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New Ideas Needed

Gerd G. Kopper (sp)July 29, 2008

Europe hasn't really made a mark in the public consciousness. Without new ideas and their effective communication nothing will change, says German journalism professor Gerd Kopper in an exclusive essay for DW-WORLD.DE.

Kopper says Europe needs to communicate its ideas and values better

Professor Gerd G. Kopper is a retired professor of journalism at the University of Dortmund in Germany. He initiated the Erich-Brost Institute for Journalism in Europe and was its director from 1999 to 2006.

There's no dearth of criticism about "Europe" in today's media landscape. Unfortunately, a huge amount of it is nothing more than regurgitated gobbledygook. Many media studies have shown that detailed research of European policies and a balanced criticism of it are the exceptions to the rule.

This image of "Europe" painted by the media -- often a mixture of sarcasm about apparent bureaucracy, exaggerated accusations and hidden nationalism in many countries -- is a dominant one.

But there is another more tangible and practical Europe that works perfectly but about which hardly anything is reflected on or reported: Trade, financial ties, tourism and scientific exchange work well in Europe. And all the statistics and assessments show that these areas are functioning better and better.

Creativity Europe's biggest asset

Euro coins on an EU flag
A common currency is one example of how European nations are growing closerImage: dpa

The everyday lives of European citizens have, for a fairly long time, been increasingly taking place in European dimensions, at the latest since the euro has become the currency in most EU member states.

That may not necessarily be observable in daily life but it holds true in areas ranging from work and training, sport and leisure to science and research. The most impressive thing is to notice it when you visit a European capital. You can hear and see how a melting of European borders has led to a new dynamism, to increased exchange and to new creative horizons.

This kind of "Europe-ization" has to go on and must have an impact in other important areas too, particularly in decisive sectors such as health, environment and the working world. In the process, you can't afford to lose sight of the fact that Europe's most important raw materials are creativity, intelligence geared towards the future, innovation and the ability to be inventive.

European initiatives have the possibility of breaking stagnation in many areas and in all member states. But Europe needs to become much stronger and more assertive.

Beware of the island mentality

An aerial view of an uninhabited island
European nations can't afford to go it aloneImage: AP

The biggest danger for Europe is to develop a kind of political and intellectual island mentality and to withdraw into an island existence or use this kind of thinking for cheap political wins in individual member states.

Thus the biggest challenge for Europe is to develop a tolerant, open, understandable and angst-free realism.

That includes strong decisions that make effective military alliances such as NATO and make its relation to the supra-nationality of the European Union effective. It also includes ground breaking decisions on the status, role and practicality of European agriculture in the face of the current food and climate situation. A new realism also includes new and long-term shared goals with Africa and new forms of mutual commitments. That also closely involves Europe's relationship to Asia and China.

In short, what's needed in the coming two decades is the exact opposite of an island mentality and politics. Europe's strategy is in no way clear enough -- not to mention really convincing. The future "Europe" project can't be drawn up at the desk or sealed conference rooms alone. Without gripping new ideas and their effective communication, Europe will lack motivation and enthusiasm.

At least there's optimism

A smiley face of stars on an EU flag
The EU's history gives Europeans reason to be positive, Kopper saidImage: pa/Helga Lade Fotoagentur GmbH/DW

At its heart, European policy will always remain abstract and complex.

For journalists and editors, European policies are too focused on national reporting patterns and ways of working. And that can get worse. In general, European policies are too focused on clout and the view of individual interest groups and are often at the mercy of their organizational power. That's why new ideas and ways of working are needed everywhere.

The Lisbon Treaty would finally have given a chance to say together: These are our next realistic common goals that we can achieve. Everybody was supposed to bond over it.

Instead, this simple task has now become one of the most difficult in Europe. But without optimism, there would not be what Europe has already achieved: for instance, half a century of peace on a continent with a history of continual war.