prophecy, the unification of Europe as analogous to the unification of Italy via the Risorgimento which was a drive toward national liberation without being nationalism. Croce wrote about the little countries which will acknowledge a greater country without forgetting one’s roots, traditions and history. Just as the idea of a nation was foundational to the Risorgimento, the idea of Europe was founded on liberty and consequently on the recognition of others’ liberty. There wasn’t within this position any idea of power or aggression. On the contrary there was the hope of guaranteeing the most durable possible peace.

This kind of ethico-political sensibility, which even Fascism was unable to completely eradicate, reappears in the well known Manifesto of Vento by Altiero Spinelli as well as in the writings of exiled anti-fascist Italians. The manifesto is among the most important in the recent history of Europeism. Even at the purely political level, post-World War Italy, under the direction of Alcide De Gasperi, with the support of liberals and republicans, has shown itself among the most pro-EU countries. This is in contrast to Fascism and it is also a struggle against the kind of communism still dominated by Stalinism.

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Altiero Spinelli, foremost advocate of European Federalism (1907-1986)

What is left of this great patrimony? The fact is that the economic crisis of 2008, the pressure exerted from African and Middle Eastern immigrants, are severely testing the idea of Europe. The problem is exacerbated by myopic national governments ignorant of European institutions, slow and bureaucratic, plus the selfishness of many. It all favors anti-European populist movements. And so, even if it’s only in a few places, the idea of a nationalistic isolationist Europe re-emerges.

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Altiero Spinelli, one of the semi-forgotten founding fathers of the European Union

Nevertheless, I believe that the worst is over. Even if tentatively, with small steps, it appears that the most significant European leaders, beginning with Matteo Renzi and Angela Merkel are aware of the situation. There is an acute need to synthesize politico-financial solutions a politics of solidarity. Lacking solidarity will mean more global economic crisis (as a Chinese crisis might provoke) and a more secure path may prove elusive.

But even that is not enough. It remains the duty of all men of culture and good will to return to those European ideals which I have hinted at. Those ideals need to be renewed and then adapted to the new historical conditions. What is needed is a liberal democratic Europe, allied to other great democracies, such as that of the USA, uncompromising in the defense of human rights vis a vis totalitarian countries; secular but not forgetful of its Christian heritage. A Europe which is once again not only an economic reference point for the entire world, but is also a moral and political force.

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3

 Europe: The Tower of Babel
A Presentation by Nikos Laios

I

The Springtime of Humanity

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The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1565)

Europe has been and is the springtime of humanity, refreshing its collective soul with the aromatic bouquet of humanism and civilisation that It has bestowed which shines like a torch being held high; a beacon for the rest of the world. Like a fresh springtime breeze wafting through our windows from the nearby ocean picking up the scent of flowers and herbs on its way ; lavender, roses, oregano and thyme. As the breeze gently caresses the treetops; the music of Beethoven, Bach, Ravel and the rising voices of choirs sweetly mingling with the dusty streams of golden sunlight pouring through the curtains and rising upwards towards heaven to the sounds of  harpsichords, flutes and violins. The sunlight gilding for eternity the sculptural works of Lisippos, Michelangelo, Donatello and Rodin; or the towering literary works of Homer, Plato, Dante and Shakespeare, giving voice to the inner beauty of the soul of mankind. This is the Europe we know, the springtime of the world. Yet we now live in precarious times of a crisis of consciousness and the chaos of pitted enmities and civilizational rivalries that are causing an upheaval - and unnecessarily so - drowning out what should be humanity reclining and basking under the boughs of a tree savouring the fruits of this civilizational bounty that Europe has produced.

In that Jungian dichotomy, Europe has wrestled with its dark shadow which at times caused death and chaos from the crusades, the inquisition, civil wars, imperialism and the fascism of the twentieth century. Yet through the project that is the European Union, it has left its dark shadow behind and has turned to the light again; to take up the torch to again be that beacon for the rest of the world and share what it has produced. To understand this and the conundrum of the current times, one has to briefly examine Europe and what it is and being a European, this writer is well placed to comment being a part of this dynamic polity.

One here is reminded of the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel, and one people united by one language who through their unity of purpose built a city of Babel and were constructing a tower   towards heaven. According to the story, God smote their arrogance and caused them to start speaking in different languages thus scattering them to the four corners of the earth. Yet for Europe, the opposite is true; of differing Pelasgian and Indo-European peoples who populated the European landmass forming many different nations amongst the pockets of valleys, groves, highlands and Islands. Nations with a strong sense of identity who let a mark on history. From the Greeks and Romans till the modern nations of Europe of today. Yet unlike Babel, the Europeans were originally scattered and speaking different languages, the Europeans of today are trying to formulate and build a new kind of society. A society that isn't necessarily united by a single language, but more by a shared heritage of culture and blood through the European Union as a yoke of sorts to harness its collective energies away for the wars and conflict that has punctuated its dazzling history, to unite its will of purpose through the blade of peace and prosperity for the good of all.

