Die Gegenwart kann man nicht messen. Alexander Kluge

The Image of Europe, or How to Win Back our Continent

Who is dreaming the European Dream? In a recent Eurobarometer survey, 39 percent of Europeans stated that their respective countries did not gain advantages from EU membership. In addition to the much-discussed currency crisis, we are also faced with a communication crisis.

The main actors in that debate – the European Commission, the political foundations, the media, etc. – attempt to explain European economy and politics in its complexity to the citizens every day. If you visit the European Commission online or the European Commission Representation anywhere in Europe, you will find plenty of food for thought: on offer are numerous brochures, diagrams, statistics, graphics, tables, maps and organization charts, in all 23 official languages, explaining precisely how the EU works. But there isn’t anything offered that the citizens can take to their heart.

Nobody loves their home country because of its politics, its currency or its market. The same applies to our home continent: As long as the European face is predominantly administrative and bureaucratic, it will be difficult for us to love Europe. It remains difficult to create emotions for Europe when only its managers, politicians and administrators have their say – no matter how dedicated they are.

Hence it would be important to talk less about the Europe of institutions, but to show more of the European reality: cities, regions and faces that inspire us and get us excited about support for the European project. We have to find stories that spread European identity across borders, using mostly audio-visual media to get the younger generations on board. Shaping Europe primarily means to integrate national histories and value systems as well as to advance intercultural dialogue. The economic integration of the EU is with no doubt an important subject, but always afflicted by a cost-benefit consideration, demands, threats and mutual accusations, egoism and mistrust. Against that, in the process of European integration, the power of culture can act as a positive tenor. Culture is the cement that holds the continent together, the basis for cohesion and community in Europe.

“Americans realized a long time ago and radically implemented what moves people and how you make them dream. The whole American Dream that is now dreamt around the world is a fabrication of cinema.” said Wim Wenders at the Berlin conference of the initiative “A Soul for Europe” in November of last year. Wenders recommended the medium film as the best means to convey images of Europe. Movies supercede frontiers. Spectators can, while watching the film, dip into the thoughts and sentiments of their European neighbours. The cinema advocates sympathy for other cultures and countries and leads to an appreciation of the cultural wealth in Europe.

But how do we reconquer our screens in a Europe where European films are hardly screened anymore because they were pushed aside by Hollywood blockbusters? Maybe if we create alternative distribution networks: If perhaps European film education were introduced at schools, it would Europeanize and revolutionize history classes. The national European representation offices have to become houses for the images of Europe und in addition make them available at the most European places in Europe – like the Parisian Square in Berlin – to make it clear to everyone how Europe is lived and developed by its citizens in all its variety and diversity of initiatives and commitments.

Europe won’t inspire anyone or get anyone excited as long as it remains an abstract idea or a community aimed at individual advantages. The European process needs emotions. We must “give Europe a soul”!

A German version of the article can be found here

A Soul for Europe is a civil society initiative that employs a novel, future-oriented model for cooperation between civil society and policy-makers. One of the main ideas is to create a Europe of the Europeans with the citizens’ responsibility for political mechanisms, rather than just a Europe of institutions and regulations. From bases in Amsterdam, Belgrade, Berlin, Brussels, Porto and Tbilisi, the “A Soul for Europe” Initiative is building an international network of European cities and regions, the cultural sector and business as well as European policy-makers. The very heart of the network is the strategy group with 55 outstanding individuals from 21 countries.

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