By DANIEL COHN-BENDIT and FELIX MARQUARDT
In next year’s European elections, we must unmask our national politicians’ best-kept secret: that what they see as the be-all and end-all of modern governance, the nation-state, is fast becoming an obsolete political structure.
In Europe, a new generation is coming of age with lower living standards than their parents’. They are faced with a choice: accelerated integration or prolonged drift into irrelevance.
And yet the most ambitious plan to confront this perilous predicament is to make voting in European elections take place the same day throughout the European Union, and for the president of the European Commission to be popularly elected. That’s nothing like the Big Bang Europe needs.
The time is ripe for a transnational, transgenerational, transpartisan, grass-roots and crowd-funded movement to take European integration to the next level. And before forming a party, we should look to Europe’s success stories to determine what our platform might be.
Let the Finns teach us about education; the French about health care; the Germans about flexible employment; the Swedes about gender equality.
At the moment, European countries continue to take comfort in their Old World status symbols. We boast rich histories and beautiful monuments and draw the world’s tourists, who admire our culture, fashion and gastronomy.
But Old World status symbols and tourists won’t save Europe. They might save Paris, Berlin, Rome and London, just as they will save the Loire Valley, Bavaria, Tuscany and Oxfordshire. However, outside the museum-filled capitals and historic countrysides, the rest of Europe is plagued by chronic unemployment, dismal growth and rapidly aging populations.
It is not that our elected leaders are malevolent or incapable of facing this challenge. They simply aren’t wired to understand the central reality of politics today. It’s naïve to expect traditional politicians elected for four- or five-year terms by citizens from within a sovereign territory to adequately address issues like resource scarcity, deforestation, chronic unemployment, global warming and fishery depletion that are intrinsically global, and whose resolution will take decades.
Today’s solutions need to be transnational, or they won’t be real solutions at all.
By all means let’s continue rooting for our national soccer teams. But let’s not continue to be fooled by our leaders’ self-aggrandizing delusion that in terms of policy making, the nation-state is still the appropriate vehicle for our times.
Instead, we must fully embrace what many of us already sense — that we stand at the dawn of a new, postnational era in which Europeans can go from being laggards to leaders.
If we don’t, Europe risks becoming its stereotype of America: a place with the best hospitals, and millions of people without proper health insurance; with some of the world’s most advanced technology, and many with no access to it; with world-class universities, but generations held back by parochial worldviews.
We are, oddly, the last ones who still doubt our own political project. We complain that Europe is just an abstraction for its citizens, yet we haven’t yet passed the laws to create a European passport worthy of that name, or the framework to enable every European to truly embrace the European Union project.
There is an old Jewish saying, “If you have only two alternatives, then choose the third.” The point is not to replace Europe’s gerontocracies with a dictatorship of the young. This movement must be carried by all those who, regardless of their age, agree that we must shift power more toward youth to successfully reduce the debt we are saddling future generations with.
Younger Europeans have been born into austerity and have grown up as budget cutters and digital natives. Unlike our leaders today, they are well adapted to an increasingly rapid pace of change, and their instinct is to use the most innovative and cost-effective methods to achieve their goals.
In Europe, politics has become too much about how each nation would like the world to be, and too little about what produces tangible results. Rather than bickering over whose policies are preferable, we need a Pan-European effort to determine Europe’s best practices in every field and adopt them across the Continent. What does each country do best? What successful models are scalable? How can we leverage the combined experience, resources and tested solutions of all the European nations?
Europe will not be changed by the elections of 2014. It will change only when European-minded politicians who are elected to national offices agree to transfer power to truly European institutions.
We need to let our politicians know that we no longer buy their nationalist bluff, that we don’t share their fear of sliding into irrelevance if we give the European Commission and the European Parliament the authority they deserve.
Either we harness the power and the rich resources of the entire European network or let the pace of globalization leave us behind.
And the first step is to start voting not as French, German or Greek citizens — but as European ones.