Even with this goodwill and idealism, the European Union has been beset by rivalries not only between nations but also those of the economic and the political ruling elite. Instead of constructing a framework whereby every European nation is able to balance the nature and unique beauty of each of their identities and skills to flourish for the good of all; this is being drowned out by the selfish needs of capitalism. Specifically of the banking and global finance systems whose only care is the payment of their loans and the protection their capital. Also unfortunately, dominant nations in Europe, for their own selfish needs are using their strength to bypass the European fraternity intimated by the ideals  which form the European Union. Germany at present is bullying and crushing the weaker nations of Europe and imposing its own will by blackmail and the forced imposition of harsh financial austerity policies which stems from its own fear of the Weimar hyper-inflation of the 1920's. What this has done is crush the national independence of nation states and imposed a sort of authoritarianism that harks back to a darker age. Is this the kind of Europe that we want?

The kind of Europe that we want is one that continues to foster an environment that provides for the peace and harmony for each person and each nation to have gainful employment for all, the fostering of education and the continual building upon our grand legacy. For its citizens to peacefully fill its cafes playing chess, reading poetry, wooing, loving and living with authenticity, rebellion and passion; with the walls and streets gilded by the beauty of the civilisational achievements of its arts and letters. This is the Europe that we have had thus far in intervals and one that we want to build as a permanent state of being, but alas, we seem to have lost our way somewhat. The hallmark of European civilisation that sets it apart is the spirit of fierce competition which since the ancient times has influenced every facet of society.

This spirit of competition was first born in Ancient Greece and which Hesiod classified as 'good strife' and 'bad strife.' Where this 'good strife' was the powerful urge of positive competition, for one person or state to strive to outdo the others and win and achieve victory; and it is this powerful urge that allowed the Greeks to achieve excellence through harmony and balance, and a faultless precision that enabled it's astounding levels of achievements, whereby Hellenism spread rapidly from Europe to deep into the heart of Asia as far as Afghanistan. As critical as we might be of capitalism and its negative aspects, it is through the benefits of capitalism that Europe and its offspring in the new world have been able to amass so much wealth to drag its people from out of the peasant huts of its medieval villages to create dazzling new cities with literate educated masses having the luxury of more time than ever before to ponder the imponderable and allow them to actualise and soar to the loft heights reach by the Greeks, Romans and their Renaissance ancestors. For a thousand years Europe was steeped in a deep literalist religiosity where the church and state were deeply intertwined. Yet only by the separation of church and state and the reformation was Europe finally able to sprout wings and propel its way forward and give birth to the enlightenment and  humanism which presently has the potential to assist humanity to move forward in its next stage of evolution, whereas religion has consequently become a private matter for each person to contemplate.

This is the cauldron from which the Europe of today sprang from , a Europe with so many contradictions, yet in this imperfect world is far more perfect and sound from a civilizational perspective than any other civilizations at present. To achieve this though, Europe has had to battle its dark shadow and the ugly fruits which were born from this and to answer for its past sins to enable it to progress forwards to the vibrant post-world war Europe, to Fellini's La Dolce Vita, to the sweet life. As Europe stands at the crossroads of its next journey standing in front of the Delphic mirror with the maxim 'know thyself' ringing in our collective wills; questions come to mind. How much Europe shall we have? More or less? Central government or decentralised regional governments? Do we forget our religion as an unimportant anachronism? Then what of the external challenges facing Europe? These are deep and profound questions and ones which we will need to reflect upon further to make sense of our road through the darkened forests ahead.

II

Europe and the Refugee Crisis: What Next?

While Europe stands at the crossroads like an Oedipus pondering the riddle of its future, a huge wave of refugees and migrants are hitting its shores escaping from persecution and poverty to seek a better life; and the biggest influx since the 1940's in Europe and where these current migrations are testing the very unity of the European Union project. These migrations are the first of the twenty first century and won't be the last either as they play out against the human instinct of survival to feed the hungry mouths of an increasing world population and to understand this further, we have to come to terms with some unpalatable truths.

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We presently live in a world with a burgeoning population of over seven billion people, living in a world of finite resources which have to somehow stretch to accommodate every person on earth. It's like for example if an increasing number of people where to be steadily introduced into a room with a finite supply of resources to sustain them, and where as the amount of people grew in this enclosed room, these people lose their civility and succumb to their dark shadow and fight like animals for the diminishing supply of resources. Though this is a simplistic way to view the question, if one were to overlay and juxtapose over this fight for diminishing resources the various civilizational clashes and failures - where the short and long term historical patterns and civilizational interrelationships are the short term triggers for the conflicts and chaos -  we have a snapshot of the current state of the world and a portent of the things to come.

On the one hand we have a failure of European civilisation at present to decide on its political and social future and also of an economic failure which has caused widespread unemployment where in Southern Europe this is as high as a rate of 25% and 50% for youth unemployment. Entire generations and swathes of the middle classes have been destroyed and left destitute and in the streets. As severe though as this is, with the right power of will and clear thinking, Europe can if it pools its resources of the mind turn all this around and refashion its future, if it only has the vision.

