22. Mai 2019
Guest Commentary from Harald Welzer: Building on Europe
Never before has a European election been marked by such ardent appeals to go to the polls. There is talk of the “final game” for Europe, of the danger that the right-wing enemies of Europe will gain many votes and then proceed to destroy our wonderful Europe from within Parliament. And so on. Go to the polls because Europe is important. But, wait a minute, why and for which future is it actually important, this Europe of ours? It cannot be that incantations, pathos and a listing of economic advantages are all that remain of the European idea – especially at a time when not a few European countries are bidding farewell to a Europe of human rights, enlightenment and democracy and are pursuing increasingly blatant anti-liberal goals.
Europe is a Development Project
Yes, this election is important. Because Europe is a development project that has already taken a number of successful steps – the longest period of peace in history, an extraordinary level of security and freedom for citizens, a convincing laboratory of open borders, especially lived-out by young Europeans. Every possible soapbox speaker knows what to recite when asked what it is that makes Europe so great the Economic Area! Player in global competition! Innovations! – and exactly this answer reveals the predetermined breaking point of the European project. What has actually promoted right-wing populism in Europe more than the austerity policy following the financial crisis? What internally destroyed England more than de-industrialisation? And the much invoked European values more than tax-evading corporations and the systematic weakening of employees in deregulated competition?
No, the importance of the European project does not lie in competitive ranking, it lies in the lived conviction that the free democratic constitutional state is the most humane and sustainable form of society. The European project is the realistic counter-utopia to all autocrats, dictators, falsifiers of elections, manipulators, lawbreakers, liars and torturers who are in the midst of a global boom and who have changed geopolitical figuration in such a way that democracies around the world are no longer gaining ground, but retreating. And with them, the civil societies as well, which force their (democratic) governments to modernise according to these impulses, bringing about necessary social changes – more equality, justice, climate protection etc.
Europe – A Civilisation Project with the Future on its Side
It is no coincidence that young people in Europe are demonstrating for the constitutional state and against the criminalisation of sea rescue, for democracy and against the new rightwing, for climate protection and the responsibility for generational equality. Young people in particular have a keen sense of the fact that there is no prospect of a changed relationship with nature, of sustainable economic activity, of a humanitarian way of living together, if growth is primary and has priority above all else. It is their future that should be primary. And with this, Europe’s eco-social transformation, which perceives ecological and social justice as an identical goal, pursues open borders as an asset of civilisation, based on its own experience, understands diversity as a force of productivity and inclusion and equal opportunities as the greatest resources that societies could ever have.
Yes, exactly: in the past seven decades, Europe has been a global leader in respect to these sustainability conditions, and this emancipatory concept of the future must again form the European model, in other words: the European narrative. The election should be precisely about how Europe can tell a good story about itself and its future. Such goals must be clearly named soo that we understand what this is all about: a civilisation project with the future on its side.
Let Us Continue to Build It, Nobody Is Stopping Us from Doing So
And this can only be credibly defended if, unlike the enemies of freedom, one begins to speak truth – for example, that material growth and sustainability do not go hand-in-hand, just as little as hyper-consumption and expanding world consumption with climate protection do, and just as little as global justice with the carbon footprint of rich societies do. Modernisation does not mean having infantile faith in a perpetual win-win situation, but instead surrendering privileges, agreeing on improved relations between people. And choosing a better relationship with nature, which we cannot have free of charge.
The truth, as Ingeborg Bachmann said, is not unreasonable for people. It is the very basis for the active, constructive, egalitarian shaping of a world that belongs to everyone. That is, just as a reminder, the core of the European project. Let us continue to build it, nobody is stopping us from doing so. And with this in mind: go and vote!
Photo: Martin Kraft – Opus proprium, CC BY-SA 3.0
Our Guest Author Harald Welzer:
Harald Welzer, born in 1958, is Director of Futurzwei – Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit and Professor of Transformation Design at the University of Flensburg. He also teaches at the University of St. Gallen. His books include ‚Self Thinking‘ (2013), ‚Autonomy. A Defence‘ (together with Michael Pauen, 2015), ‚Smart Dictatorship. An Attack on our Freedom‘ (2016) and finally ‚We are the Majority. For an Open Society‘ (2017). His books have been published in 21 countries.
Find here everything you need to know about the European Election 2019.