Cosmopolitanism can set Europe aright

For sociologist Ulrich Beck, a federal Europe or a union of nation states are outmoded either/or options. It's time now to give the project a cosmopolitan dimension, more open, and more democratic.

Published on 1 July 2011 at 13:32

The process of European unification after the Second World War had a clear justification: "Never again." The goal was simple: to turn enemies into neighbours. Now that this miracle has come to pass, the peace project can no longer so easily mobilise the peoples. Of this there can be no doubt whatsoever: the European unification project stands in desperate need of a little more motivation.

Three propositions on the way forward:

Proposition 1

A new basis for the EU is urgently needed, because three self-destructive processes across the continent are overlapping and reinforcing each other: "xenophobia”, "Islamophobia” and "hostility to Europe”. The critics of “Islam”, which allegedly encroaches on Western values ​​of freedom, are able to combine enlightenment with xenophobia. Suddenly, in the name of the Enlightenment, you can even be against immigrants.

Linked to the bail-outs for the southern European countries, a new nationalist resentment has developed an inflammatory logic of carve-up and conflict. The donor countries must push through austerity programmes and for that reason keep the political thumb-screws clamped onto the Greeks, already well over the pain threshold. The Greeks see themselves as folk suppressed by the "dictates of the EU," which violate their national independence and dignity. Both of these responses are stoking hatred of Europe.

Receive the best of European journalism straight to your inbox every Thursday

That hostility to Europe – the "gentle monster Brussels", to take up Hans Magnus Enzensberger's expression – is being fuelled here in Germany just as it is there in Greece. Behind it lies the conviction: We can do it alone. That is, “we" Germans, French, perhaps even “we” Luxembourgers.

This is the national self-deception; this is the new German “Count me out”. In general we talk about Europe as if Germany were completely independent. But the counter question ought finally to be laid on the table: imagine that the EU actually were to fall apart. What would it cost to turn the euro back into twelve national currencies, to put barriers back up at all the national borders and re-introduce national customs, to replace EU regulations with the regulations of 27 nations?

Proposition 2

Europe is suffering neither from the euro crisis nor from a lack of willingness to strengthen the political union, nor even from the lack of a European citizens' movement. These are merely symptoms. The fundamental malaise is something else: Europe suffers from a self-misunderstanding. It’s precisely that great goal of the "United States of Europe" that makes Europe and its member countries arch-rivals who question each other's existence. As long as it remains "either Europe or the nation states" and a third way is excluded, mention of "Europe" will continue to stir up fear.

Proposition 3

The "excluded third way" is a cosmopolitan Europe and a cosmopolitan Germany. In this sense, it is important to distinguish clearly between nation and nationalism. He who in the face of the creeping disintegration of the EU calls for "Back to the nation" is naive and unpatriotic: naive, because he conceals the immeasurable costs of winding down the EU; and unpatriotic, because he endangers Germany. Yet he who holds that Germany's future is cosmopolitan enriches both Germany and Europe.

A cosmopolitan Germany also calls for a new concept of sovereignty. For Europe does not sap the strengths of nations, but rather empowers those nations. The Member States gain a voice in Europe and far beyond, where it matters. They can have a direct influence on the outcomes of European policy. Their national problems – such as crime, migration, environment, agricultural development, technological and scientific cooperation – are solved within the combined powers of the EU.

A cosmopolitan Germany calls for a new concept of identity and integration, which will enable coexistence across borders; which will be affirmative without sacrificing individuality and differences on the altar of national homogeneity. The diversity that constitutes the essence of Europe – whether of languages, lifestyles, art, forms of democracy – would be seen as a source of the national consciousness of the Germans still open to the world – and not as a threat to that consciousness.

It is time to make Europe the Cause

Ultimately, therefore, it is about grasping the fate of the European Union – or, more topically, the fate of Greece – as part of the destiny of Germany, in the sense that Willy Brandt spoke of during the first session of the all-German Bundestag: “Germans and Europeans,” he said, “belong together, now and, hopefully, for all time."

It is time to make Europe the Cause, from the national head to the cosmopolitan feet: The perpetual crisis called Europe is a great opportunity for policy makers in Germany! The new policy on Europe – that is, to spell out from large to small the fundamentals of European financial, environmental and social policies – could lie at the heart of a red-green government. The EU would then no longer be the "gentle monster". It would be a social Europe of workers and citizens in the making, a Europe that would encompass the struggles for democratic legitimacy and political responses to global problems in a way that is transparent and of existential importance for the people in their everyday life. And the reason they would give their vote for it. Where is the European Willy Brandt?

Translated from the German by Anton Baer

Was this article useful? If so we are delighted! It is freely available because we believe that the right to free and independent information is essential for democracy. But this right is not guaranteed forever, and independence comes at a cost. We need your support in order to continue publishing independent, multilingual news for all Europeans. Discover our membership offers and their exclusive benefits and become a member of our community now!

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

Support independent European journalism

European democracy needs independent media. Join our community!

On the same topic