Against this background, we have the failure of another civilisation that is presently unfolding and overlapping with that of Europe and the overall long-term problem of world overpopulation, and that is the failure of the Islamic civilisation of the Middle East and Africa. Since the zenith of the Islamic civilisations of the 16th century, we have seen the unfolding and decay of this civilisation gradually over the last four hundred years once the geographical conquest by the sword of lands dried up. A civilisation that has failed to modernise and build economies to feed its people, and failed to come to terms with modern societies.  Islamic civilisation is being bombarded by information, science and thoughts from the outside world which is challenging the very tenets of its belief systems and a way of life. Europe has gone though this challenge a few hundred years ago and progressed once it separated church and state, and now it is the Islamic world's turn to separate Mosque and state. For the idea to any European now to surrender totally to a god whether it's individually or as a total society is barbaric and an anachronism, and rightly so. They say that man cannot live by bread alone , but it cannot live alone on spirit either, and this is the difficulty lesson that the Islamic world has failed to understand.

Against this civilisational failure, the brutality of the Assad regime in Syria and the imploding of Libyan society has caused hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees to flee their countries to seek a better life. The biggest fault-line underneath all of this is the schism and rivalry between the two branches of Islam; Sunni and Shia; this fault-line has caused Syrian society to fracture and fail to unite. Millions of Syrians unable to unite to either overthrow either Assad or a force of thirty thousand Isis fighters, and the same goes for Iraq with Isis. The failure of western foreign policy has also contributed to this flow of people; in Libya the application of incorrect policy and inadequate intervention, and in Syria the conflicting interests of the US/Europe and Russia through their support of differing factions with money and arms which exacerbated the conflict even further and caused a vacuum for Isis to fill. So in turn, the west also has some moral complicity in the latest causes of this new wave of mass migration. Yet here the west is damned-if-they-don't, damned-if-they-do in respect to intervening and are either called imperialists or accused of having invented and supporting Isis. This crazy notion is a conspiracy theory that is widely believed in the Islamic world. Yet the immediate causes of these mass migrations are a breakdown of order and poverty and one of the Islamic world's own making. So rather than turning to their fellow Moslems for a solution, these refugees instead are turning towards the free and democratic societies of Europe as some magical utopian answer to all of their problems. At present we have the unusual situation of Kurdish women staying behind and forming battalions of female fighters who are successfully fighting Isis, while masses of Syrian men are running away like cowards towards Europe - and yes these are uncomfortable and unpalatable facts - but necessary facts for us to understand and accept.

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Kurdish women preparing to battle Isis

As the Arab world collapses due to a crisis in Islamic civilisation, currently reports are coming through from Europe of newly arrived Moslems converting to Christianity and seeking baptism, and abandoning the faith that they were raised in; and this is the biggest testament to the failure of Arab civilisation. While hundreds and thousands of refugees pour into Europe, where are the Arab Gulf states in this? Where are their embracing arms? The silence and inaction of the Arab league is testimony enough. While many of its citizens have chosen to escape to the west, many that have stayed behind and have embraced a radical violent Islam as a panacea, but such an embrace is not healthy but an unhealthy psychological state and is a failure of a religion. For religion was meant to be a framework within which man could find serenity, peace and harmony; not terror and enslavement.

The noted academic Walter Russell Mead, Professor of foreign affairs at Bard College and distinguished scholar in American strategy and statesmanship at the Hudson Institute recently wrote the following for the Wall Street Journal in an article titled 'Roots of the migration crisis':

"Europe’s approach to the migration crisis brings these failures into sharp relief. The European Union bureaucracy in Brussels has erected a set of legal doctrines stated in terms of absolute right and has tried to build policy on this basis. Taking its cue from the U.N.’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other ambitious declarations and treaties, the EU holds that qualified applicants have an absolute human right to asylum. European bureaucrats tend to see asylum as a legal question, not a political one, and they expect political authorities to implement the legal mandate, not quibble with it or constrain it.

This is, in many ways, a commendable and honourable approach. Europeans are rightly haunted by what happened in the 1930s when refugees from Hitler’s Germany could often find no place to go. But solemn declarations to “do the right thing” do not always lead to sound policy.

Under normal circumstances, the rights-based, legalistic approach can work reasonably well. When refugee flows are slack, the political fallout from accommodating them is manageable. But when the flow of desperate people passes a certain threshold, receiving countries no longer have the will (and, in some cases, the ability) to follow through. Ten thousand refugees is one thing; 10 million is another. Somewhere between those extremes is a breaking point at which the political system will no longer carry out the legal mandate. To pretend that this isn’t true is to invite trouble, and Europe is already much closer to a breaking point than Brussels or Berlin would like to admit."

At present the refugees are trying to force themselves into Europe through Hungary and Croatia, and the borders have been closed as has certain sections of the German border, and here Germany has sent mixed signals. First it announces that it opens its arms to the refugees, and once it realises the task is one that they won't be able to handle, then closes borders. What this has done is send a false signal to the Middle East that all are welcome, but now that the borders are closing - and Hungary and the Central European states unused to mass migration -  are closing their borders as well, and is causing some uninformed commentators around the world to call them fascists and shake their fists.

