COMMENT An appeal for a new view from Europe
By Paolo Savona and Francesco Sisci
The European crisis has so far been considered only as an economic crunch: unsettled public budget accounts in Greece then Spain, with a little Portuguese pepper and Irish beer topped maybe by some Italian spaghetti.
Yet, the crisis rather is of ideals and arises from the failure to consider that it no longer makes sense for European nations each of 50 or 60 million people or less to have to deal with other much larger countries.
The world has always been divided into isolated regions. Despite attempts at universal conquest and global unification by Alexander, the Romans, the Arabs, Genghis Khan, or the Turks, those great empires always ended up shattering.
The Spanish and Portuguese were able to create for the first time starting in the 15th century a global unification based on money rather than weapons. The British consolidated and expanded this form of conquest, and today America continues on this path
attracting China and other emerging countries to follow.
Europe gave birth to a refined culture and with the Industrial Revolution it became the center of the world. It was the paragon of progress and a hotbed of new ideas and new world views, such as the idea of modernity and that of nation, that still influence how the world sees itself. For decades, if not centuries, all the world's clashes were more or less distant reverberations of conflicts in Europe, such as the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War.
All this renewed the sense of a Europe of nations, each with its own nationalism, which gave European states and then other countries a new perception of their own identity.
Until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the explosion of globalized businesses in Asia, followed by Latin America and now Africa from the 1990s, Europe was simply "the world".
Now all this is over.
The sense of identity among Europe's single nations is likely to be diluted by global forces near and far. Many forces are moving in this direction. India and China make Europe seem small. Russia, which is Europe and not Europe, is casting its shadow over all European near and distant borders. Immigration from Africa and the Middle East waters down and undermines the European identity. People who live in Europe often still think of themselves as African or Asians, and are often thought by European national authorities still as African or Asians.
Europe is still industrially strong - very strong indeed - but only if it is united. Divided, it would simply stop being a globally relevant political entity.
Europe must be born again and, addressing itself and the world, Europeanize member countries and immigrants, even before considering the numbers. Europe must have a unified policy toward the world.
It is absurd to ask the United States to intervene in Libya and now in Syria. Europe must be able to move there on its own. These interventions have to occur in agreement and accord with America, but Europe must be able to back America, and not just beg for its help every other day.
It is also absurd that Europe does not have any clear idea and position about what is happening in China, in the Senkaku islands, or the South China Sea; these should be the focus of its own medium and long-term security concerns as they matter for the development of the economically most vibrant area of the world.
Only after taking care of these issues, should Europeans get square on their economic matters. All of this must start from the leadership, but then also come from the common people. It is the latter who have to redevelop a civic sense of a new elite and a new identity through a new process of education. This should start from a new idea of Europe as a new and old nation, and from a new system involving a European School.
The inexpensive way to a united Europe has lost momentum, and any short-term attempt to enforce the requirements that stronger countries impose on weaker ones will implode.
Measures undertaken by some governments to block the initiatives of the European Central Bank to take responsibility for the European banking crisis could be followed by others. This could introduce new forms of national duress between member states, increasing the push away from the European Union's political and social unification.
All that remains is the culture, an awareness of the need to overcome the old nation-states, and convenience. This effort to overcome the status of old European nation-states has in fact so far led to significant progress in unifying national markets and European currencies in the euro. All of this is should be leading to the political unification of education, international relations, defense, and every other aspect of citizenship, including the network of social protection.
The means for fiscal and financial stability will then have to assume a size consistent with European goals, and lose the financial tools that pit countries against each other.
Europe will bring to global challenges the weight of its unity of purpose and cease to stand at the edge of significant demographic and economic currents.
The creation of three European Councils for foreign policy, defense, and welfare and for a common European School could be the most important and immediate steps. The three councils will have to propose, within a short time, a plan for the unification of the corresponding authorities in governance and a cost-benefit analysis of its implementation.
A new school system should be studied and rapidly implemented to have a new sense of European citizenship with a common culture for the Europe that everybody expects.
Through a future parliament or a new European Commission, we can commit to a cultural reunification, as opposed to the old structure, which was primarily economic. This will reinforce the tendency towards a united Europe.
If we do not address the issue in this fashion, Europe will be bogged down for years in petty disputes about numbers. This may eventually lead to a break down of the euro and spark a global financial storm of unfathomable consequences.
A new path for Europe is thus a necessity for new and old Europeans, and for the world.
Paolo Savona Former Italian minister for Industry and Emeritus professor of political economy, and Francesco Sisci is a columnist for the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore. His e-mail is [email protected]
(Copyright 2013 Paolo Savona and Francesco Sisci.)