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Reclaiming Europe

Santiago de Navascués, PhD student of the School de Philosophy y Letras
of the University of Navarra, reflects on the European Union:
Brexit, elections, war, hedonism. A brief outline of how much could be said about our identity.
could be expressed about our identity.


Valentin Serov, The Rape of Europe, 1910
Valentin Serov, The Rape of Europe, 1910

If anything had been conspicuous by its absence in the last months of the previous election campaign, it had been the crucial European elections on 26 May. However, that the future of our country depended as much on the result of the elections as on Brexit is something that no one would doubt. The dissolution of the European Union at that time was a real risk, although it would not be the first time that Europe had been disunited.

Indeed, in the inertia of the present moment, the perspective of what the European Union has meant for the world may be lost. According to the great historical schools of thought, European construction can be seen from two opposing points of view. For some, European unity was the response to a historical catastrophe - the Second World War - which had revealed the crisis of the nation-state. Europeans came to terms with the disappearance of their world hegemony and reflected on the danger of nationalist rivalries and imperialism. The consequence would be the training of supranational and solidarity-based partnership bodies to prevent a third "European collective suicide". For others, Europe would be the result of a new form of international organisation to achieve economic prosperity, to secure the expansion of the welfare state and to ensure citizen legitimacy of the nation-state. At final: economic diplomacy and political calculation would be at the basis of European construction. European unity, according to these analyses, may have been the fruit of two very different virtues: solidarity on the one hand and egoism on the other.

Europe may exist not only in spite of its mistakes and vacillations, but also because of them.
and hesitations, but also because of them.


It occurs to me that, between the two analyses, one could place an intermediate one: Europe has been the fruit of a common idea based on cultural aspects which, on the other hand, advanced thanks to specific policies in which each state benefited from the help of the others. Europe would be a fine ideal on which to base concerted action that would benefit national interests. In this sense, the European unity we have experienced over the last fifty years has been, as Samuel Johnson would say, like a dog that walked on two legs: "It did not walk well, but the wonder is that it walked". We should not expect a perfect union, because it never has been. Europe may exist not only in spite of its mistakes and vacillations, but also because of them. Following a biblical metaphor, those who made it possible were "cunning as serpents and innocent as doves".

In a global world such as ours, it should not be difficult for European citizens to feel several identities at once. Attachment to our regional identities should not be at odds with a more global identification, open to the world, which the idea of a European union proposes. In this sense, Brexit, like other Eurosceptic threats, represents the atavistic fear of the homeland being diluted in a global identity, of the disappearance of the self. History teaches us that European identities have developed in the heat of the admirable variety of cultures that is Europe. For better or worse, nations have long since ceased to be an "I" and become a "we".

Europe's rebirth depends on us recognising the miracle and acting on what unites us as Europeans.
act in the knowledge of what unites us as Europeans.


Today's Europe has stood for peace, international cooperation and cultural exchange , something unthinkable not so long ago. As in so many other areas, we Europeans have become accustomed to the miracle. Today, we invoke the name of Europe to free ourselves from nationalist incantations, the "rise of the far right" and demands for EU reform. The problem, as Tony Judt wrote, is that "if we see the European Union as a solution for everything, invoking the word ''Europe'' as a mantra, raising the banner of ''Europe'' in the face of recalcitrant ''nationalist'' heretics and shouting ''Abjure, abjure!'', we will one day realise that, far from solving our continent's problems, the myth of ''Europe'' will have become an impediment to recognising them".

We too must make our own "workshop of reflection" on the last European elections. The rebirth of Europe depends on us recognising the miracle and acting in the knowledge of what unites us as Europeans. In 1945, over the smoking rubble of the continent, Salvador de Madariaga wrote that "Europe can only be saved if Europe is born; and Europe can only be born if we act as if it were already alive".

article published in Español

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