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Syrian men running away to Europe

A closer examination will reveal the reasons for their actions where these nations of Central Europe themselves have suffered under Nazi occupation and then under communist occupation until recent memory. Societies that have just regained their freedom and who are mostly homogenous in nationality and religion, and never having  experienced mass migration before. Then with these facts in mind they are then accused of being selfish and fascist for protecting the rights of their own citizens? If we examine the definition of what a refugee is, we have to go back to the 1951 the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which states in Article 1.A.2 the following;

"Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."

Once these refugees have left Syria and Iraq and found the safety of neighbouring nations such as Turkey, Jordan, etc, why are they then still refugees if they have found this safe refuge? Most Syrians answer that they want to continue to the promise land of Europe for a better life as there are no opportunities and employment, doesn't this then make them economic migrants? Indeed Europe has to show an example of  humanism and support genuine refugees such as the Yazidis and Christians who will never be able to return home due to the persecution and also to Muslims who are opponents of the state and have no chance of a return home under their present regime. In regards to economic refugees however, Europe has every right to shut the door.

Professor Walter Russell Mead further states in his article 'Roots of the migration crisis' the following; " The EU has failed to see that refugee and asylum policy must have three distinct components: the compassionate embrace of those in great need, a tough-minded effort to reduce the flow at the source by correcting or preventing the problems that give rise to it, and an effective border-control regime that limits the number of refugees and migrants who reach EU soil."

At present, Europe has its own problems where its nations are getting themselves further into debt at unbelievable debt to GDP ratios all to be able to service the generous benefits of its own citizens let alone millions of outsiders. Europe can indeed absorb 800,000 refugees, but millions?, that is an impossible task and here one would have to agree with the professor. The Schengen Agreement, is slowly failing and being curtailed as it should be, borders need to close, benefits curtailed to all but the genuine, and an effort made to solve the problem at the source, and the embrace of those with a genuine need. There a many well-wishing sentiments being expressed by citizens in the west at the sad plight of these refugees - and who like in the Charlie Hebdo incident - took to the streets -  like many have done in Sydney recently in candle light vigils expressing solidarity with the refugees and voicing their wish for all to be allowed into Europe. Yet most of these people are jumping on the bandwagon not out of a genuine long term interest in the geopolitical and historical situation of the Middle East, but out of a narcissistic need to join this latest trend for a 'feel-good' moment for the satiation of their own egos. Where were these people in protesting their governments into action and political and military boots-on-the-ground intervention to stop the cause of these mass migrations in the first place? Or to take to task the Islamic world for its societal failures?

In the previous symposium, we discussed the self and the illusion of the self and this theme is indeed related to the current geopolitical events unfolding, and one would ask, how so?. For these events that are currently occurring are an emanation of each society and each civilisation; and where each society is composed of individuals, and what Socrates stated then that we have to admit we know nothing to help us in our search for the truth still holds true today.

If what we know is based on our learned societal and environmental perceptions and memories and experiences, and interpretations of the world which all combine to form the 'self' since our childhood till now; this self is therefore an illusion as it excludes other universal truths. Therefore if what we think we know is based on the illusion of the self which excludes other unknown truths, what we think we know is nothing as it is all false, so only by destroying our ego (which is our own perception of ourself ) can we admit that we know nothing, reconstruct and widen what we define as our self and increase our awareness to include more truths, for at present everyone is limited by their subjective perceptions of time, place, century, history culture, religion.

These strict definitions based on the illusion of the self are the cause of so much wars and conflicts throughout history because everyone thinks they are right  and everyone else is wrong as all this is based on this illusion of the self, therefore no one is right and everyone is wrong and knows nothing. This is what Socrates intimated; to live not in the past or future and seek recognition of the ego but to live exclusively in the present, to widen ourselves to the entire cosmos and admit we know nothing before we can admit we know something. The only thing that is right is that we can admit simply that 'i am', the existence of our consciousness in the very present, then the exciting adventure awaits those that are brave enough to rediscover the world, the truth and themselves; but who is brave enough to destroy their ego and admit they know nothing like Socrates did? Therefore if we take this on a societal level, can individual nations and civilisations destroy their egos and admit they are wrong and know nothing?

Europe is the springtime of humanity, a beacon of light, humanism and civilisation; but Europe alone cannot solve the world's problems, Europe alone cannot accommodate billions of people. It needs other civilisational partners around the world to guide humanity with its burgeoning population competing for an ever shrinking supply of resources. What we need now is not well intentioned naive optimism espoused from armchairs in front of television screens, but a deep understanding of the realpolitik and the acceptance of some unpalatable truths, and the unfolding of the long term patterns of human history and civilisation. Even more fundamentally, humanity needs to look into the collective and individual mirror to examine the Delphic question of 'know thyself.' Yet many of those who actually live in Europe at present are like Oedipus who blinded himself and unable to see, and here the Europeans who live outside of Europe and who see things so much more clearer might be able to inject some vision and truth into the debate of these weighty issues. What does the future hold? As in the Greek myth of Pandora, maybe some hope.

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4

A Europe Created out of Necessity – Is there a Place for Identity?

A Presentation by Attila Marján

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 In principle identity can be established, reinforced, developed based on

- force or grand political deeds like state building;

- common values, or shared history;

- results,

- grand stories, or a

- common enemy.

