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Everyone who understands a little of the arcane art of European affairs knows that the EU has been going through a lot in the last couple of years. Ever since 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the world has become a significantly more dangerous place.

Since that time, we have witnessed a steady decline of the international world order established in the aftermath of WW2. Far-right demagogues like Trump, Brexit and the rising social tensions post-financial crisis have uncovered a soft belly of the international system, dominated by the West. Those weaknesses are tested on a near-daily basis by leaders like Putin, Erdogan or Xi Jinping. 

At the same time the European Commission, first under the leadership of president Juncker and now under Ursula von der Leyen, became more vocal about giving the EU more room in the international arena. Concepts like strategic autonomy and European digital sovereignty, became very trendy slogans, cited in Brussels’ salons and some of the other European capitals. Another fancy term that we keep hearing about is “European Values”. 

In her speech during the State of the Union, the Commission president said that there are “worrying developments in certain member states” over the rule of law. She warned that Brussels is “determined” to defend the values the bloc was built on, including democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and independent media.

A good start

It is thrilling to hear that someone at the top of the European ladder of power is finally talking about what really matters. Instead of hearing a mighty roar of the entire continent, we hear the meowing of a little kitten, which is cute but not as effective. It is good that the European Commission and some of the decision-makers at the European level finally realize that the EU cannot be just a trading block. It must be based on a common set of values and principles, which can rally people behind it. After all, Jacques Delors once pointed out very rightly: Nobody can fall in love with the single market.  

The Conference on the Future of Europe and the European Bauhaus are good initiatives, and it is a start. The European Union in the 21st century must define what it wants to be when it grows up. Moreover, to do that, the EU must decide what it stands for and address several other issues before assuming its role on the international stage. 

A layperson reading this article could ask what these European Values are? When searching for the term “European Values” on the Internet, we can find the following as the first search result:

The European Union declares the fundamental EU values to be the ones “common to the EU countries in a society in which inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination prevail”. They are human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and human rights.

Following that trail, we can dig further into the Treaty of Lisbon and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that have defined basic principles that Europe stands for. In practice, we know that the EU struggles to uphold them, both internally and externally and fails to present a unifying common dream.

The founders of the European Union understood that they are playing a long game, where rules constantly change, and there is no real winner. They understood the reality of politics, which sometimes seems to be forgotten by their current peers, who often get lost in their national squabbles until another crisis catches up with them and we have had plenty to deal with recently.

The three elements

The founding fathers of the European Union understood that the only future for our continent can be one where we all are united under one banner. If we remain divided, we become easy pickings for other giants like Russia, China or even our greatest ally, the United States of America.

For the EU to survive in the 21st century, we need three key elements:

Europe, is in possession of 0.5 of 3 factors. It has shared values, but Europe still struggles to uphold them. A big challenge for the EU is to define itself and what it wants to be. Furthermore, that challenge cannot be overcome without element number three; the origin story. In this regard, the EU is Europe’s worst enemy. 

For decades the EU and European Communities beforehand have outsourced its storytelling to the national capitals and politicians residing there. Politicians who were not and still are not concerned with our bonum commune communitatis, but their results in the quadri-annual popularity contest called the election cycle. Because of that, we never hear about Europe, and its future is never delivered. It is constantly shoved aside. But what is Europe’s origin story?

Like every good myth, there is no single answer to this question. Some would start with the kidnapping of Europa; others would argue that the origins of modern Europe lie in the Roman Empire or during the Renaissance. Each of these answers is correct, to a certain degree. However, there may exist an even better answer. 

There is no better time than now.

This origin story of Europe is the most interesting out of them all. Why? Because it does not talk about long-forgotten battles, dead leaders or questionable chapters in history. The past, good and bad, inspires this tale. However, it is a story that includes you, dear reader and everybody around. It is an epic drama of here and now. 

It is a fable that talks about overcoming the burdens of the past in times of great adversity and uncertainty. It is a tale about people who came together in a time of crisis. People who decided to unite for a better tomorrow. It sparks hope and that warm fuzzy tingling inside. 

The story of Europe that I want to tell is still developing, and every one of us is narrating a part of it. How will it end? Only time will tell.

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Euro Babble