The future of the world is increasingly defined by the competition between four economic and cultural areas: China, India, North America and Europe. As an economic and cultural space, Europe extends from Gibraltar and Iceland, west of the Eurasian continent, all the way to the Russian Chukotka Peninsula in the East – thus, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The ‘Europe’ that I am speaking of here is more than just geographical Europe.
Only a region with expert knowledge and future technologies, raw materials and energy sources, integrated logistics and efficient management at its disposal will be competitive. Moreover, an important precondition for strength is that justice and solidarity are recognized and observed as moral values, there is a stable legal system, and state and economic actions are transparent.
The economic area and cultural sphere of Europe consists of two confederations and 18 individual countries, altogether with about 740 million inhabitants. The two confederations of EUROPE are the European Union with 27 member countries and the Russian Federation with 83 federal subjects.
Together, the countries of Europe possess these virtues, as well as high intellectual potential. They therefore stand a chance to succeed within the global competition of these regions. However, the precondition here is that these countries must identify and establish themselves as a European cultural and economic area, with the common values of cohabitation that are accepted by the people of Europe. This self-identification is conditioned on trust between the countries, which is currently dangerously low. The EU and non-EU countries of Europe need confidence-building measures.
An especially important requirement for the development of a European cultural and economic region is the partnership of the raw material and energy rich Russian Federation and the technologically savvy European Union. The EU needs Russia and Russia needs the EU. The teaming up of these two powerful centers is the key to a strong Europe.
Yet, misconceptions make the path to ‘Europe’ rocky. They strain the culture of discussion, deepen divisions, they can become poisonous prejudices, and destroy trust. Opinion makers – like Samuel P. Huntington, who establishes a new Iron Curtain through Europe in his Clash of Civilizations – overlook the integrative elements in Europe. They ignore the cross-border, common cultural departure of the 19th century; the suffering in the two world wars, as during the war of ideologies; and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These are some of the important foundations for the identity of Europe. We should all take exception to Huntington’s conclusions, which deepen rifts and further complicate the path to a united, successful, and competitive European future.
To be competitive as well as to cultivate trust, Europeans must reflect upon the identity of Europe. Elites must encourage grassroots efforts towards a culture of open, transnational discussion; above all, preserving common interests and perspectives, or, where they have been lost, regaining them.
Collective identity grows out of common experiences in the past, present, and future. This means that Europeans must take into account their history, appreciate the events of the present, and work together on common enterprises in the future.
We need identity-forming politics for Europe. In 1964, Charles de Gaulle expressed the hope that a day would come when “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals” would be able to resolve its own problems – an early vision of a united Europe. This was a political sensation, in an age when ideological blocs in the East and West still existed and the world found itself in the middle of a war of ideologies. Now, despite the stabilizing factor of the OSCE, there still is no platform in which the countries and country-groups of Europe can work exclusively together.
China, India and North America are not waiting. The competition is already in full swing. Europe must find itself and get into position. The most important task is the immediate reduction of existing prejudices and the deficit of trust within Europe.
In addition, the following projects are conceivable:
- A “Europe” conference covering future perspectives, with all European countries and land groups participating; i.e., Europeans by themselves in a location outside the EU, Russia, and NATO – in Switzerland, for instance;
- The scientific interpretation of European characteristics towards the finding of a canon of values, necessary for the future of Europe; i.e. giving priority to synthesizing the values of the European Union and the Russian Federation;
- Roundtables on the identity of Europe;
- Projects for the innovation of technology in the areas of energy security; urban and cross-regional transport logistics; environmentally compatible material cycles; and medical, nano-, and communications technology;
- Projects to develop Europe into a center for training, research and development, employing the intellectual potential of Europe;
- The exchange of pupils, trainees, students, and young professionals; and
- The incorporation of ‘Europe’ as a subject into all school curricula in Europe.
It is imperative to overcome mutual reservations, especially mistrust in Europe. This is the most important prerequisite for Europe to be able to stand in competition with China, India and North America.
Dr.-Eng. Heinrich Bonnenberg is a member of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), the German-Russian Forum, and the German Ukrainian Forum. He also advised the administration of the Ukrainian President by order of the German Minister of Finance from 1997 to 2003.
This article is based on a speech given by Dr. Bonnenberg at the St. Petersberg University of the Humanities and Social Sciences on Nov. 18, 2009. The full speech is available in German, in English and in Russian.
The speech and article were translated into English by Stefan Ducich, Atlantic Community Editorial Staff.
Related Material from Atlantic Community:
- Donald K. Bandler and Jakub Kulhanek: Weak Russia, Dangerous Russia
- Editorial Team: Is America More European than Europe?
- Rudi Guraziu: Regionalism: Stepping Stone or Stumbling Block?