This paper intends to investigate whether the European Union as an economic-political-technocratic construct that was established out of necessity, i.e.: to avoid war in Europe, can be at all a basis of any identity building in Europe.

The EU has several features that merit serious criticism, nevertheless at present the EU is pretty much all we have. Admittedly the Union is a rather spiritless project – it was probably meant to be different at the outset, but political reality has overridden major attempts to render it more spiritual and less politico-economic. Still I think this is the only robust and tangible locus where any development of European identity can take place at this point. I argue therefore that the immediate discarding of the EU as a faulty construct is probably not the right attitude.

The question is how to use the EU with its robust political, economic reality to unleash the societal and cultural forces that help reinforce the feeling of Europeanness in European societies.  One thing has to be made clear from the outset: there is no European identity in European souls and minds (or hardly any). So it is to be constructed. Why? Again: out of necessity, i.e.: to avoid that the worst traits of Europeans prevail again, moreover – and this is important for the purpose of this paper – to save the EU as a project of historical reconciliation between the often belligerent peoples of Europe. In my view these two things are the two sides of the same coin in 2015.

If we consider the EU as an agent of European identity building having in mind the list of potential sources of identity construction as identified earlier, the channel of “force” fortunately, and that of a “grand story” is unfortunately out of the question. The EU is a democratic, pacifist construct and has neither the intension nor the potential to coerce people or democratically elected governments under an empire. International geopolitical reality also excludes this entirely. The democratic establishment a United States of Europe á la USA is also very unrealistic at this point – due to a great extent to lack of sense of Europeanness in Europe’s societies.

The EU has no major mythology or a grand story to tell. There never was a heroic war to be fought against a common enemy to establish the Union, rather the opposite: European nations fought suicidal civil wars against each other in the 20th century annulling Europe’s global supremacy. The EU never had the grand “constitutional moment” like the USA did, some quarter of a millennium ago. When I tell my students that historically speaking the war and not peace is the rule in Europe (the bloodiest continent of all) and a seventy year interval of peace like the one we are experiencing on the old continent seems like an anomaly, they do not seem to understand. Flawless markets and robust consumer protections rules do not qualify as a grand story either.

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As far as common values as agents of European identity building are concerned, hopes are also subdued. The EU is claimed to be built and in fact it is on values that significantly overlap with the major western or European values, but these are common sense matters for contemporary Europeans - as citizens of their respective member states -, the EU has nothing to add to it to forge a pan-European identity.

Two channels seem to be in store for identity building in Europe: a common enemy and results of modern integration. The first can be forceful but it is dangerous and almost certainly counter-productive for the pan-European idea as it will definitely fall prey of nationalistic political agendas. The second (already tried by the Brussels elite several times under the label of ‘Europe of results’ is questionable when effectiveness is concerned.

The policy of reducing mobile phone roaming fees and facilitating passport-free travel (which is under threat these days anyway) and selling it to people as ‘Europe of results’ has not been working and will never work. The policy of Europe of results needs to be seriously revamped, the EU thoroughly explained to citizens to make them understand that they have a choice other than defensive and suicidal nationalism.

Getting European societies on board is a sine qua non condition for any major reform in the EU. It is also evident that major reforms are necessary to guarantee Europe’s stability and - in the long run probably – its very existence. The popular sentiment and political agendas that question the usefulness of European integration and sometimes even the basic European values are on the rise. European institutions and member states suffer to counter these rising anti-European and in some cases anti-democratic tendencies that will pose significant risks to European integration in the medium-term. One major factor of popular disenchantment is that people know very little about the Union and the role it plays in their life.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is said to have quipped once that to understand how the European Union works, you have to be either a genius - or French. The central administrative structure of the EU has indeed claims to be the world's most complicated bureaucracy, bearing all the hallmarks of the French administrative system. The signs of (though fading) French influence are unmistakable in its symbolism and its management structures, as well as in its organizational mentality. The EU is simply incomprehensible to the man in the street; being too distant, it is lost in the mists of obscurity and lack of interest. This opacity was aptly demonstrated by the Irish referendum in 2008. The new EU Treaty would legalize abortion and homosexual marriage, opponents alleged, introduce compulsory service in a European army and raise taxes; it was on the grounds of such silly fallacies that a sizeable portion of the Irish electorate voted against the watered down European Constitution in summer 2008. An even larger percentage of voters had no idea what they were deciding and, to be on the safe side, opted for maintaining the status quo and cast their ballots against the Treaty.

The referenda in France and the Netherlands failed in a similar fashion: the French were scared of losing their beloved welfare state (remember the perennial bogeyman, the Polish plumber, who will come and take the jobs of honest French workers?), the Dutch -- frustrated by the swelling tide of Muslim immigrants -- were looking to punish the government and let the world know in no uncertain terms that they did not want closer European integration. There is a sea of literature out there on the hypocritical nature and destructive impact of referenda. Let us simply admit that it is not just dictators and shifty financial investors who derail countries and regions -- the electorate can do the same if the elite mishandle crucial issues. If such matters must be decided by a referendum and they indeed should, let us hold one in all member states at the same time. If the Irish (or for that matter the citizens of any other member state) see that the Danes, Spaniards, Germans and Hungarians are all voting, the referendum will assume a pan-European nature and shed the stuffy air of navel-gazing domestic politics. Another important issue is that “Europe”, unlike its member states, lacks appealing faces that people can identify with and the way its institutions work is too complicated for the average person to grasp. The European Commission, Parliament and Council do not correspond as equivalents to the traditional national political institutions which makes their functions and relevance incomprehensible.

