I have some very bad news for you. Europe is not suffering from one crisis but three. In the wake of the financial crisis, we had a monetary and economic crisis, which has now given rise to a political crisis, which in Europe is characterised by a lack of vision and initiative that prevents us from taking control of our future.

The first crisis, which was also the most visible one, culminated with the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank in New York in September 2008. It was a financial crisis that seriously affected the United States, Britain and continental Europe. However, other parts of the world recovered from it very quickly and even returned to significant growth.

In early 2010, many people believed we were on our way to recovery when a second crisis — this time a budgetary and economic one — emerged in Europe. It began, in dramatic fashion, with the news that Greece was on the verge of bankruptcy. Amid talk of contagion, citizens of other European countries discovered that the symptoms of the virus — enormous budget deficits, rapidly increasing public debt and an inability to reduce unemployment — were present in their own states. This crisis was above all a political one, because it demonstrated the incapacity of European countries to manage their economies, to reduce public spending, to increase tax revenues, and most importantly to relaunch growth.

The West is now in the throes of a third crisis, and one that is perhaps less easy to grasp, which is characterised by the absence of a civilisational project. For centuries, the European West has concentrated all of its resources in the hands of ruling elites: initially absolute monarchs and latterly capitalist elites. In so doing, it was able to conquer most of the world. But this conquering model had two inherent problems. The first of these was that society as a whole was brutally subjected to the ruling power. From the king’s subjects to workers in industry, from the colonised to women and children, every category of the population was subjected to extreme forms of domination. Thus the Western model was marked by unbreakable link between conquest and subjugation.

Europe has not defined a model to replace modernisation

The second problem was that the concentration of power in the hands of elites resulted in the formation of nation states which spent several centuries at war with each other, that is until the 20th century, when Europe sought its own annihilation in two world wars and a wave of totalitarian regimes.

The conflict between European nation states only ceased with the emergence of American hegemony and the creation of the European Union, which implied a weakening of nation states. However, the social system inherent in this European model took more time to disappear. The people overthrew the kings, the workers obtained social rights, the colonies were liberated, and women obtained rights, although they are still subject to a certain measure of inequality. But after the Belle époque, that is to say the years of social democracy in the second half of the 20th century, Europe — which had been liberated from the suffering and madness of the past — found itself without a model of development, and without a project for the future.

In previous centuries, the greatest voices for progress rang out from Europe; but today Europe is silent, empty, first and foremost because it has not been able to define a model to replace modernisation.

However, such an initiative is not impossible and we already know the main themes that must be the priorities for the coming century: environmentalists have convinced us that economic rights must be combined with rights of nature. Cultural movements have taught us that our support for majority rule must be tempered by respect for the rights of minorities. Women have discreetly set about constructing a society whose main objective is to reconcile opposing extremes, which prioritises internal integration over external conquest. However, all of these major projects, which urgently need to be transformed into policy, hold more sway in public opinion than they do in parliaments.

Political debate ignores that production economy has left Europe

Although we may be able to devise a model for a future society, we lack the necessary political and more importantly intellectual instruments to overcome these ongoing crises. At best, it seems that we are only able to minimise their most negative consequences. As it stands, financial capital is the only economic sector which has undergone a rapid and strong recovery, and it is a recovery that is once again propelling us towards further social inequality. At the same time, the production economy has been steadily removed from Europe, a development that is largely ignored in political debate. In short, our political and intellectual powerlessness has not been caused by the crisis — on the contrary it is the principal cause of the crisis, and this is a clear indicator of where our priorities should lie.

There will be no exit from these economic crises if it is not accompanied by an emergence from cultural and political crisis. On this basis, it is clear that we urgently need a political recovery and an intellectual and cultural renaissance. Belgium and the Netherlands have been devastated by chauvinism and xenophobic populism. Political life in France and Italy stands in ruins and must be completely reconstructed. On a brighter note, in view of the dominant role of the United States, Obama’s victory over a Republican Party led by its most reactionary and least intelligent wing has been a much needed development.

The best economists have taught us of the crucial importance of political and social solutions in overcoming economic crises, but their advice has yet to be heeded by our politicians. We cannot expect to make progress in small steps, because we will not know if we are moving forward or backwards. So we need to be brave, we urgently need to imagine, envision and construct our future, and to cut though the fog and the silence that have prevented us from discovering the political tools we need to construct it.