Europe's economic crisis has been politically devastating, leaving many to question the European idea. Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are pushing culture to promote unity.
The year 2008 will probably go down in European history as disastrous. The financial crisis, fuelled by a near insatiable thirst for profits and craving for self-regulation, resulted in an implosion well beyond its own sector. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Especially in Southern Europe, many people are still suffering from the consequences of the crisis.
Politicians responded to the economic malaise by demanding more oversight, regulation and rules. But they're fighting an uphill battle. Never before have so few citizens of the European Union felt like Europeans.
A new form of nationalism has spread, nourished by populist prejudices thought to have been left in the past as well as a feeling that everything would work much better if everybody focused more on themselves.
How to achieve greater unity
Policymakers across Europe are alarmed but, at the same time, display a certain helplessness. They're looking for ways to achieve greater unity. European Commission President Barroso and the EU Parliament hope to deliver answers on that front with the initiative "New Narrative for Europe," which was launched six months ago.
As part of the initiative, a cultural committee consisting of 20 prominent artists, culture experts, intellectuals and scientists has developed a vision of Europe's future. In Berlin on Saturday (01.03.2014), the committee presented a declaration calling for no less than a paradigm shift in society, art and science - similar to the intellectual awakening in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The message from the culture committee to politicians is loud and clear: They need to think in completely new dimensions. While the committee acknowledges the need for economic and financial rules and regulations, it argues for a realignment of Europe's political focus.
Policymakers, the culture committee contends, could learn from the art world when it comes to exploring new and radical approaches. What's needed are bold, imaginative and informed politicians who speak and understand the language of the new Europe.
Peace, liberty and prosperity
But what exactly do these recommendations mean concretely, and how might they be implemented? At the event, EU Commission President Barroso noted the declaration should be understood not as a point of departure. It's important, he said, to win over as many citizens as possible to breathe life into a new vision of Europe. In particular, young people who have been less able or willing to identify with the continent's unique qualities need to convinced.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that in the search for a new leitmotiv for Europe, the region's three initial guiding values - peace, liberty and the pursuit of prosperity - should not be forgotten.
"Many like to say the mission for peace is now fulfilled, but when we take a closer look, the last war in the western Balkans is not even a generation ago, and we still have our work cut out to ensure lasting peace there," she said. There remain, she added, extremist, misanthropic tendencies that Europe "unfortunately" must also confront: "Hatred, violence, terrorism and mobilization against minorities - all of that can be found in Germany, and that's a reality not only here."