Europeans know very little about the EU’s policies and its 150 billion euro budget. One in four citizens is convinced that the bulk of the EU budget is spent on running its own administration. When asked what areas the EU should focus its expenditure on, the environment came first with 40% of the respondents ticking the box, and immigration, energy and social policy second with 30% each. Strangely, these are all areas that the EU has little budgetary clout. In brief, people have no idea what the EU spends its budget on, and clearly, what it does spend it on are not the areas that people consider most important. And by the way, the EU does not spend its budget on issues that are meaningful to their citizens. Nonetheless, it is worth noting how closely the public's wish list (sustainable environment, immigration, energy supply and social protection) maps the key challenges that the EU must face. In reality, however, as I just said the EU continues to spend a little on a lot of things[1].

Of course, I would seriously oversimplify things if I were to blame public ignorance for the failure to adopt a new European constitutional framework; the fear of losing national sovereignty was an important factor as well.

Due to the EU’s failure to respond to growing societal fears, it is not surprising that the image of the Union has lost its shine in recent years. Less than half of its population holds a positive opinion of the EU, while every third citizen has an expressly negative view of it. Curiously, there seems to be widespread support for a common European foreign policy (65 to 70% of respondents polled in favor) and a political Union (60%), as well as for the single European currency, although the latter's acceptance rate is dwindling. The EU Constitution was rejected by referendum, the bitter bickering over the common budget (a measly 1% of GDP) dragged on and on, fears of globalization and the social and security threats of enlargement grew, the European idea started to weaken.

Modern Europe has achieved an awful lot over the course of the last two decades: the single market, the single currency, the reunification of Europe, the accession of twelve new poor member states and above all peace, stability and wealth. One source of the problem is that the European project has always been characterized by a top-down approach and has never managed to entice much interest from the media. Even though the Brussels press corps number several thousands, most correspondents report European affairs through a national prism. Election campaigns for the European Parliament focus almost exclusively on domestic issues. The political elites of member states concentrated on domestic issues even when communicating European policies, and just because the same questions interest the public in most countries does not mean that there is a European approach or even as much as a European public opinion. Euroscepticism flourishes all over Europe; chauvinism, efforts to protect prosperity, the democratic deficit, the incomprehensible nature of the European project and the lack of a true European identity have all contributed. Nevertheless, the majority -- though only just -- of Europeans approve of integration; mainstream political forces are to some degree or other pro-European in all member states.

What then do people expect from the EU? According to Euro-barometer, people consider the following should be the Union's core tasks: reducing unemployment, eradicating poverty, safeguarding peace and security, fighting organized crime and combating terrorism. As this list reveals, Europeans have precious little information on what the European Union can and cannot do: in these areas "Brussels" has a limited or no remit. They remain a predominantly national competence. This, of course, does not stop the public in countries like Finland, where there are few social and employment problems, from rating the EU's employment and social policy highly. The French, however, who have had their fair share of social trouble, take a dim view of European social policy, which is yet another example of projecting domestic problems onto Brussels. Clearly, the average citizen does not understand the Union, which translates into uncertainty concerning its future.

Members of the European Parliament have been elected directly since 1979. Turnover in the EP elections has been declining steadily for the last thirty years all over Europe. In 2009, fewer than one third of the 375 million eligible voters cast a ballot, 2014 did not a show improvement, and in some new member states turnout was shockingly low. Ten years earlier over 40% voted on average. This should be a warning sign to Europe's political elite: fewer and fewer people believe – contrary to the reality that it does so more and more - that the European Parliament -- or for that matter the European Union -- plays an important role in their lives. In sum, the EU simply does not make it into people's living rooms. The EU therefore should overhaul its communication and open up to a much wider public debate and participation. In this respect Europe’s new “Erasmus generation” can be a decisive factor.

European identity is a concept broader than European Union identity. This was vividly demonstrated by the statement of eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus in May 2009, when he claimed that the EU defeated Europe when the Czech Senate ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Undoubtedly, European identity is the privilege of national elites that have been pressing ahead with European integration for half a century. European identity has not become part of the thoughts, feelings and lives of average Europeans. Values that we hold to be European -- such as liberty, equality before the law or the rule of law -- are in fact the result of centuries of social development and do not undermine national identities. There are no truly pan-European values or pan-European reflexes perceptible in daily life. The feeling of belonging to a nation remains much more important than that of being European. The European Union is a community of nations and not a nation comprised of federal territorial units (states, with some exaggeration) like the United States of America. It is dubious whether it will ever become one. Most probably not.

Like any identity, a European identity can benefit immensely from negative self-definition: defining what we Europeans are not. The most critical distinction is with America, the other bastion of Western culture. Of course, that alone would be a very weak foundation for an identity. A professor of Johns Hopkins University, who knows Europe very well, put his finger on it when he said: "There is no such thing as a European identity. I have never met anyone who said I am a European American. I have only met Greek Americans, Polish Americans, Italian Americans, Irish Americans, etc."

