We need a new narrative for Europe

Povl Christian Henningsen
Povl Christian Henningsen

It is clear that the EU needs a new story line, a new source of inspiration.

Not one to take the place of the original one grown out of the trauma of two World Wars, but rather one to build on that epic, to supplement it.

It must be visionary without being hazy or Utopian. It must be tangible without becoming pedestrian.

Nor can such a narrative consist in Europe saying goodbye to the world, a world with which it now engaged in a fascinating, if not always cosy, process of globalisation.

We are, as never before, dependent on the world at large, just as the world also depends on Europe for its economic, social and cultural future.

The rest of the world likes Europe, visits Europe by the millions each year, attracted by the values it stll identfies with Europe.

Our democracy, civil rights and rules-based system of governance. Our social justice.

Our care for the environment. Our work-life balance.

Our struggle to ensure gender equality. In short, our 'European way of life', a very special equilibrium between individual freedom, solidarity, market and economic dynamism.

But that 'European way of life' is now in danger, challenged in many of our countries by four years of economic stagnaton.

Public confidence in our institutions is at an all-time low. Our first priority must therefore be to restore economic growth so that we can maintain our way of life.

And that in turn can only happen if we become more competitve in a world that we cannot and must not shrink from.

The European way of life will be shaped by the new European, indeed the good European. She is flexible, innovative and engaging. She will want freedom to pursue her passions and experiment with new ideas.

She will embrace the opportunities offered by new technology to connect, create, contribute, choose and challenge.

She will appreciate the strength of cultural differences, the value of many angles being brought to bear in order to address the big questions of our time.

She will challenge hierarchy and conventional thinking, knowing that the future involves constant change, the ability to rethink and adapt at all times.

She is keenly aware of and proud of her roots. Proud to be a Dane, a German, a Bulgarian, a Spaniard.

Knowing her own strengths and how they can contribute to beIer ideas and solutions. But also open to ideas, wants and desires of others - curious, open, respectul and empathetic.

The new European knows freedom is not a luxury. Freedom can never be taken for granted.

She will show personal initative, creativity and passion to shape the future and push her own country, Europe and indeed the world in a beIer direc2on.

The new European will want to participate. She wants her voice to be heard. She wants to use the direct, transparent, person-to-person connection between Europeans offered by social media.

The new European will be mobile - mentally and physically. She will choose where to work, how to work, with whom to work and on what to work.

The citizens of European nations will connect in new and innovate ways to create new solutions and develop new ideas to inspire the world at large.

The new European is not afraid. She will challenge authority. She will fight for her ideas but also be willing to compromise. She knows that the European family works like a marriage.

A good marriage is based on openness to talk about what goes on between the partners, a willingness toward compromise, mutual respect and a sincere appreciation of the value of working together in the European family.

The new European will bring a positive mindset to the world.

The similariries of European citizens far outweigh their differences.

The focus will at all times will be on common interests, what unites, not on what disunites or tears asunder.

Only thus will we carry true weight in a globalised world, where only the ability to work it out together will lead to sustainable solu2ons - locally, nationally and at European and global level.

The new European will feel empowered. She will have a 'can-do' mentality. She will appreciate diversity.

And she will know how to build strong bridges across personal, professional and cultural differences.

The optimism of Americans, the discipline, structure and organisational capability of Germans, the flexibility of Italians, the intellectual rigour of the French, the anti-authoritarian approach of Danes - and any other combination of national stereotypes - real or imagined.

The new European will be keenly aware of the challenges of communication. Different languages, different values and different behaviours.

She will want deep respect for her own language and cultural DNA but also understand how to work together effectively across borders. The need for a common language and the ability to move towards each other in daily contact and dealings.

It is water under the bridge to now discuss whether it was right or not to build the Economic and Monetary Union, the euro, the way it was. Breaking up is not only hard to do, as singer Neil Sedaka once sang, but impossible.

Any road back to less integration among us is far more costly and disruptive than the road forward, to greater integration, more solidarity, more reform internally and more open trade internationally.

Europe's message, to itself and to the world, must not be one of retrenchment and fear, but of new resolve and courage, inspiring the world to do the same.

There is so much we can do. We can start by truly liberalising our Internal Market, especially that for services, which accounts for two-thirds of our output and employment.

And while we are at it, let us at long last create that European single market for energy started by an earlier generation but never completed, and make it low-carbon in the process!

Reforms like these could really kick-start our economies back to life, especially if they are followed up with the bold new initiatives now under way to streamline the running of the Economic and Monetary Union.

So this is, in a nutshell, the European narrative I propose.

To re-mobilise our courage and dynamism. To build a new sense of initiative, a pioneer spirit.

And all this on the foundation of the values that are Europe's own, to serve as an example to a world increasingly eager to find a way to have globalisation serve mankind, instead of having mankind become a slave to a globalisation process inadvertentently turned into a monstrosity.

Sondrup Bakker

Povl Henningsen


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