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Culture

A post-Brexit open letter to the President of the European Commission

After the Brexit vote, Europe needs to redefine its uniting ideals, says DW culture editor Stefan Dege in this open letter to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Dear Mr. President Jean-Claude Juncker,

First of all, my sympathies for the Brexit.

Do you know the song "Davon geht die Welt nicht unter?" It's German for "It's not the end of the world," sung by Zarah Leander in a very popular Nazi film from 1943.

Then again, it was the end of the world shortly after. Europe was in ruins.

Yesterday, a few days after the Brexit referendum, my 16-year-old daughter asked me: "Do we really still need the European Union?" And my reaction to this, Mr. Juncker, was: Yes, but only if it's the Europe of my children.

My European dream looks like this: Children have a roof over their heads and enough to eat. They go to school. They are free to say what they think and can choose their religion. Nobody attacks them for being small, gay or disabled. In court, they have the same rights as anyone else. They do not fear war, nor the police.

Those conditions are fulfilled for my children, who live in a wealthy Germany. But why shouldn't Roma children in Romania have access to such a beautiful life as well? And what about the future?

Stefan Dege, Copyright: DW

DW culture editor Stefan Dege

Where's your European vision?

My daughter has learned in school how the new Europe was built on rubble; how nations joined forces, first economically and then politically; how Europe kept expanding - most recently after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

After all, Europe promised a bright future: democracy, prosperity, peace. The triad sounded enchanting. This idea eventually started to fade, and the project stalled.

Could you, Mr. Juncker, please explain to my daughter what went wrong? After the Brexit vote, you have denounced the erosion of Europe. But do you have a European vision to stop them from wanting to leave?

Yes, the British wanted to leave the EU. Yet behind this vote, where the older generation outvoted the youth, we can recognize different fears - of foreign infiltration, of social decline, of external political domination, of identity loss.

A bureaucratic, undemocratic Europe, taking decisions in hidden rooms without the population's consent, was unconvincing. The contrast between promises and reality was too strong.

The Brits preferred to rely on their own strengths. They might be overestimating themselves. But isn't Europe overestimating itself as well, if it keeps going on as usual?

In the Europe of my children, all voters should have a say. It would function a lot more democratically. There would not only be elections in the regions and in the countries; there would also be a European government. It would be a more federal Europe, based on participation.

In this Europe, my children could declare: "I contribute to decisions here." They would feel strong because they would be aware of the power of the European single market. Their fears related to globalization would be kept in check. They would understand that unity is the only way to survive in global competition and to provide security. Isolated states do not have much power against China or Google.

Which arguments do I use to convince my daughters to share their sweets with their sisters? How do I convince them to make space in their own room when the neighbor's house burns down? To solve the Greek or the refugee crisis, Europe needs more participation, more solidarity and less national self-interest.

Caricature by Sergey Elkin - Brexit, Copyright: Sergey Elkin

In this cartoon by Sergey Elkin, the EU is riding on a old disgruntled bull.

My daughter loves diversity

The Europe of my children would return to the Europe of the regions. There would be 1,000 kinds of cheese in France. There, we could buy Italian bananas whose curves don't currently conform to EU norms. The famous fermented Kölsch bier could be served in pubs in Cologne - and there only - and Andalusian women would dance their fiery flamenco.

The diversity of regional traditions, customs and cultures is priceless. By highlighting and protecting these treasures, faith in Europe can be strengthened. My daughter would travel everywhere. She would love it.

She might study Italian in Bologna or Spanish in Madrid. After the university reform, all European degrees are recognized. With a Bachelor's or a Master's, she could look for a job anywhere.

The downside is not as attractive: universities have become more school-like. Many subjects are overloaded with material. There is less academic freedom. This example also demonstrates that it's hard to find the right balance between regulating and not regulating. This balance also needs to worked on.

Actually, Mr. Juncker, this isn't really your thing. You are governing and managing the continent like the uncrowned kings of Europe. That, at least is the distorted image in the minds of Europeans from Malta to Finland. But you might want to encourage more democracy. Perhaps then, our children could wholeheartedly say: "Europe is my future!"

With warm greetings,

Stefan Dege

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Stefan Dege is a DW culture editor. He studied political science and is the father of three children.

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