Why Europe’s Family Picture Needs a Different Frame

During the evening of August 25, our colleague, Dr. Ulrike Guérot, Founder and Director, European Democracy Lab, visited the Deutsches Haus at NYU to give a talk for the American Council on Germany (ACG) about Europe in historic Greenwich Village. Her argument about the need for a European Republic that makes democracy a priority re-imagines in the twenty-first century the shared destiny of a continent in crisis. In her analysis, www.eurozine.com/articles/2015-07-10-guerot-en.html, Ulrike asks observers of community integration as a ‘peace project’ to visualize the future of Europe in ways that refute default explanations. In other words, the narrative of ‘no more war,’ sold to citizens in the last century to foretell the birth of the European Union (EU) in Maastricht, did not survive the Revolutions of 1989.

A family picture of twenty-eight leaders, the heads of state and government representing the member states of Europe’s Union meeting as the European Council in 2014, is included in her insightful presentation. This picture of mostly older, white, male politicians illustrates why Europe’s integration narrative no longer resonates with citizens, particularly the young generation, in countries across the Continent. In the face of massive protests against the politics of austerity, high youth unemployment in southern countries, and waves of immigrants on Europe’s shores fleeing internal conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East, politicians’ responses accommodate those 60 and over, particularly in the Federal Republic of Germany.

While the family picture may only change very slowly, if at all, in future years, the frame, or basic structure that supports the political system in place, needs to be altered more urgently. Ulrike is on point in the gap she identifies between the experience, and, therefore, the understanding, of integration for those citizens born prior to 1989 and the knowledge acquired by the generation maturing in the era after 1989. Europe’s postwar narrative allowed for an interpretation of integration that rested on specific assumptions about nation-states and the postwar order. Traditional ideas about state-to-state, intergovernmental cooperation as the foundation of integration with France and Germany as the ‘motor’ of European construction defy present day realities. Social cohesion in each nation-state fragments more across the generation and immigration divides. The political center in numerous European Union states narrows ceding space to right-wing extremism. Popular support for Community integration based on economic growth in a single market dwindles in significant ways.

Relationships that once defined the core of integration no longer drive the system elites put in place during the 1950s. The relations between France and Germany fractured during the Eurozone crisis. The maps of France in Ulrike’s presentation speak to a growing urban-rural divide.  The rise of support for Marine Le Pen is strikingly evident in relatively disadvantaged areas where unemployment thrives far removed from the major cities.  These maps likewise tell a story of immigration troubles inside France as presidential elections approach in 2017.  The result is that economic, political, and social interests no longer converge to form a French-German ‘privileged partnership’ around which other members in the north and south of the Union align. The implications for Germany as a leader in search of partners and for France as a partner in search of leadership strike at the core of what must change.

For Germany, its geographical center, export driven economy, and decentralized system each provide distinct advantages when identifying, as Delamaide analyzed decades ago, ‘superregions,’ across the Continent. The superregions are led by Mitteleuropa, which is recognized as the industrial heartland of Europe.  Superregions thrive economically by cultivating linkages across national borders. By refocusing German partnerships at the level of cities within superregions, rather than neighboring states in a continental Union, Hamburg, Brussels, Paris, Lyons, Strasbourg, Luxemburg, Cologne, Frankfurt, and Warsaw may drive integration in Mitteleuropa as Munich, Milan, Turin, Geneva, and Zurich spur growth in the Alpine Arc or Hamburg, Amsterdam, London, Dublin, Glasgow, Bordeaux, and Lisbon bridge Europe to North America and the rest of the world. The development of superregions emphasizes the importance of translocal European networks. This change in orientation presents a challenge to states introduced by the Westphalian system.  The European Republic presented by Dr. Ulrike Guérot envisages the future of democracy on the Continent.  This future asks educators to teach for tomorrow while recognizing present dangers: the Union’s resource deficiencies in the face of Putin’s imperial designs; and its policy incoherence in confronting the greatest humanitarian refugee crisis since the Second World War.

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