Europe has been in search of a self-identity for a long time. The first natural self-definition was on the common basis of Christianity. European values, which set this continent and culture apart from others, began to take shape with the Enlightenment. In “The Spirit of the Laws”, Montesquieu analyses Europe as a unified community in detail, comparing it with Asia. He comes to the conclusion that the preconditions for liberty exist only in Europe but not in Asia. Bronislaw Geremek, an outstanding European humanist of the 20th century, believed that Europe was built on a dual identity. European identity is partly rooted in medieval Christianity as a unifying force. In the 13th century, a united European community formed around religion as the central organizing principle. It was created by Rome as the center of power. Universities mushroomed continent-wide, teaching the common culture in a common language (Latin) and thereby creating the first European elite. The Europe-wide network of churches and cathedrals shared a common architectural style, a uniform liturgy and a uniform calendar. Christianity was the first supranational, pan-European cross-border culture. Geremek suggests that the second European community -- lasting from Erasmus of Rotterdam to the Enlightenment -- was the Republic of Letters (Res publica literaria) bonded together by knowledge rather than by faith. As modern languages gained ground and Latin lost its importance, the religious nature of culture was weakened. Observation, analysis and a belief in reason and science pushed religious faith to the background. European academics maintained extensive and lively relations with each other. Montesquieu famously said that Europe is a nation composed of many nations. The evolution of the European identity, or should we call it a supranational culture, has its roots partly in Christianity and partly in science.

Modern, post-war European integration is a political undertaking which in its origins was motivated chiefly by a desire to secure a stable and pacific Germany and developed as an elite project. As a result, the "mental unification" of European citizens has never materialized; a spontaneous common identity has never formed. Europe as a concept has never found its place in people's daily lives, or their choices of values. Modern Europe was created to put an end to the eternal enmity between France and Germany. It was clear that the only way to prevent war between these two powers was to make it economically unprofitable. But guaranteeing peace on the continent will not make people feel European. European identity will not evolve by itself; every tradition must start somewhere but traditions only survive if the common experiences, principles and myths originate from the people. And for traditions to turn into an identity, a bottom-up approach is needed. Naturally, political leaders still have a huge role to play in paving the way for the evolution of a European identity. There are common Franco-German history books, common university departments, common European holidays, but that is only the start of the beginning.

sy111_400 

Europe is an immensely heterogeneous continent and is growing ever more diverse with successive enlargements. Europe's history is one of bloody wars and hostilities. Europe does not have a common language; the modern lingua franca is English, the language of global culture and of the steamroller empire, the USA. The evolution of a European identity will be a long process; there can be no doubt about it. There have been many attempts to unify Europe, largely through conquest and subjugation, but none of them tried to create a common European identity; forcing a central ideology on the continent was the closest they came. De Gaulle's vision of a Europe stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Urals was a political idea, which was essentially based on the 19th-century principles of cooperation between nation states. European peoples have been united temporarily within one empire, but sharp cultural borders never ceased to exist for a moment. Is there any way to change that?

Few Europeans are involved in "European activities": only 43% maintain active links with citizens from another member state, although the differences are vast from one country to another. This ratio is three quarters in the Netherlands and one fifth in Hungary. Only every third European citizen travelled abroad in 2005, which may sound impossible, but by 2015 this figure increased primarily due to low-cost air tickets. More encouragingly, almost a quarter of respondents claimed to regularly read the press or books in a language other than their mother tongue. The Irish and the British were at the bottom of the list; English (or rather American) being the modern lingua franca as their native language means that they do not need to use a foreign language as much as non-English speakers. Young urban Internet-savvy graduates live the most European lives and are the most fervent supporters of European integration. The same enthusiasm for Europe is not present in society as a whole. While two thirds of citizens declare an interest in domestic politics, less than half are concerned about European politics and the level of knowledge about how the European Union functions is generally very low.

Symbols play a central role in building a European identity even though their impact is limited, except for the single currency. The European flag or anthem are not serious alternatives to and are unlikely to replace national symbols any time soon. It is a telling fact that the most tangible symbol of Europeanness -- the euro -- features unidentifiable bridges and buildings on the notes. Anywhere else in the world it would be unthinkable not to have a single famous building, monument, personality or typical animal on euro notes. It is easy to guess why it is so: Leonardo is considered Italian, Joyce Irish, Mozart Austrian and not European. Putting anyone famous on the back of a euro note would only lead to diplomatic wrangling between the member states, which is best avoided. Europe is not strong when it comes to symbols, maybe because it has too many: a dozen could be named for every one of its 27 member states. Politically motivated pan-European cultural projects such as the bilingual television channel ARTE do not really work. ARTE, the brainchild of Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand, epitomizes the reality of European identity: cold, high quality, elitist programming, but not pan-European in nature, merely a mishmash of German and French programs.

