By Adrian Hänni, June 2015
In the 90s, the great Swiss debate was whether Switzerland should become a member of the European Union. As a high school student, I was convinced that it would make more sense for the EU to join Switzerland, to build its institutions after the Swiss political model: strongly federalist with predominantly direct democratic elements, which provide ample opportunities for citizens to directly participate in the political process and thus to identify with the new European body politic. Together with a group of friends, we congregated at a local café to draft a letter, prompting the European Commission to initiate the necessary steps.
Today, I still believe establishing a truly participatory democracy is crucial for the European dream to come true. But building political institutions alone is not sufficient to forming a collective European identity that resonates with people in their day-to-day lives and drives their civic actions. We need a compelling narrative that forms a bond with Europeans from Reykjavik to Rome and from Lisbon to Nicosia. But what happens when we don’t have a common language, ethnicity, religion, or even a shared history? Should the European elites simply construct a pan-European history, in the same way Switzerland and other European countries constructed their national histories in the nineteenth century?
The answer is no. We need to move beyond the creation of European myths and heroes, the erection of monuments, and the celebration of European memorial days that keep us falling into the past. The Europeans need a shared vision of the future. The strongest anchor of this inclusive vision is the transformation to a low-carbon society, whose wealth is both ecologically and economically sustainable. In this narrative, economic productivity is only one factor of a society’s overall prosperity. We devote more attention to other factors that are crucial for the balanced well-being of individuals and the European community: higher empathy levels, more meaningful social interactions, and an environment that allows people to feel that their life has a purpose.
Europe, the birthplace of liberal democracy, industrialization, the welfare state, and Energiewende (transition to sustainable energy), has the potential to lead the world by creating a shared vision of a future that focuses on what is possible together.
Is it indeed time for a European Dream? What would a European Dream look like? Join the debate on DebateHub.
Adrian Hänni is a researcher in intelligence history, international politics and energy.