A poll in 2008 showed that two fifths of the French felt they were truly European citizens. This figure has not changed for fifteen years. This poll of a thousand adults indicated that 54% of French people would feel more European if the President of the European Council (the European Council being constituted by the national heads of state and government) was elected directly, instead of being appointed by the heads of state and government behind closed doors. Attachment to the European idea has not changed in France since the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, when 37% of French people considered themselves European "often or very often". Today this figure is 38%. Following the record low turnout in the elections to the European Parliament in 1999, when 53% of French voters stayed at home, the feeling of Europeanness was reinvigorated by the introduction of the euro and by the public debate preceding the referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty in 2005. The rejection of the Constitution did not change the French electorate's feelings about belonging to Europe. To 54% of French people, the single currency is what best symbolizes Europe. Only 12% picked the European Parliament and 9% the European Commission as Europe's best symbol. The French see the common European economy (39%) and democracy (35%) as key values holding the continent together. The poll made it abundantly clear that the French (too) have only a rudimentary knowledge of how the European Union and its institutions work. Even though Members of the European Parliament have been elected directly since 1979, 36% of respondents thought they could not vote in elections to the Parliament, and 48% were unaware that foreign European nationals could vote in municipal elections in the country of their residence. Since then, mainly due to the stubborn economic slowdown and crisis, Euroskepticism is on the rise all across member states, which is obviously against the reinforcement of the sense of a common European identity.

John Lukacs wrote: "Nation and state - they are two different things. States are losing power and significance fast. Nations retain their essence. That is one of the -- many -- shortcomings of the European Union. We have a long way to go before we can talk about a united Europe; we are only at the very beginning of this arduous journey. European self-identity, the European spirit is but a faint glimmer."

Europe has become more than just an economic community, but is far from being a country. European citizens are not strongly attached to the EU and there aren't any European myths, dreams, visions, customs or languages which could constitute the bedrock of a pan-European identity. Towards the twilight of his life Jean Monnet, one of the Founding Fathers of the European Union, said to be lamenting: "If I could start again I would start with culture and not the economy".

There is no denying that Europe's peoples, nations and increasingly cosmopolitan new generations are drawing closer and closer, even if Euro-scepticism is rising. Old enmities are fading, the old wounds have healed, which is quite an achievement in itself. This should be reinforced by education, started already at elementary level: explaining and thereby reinforcing the advantages of our community to school kids across the continent. The new Erasmus generation may bring about the change. They may see and support a European Union team at the Olympics in 2024 at least in curling.

In 2015 the European Union has a remarkably charged political agenda in a turbulent world. Russia is more and more assertive, there is a probably prolonged military crisis in Ukraine, political and military situation is escalating in Europe’s southern and south-eastern neighbourhood with imminent impact on Europe’s societies. The spectre of Grexit reflects the fact that there are fundamental flaws in the Euro project as far as its long-term sustainability is concerned which necessitates further political and economic policy reforms at EU level. Brexit on the other-hand (although the UK’s case is admittedly extreme) is a clear indication of popular disenchantment from the idea European integration. The above factors indeed hinder coordinated action to counter the ever-stronger popular sentiment and well-articulated political agendas that question the usefulness of European integration and sometimes even the basic European values. European institutions and member states suffer to focus and face these challenges including the rising anti-European and in some cases anti-democratic tendencies that will pose significant risks to European integration in the medium-term.

Endless complaining about the remoteness of the EU has led us nowhere and clearly no ineffective and underfinanced communication campaigns are the solution either. Instead the following actions need to be considered to create more user-friendly profile for the European Union:

·     Create post of European (Euro-zone) speaker position in national parliaments (who preferably does not  bear the host country’s nationality) with the right of intervention if European issues debated (T) (C);

·     Introduce the instrument of European referendum – one single pan-EU referendum on the same day counted as a whole on key EU issues;

·     Replace low-profile bureaucrats at the top of EU Representations, create high profile EU presence in capitals;

·     If a project is financed by 51% EU it should be inaugurated by EU representative;

·     Increase Erasmus spending  by at least five times;

·    Introduce preferably mandatory European values curriculum at elementary and secondary schools;

·     Finish with national party lists at EP elections, vote on pan-European platform same day all across EU;

·     Create a special channel of national parliaments at EP – as MEPs are less and less national, MPs should have a vehicle which is visible and effective to intervene at EP debate. This must be much stronger an instrument than ad-hoc invitations; an institutionalised and permanent solution is preferable;

·      Elect President of the European Commission or the European Council directly by citizens;

·    Promote EU values abroad (joint EU cultural and political institutes – having in mind Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute, etc);

·    Facilitate national public and political debates on new European reform initiatives such as the recent one (June 2015) by the German and French economy ministers.

·     Run EU joint teams (or individual Olympians) in up to 10 percent of Olympic sports by the 2024 Olympic Games;

·      Support language teaching and learning;

·     Set up national offices of the Court of Justice to deal local legal matters with EU relevance more promptly and transparently;

·     Support Europe-related news broadcasting by national broadcasters. Euronews (in a significantly enhanced quality) minutes in local channels.

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[1] For a Eurosceptic and one-sided take on EU spending you can visit: www.openeurope.org.uk/research/hardsell.pdf

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 END  OF 61st SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (24/09/2015)

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