Why Europe needs a shared history beyond the shared currency

Europe longs for progressive responses to major social problems. There are plenty of answers, but the translation into practice often fails. Progressive Café is watching. Read more here.

It is August 1656, when the Moravian scholar Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670) arrives in Amsterdam. At that time he was one of the most famous scientists in Europe. On the run from the persecution of Protestants and the violence of war in his homeland, he finds here religious freedom, a tolerant political climate and a peaceful environment where he can work with his books.

Comenius was born in Moravia, today the Czech Republic, and he wrote the first comprehensive work on pedagogical pedagogy in Europe. According to him, education should be accessible to all, for boys and girls, rich and poor. Comenius has not only changed the way we look at education, but has also always advocated religious tolerance, peace and humanity.

Throughout his life, he corresponded with scholars across the continent. He was inspired by Erasmus’ work and also stayed in Germany, Poland, England, Hungary and Sweden. Comenius lived in the same neighborhood in Amsterdam as Rembrandt – the painter may have also painted him – and after his death he was buried in Naarden. Every year, whole groups of Czechs come by to admire his workplace and rest.

Comenius’ life story is one of many examples of European solidarity. It is a small story in the vast palette of narratives that bind us Europeans, shaped by painters, writers and thinkers who have learned from each other for centuries, the different peoples who built the same building.

Cultural connection

Today, when we talk about European accession, it is seen primarily from an economic point of view. European cooperation is important so that our trucks can continue to drive and we can more easily bring workers here to work. From the agreements on the euro, corona bindingstackling climate change for refugee policies: European Member States have become more and more connected over time.

But in recent decades, Europeans have talked too much with each other in the language of the euro and numbers and too little about our common history, which transcends economic interests. The story of European cooperation as an economic cooperation project, as it was first explained, is no longer sufficient.

The pursuit of a common history will have to go hand in hand with the creation of a stable social surface.

The increased cooperation following the Russian invasion of Ukraine gave a strong boost in the field of defense and security. In addition, Brussels’ monetary, policy and defense cooperation has not only increased between European Member States. This now also requires more solidarity between Europeans.

And therein lies the challenge. Because with the call for more European solidarity, we can ask ourselves: do we actually know each other? What do we know about the other, the Greek and the Italian with whom we share the euro, about the Pole and the Hungarian with whom we conclude agreements on Europe’s external borders? And what is the common history that unites Europeans?

The pursuit of this shared history must go hand in hand with the creation of a stable social surface. In this way, we can build a stronger sense of European solidarity.

As Europeans, we need to get to know each other better. This requires a convincing narrative of what it means to be European, where European cooperation is not ‘a project of foreigners’, as pointed out in the introductory essay to this series, but a connecting project. Cultural context of course.

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But what exactly is the common European history and culture? What does it mean? Let’s take a look at our own Dutch history. Did you know, for example, that our first king was a Frenchman, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte? That Rembrandt van Rijn learned his painting techniques from an Italian? And that the humanist Erasmus left his extensive collection of books to a Polish scholar? These are just a few examples of the intertwining of our history with the continent.

It takes an interest in the other to look for stories from history and thus build this common edifice of our common culture. To do this, we need to look at our fellow Europeans differently. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the accession of most Eastern European countries in 2004, economic ties in particular have been strengthened, but the stories of our common history have lagged behind. Poles, Hungarians, Czechs and Romanians are mainly seen as handy, cheap workers to keep prices down in the shops. Stories of our common history and culture, such as the story of Comenius, can foster solidarity and understanding.

However, the common cultural history can only grow in the fertile soil of economic stability and social security. And that is exactly what is threatened today. Rising inflation and high gas prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine hit the economic heart of the European project. Only a strong Union can meet these challenges.

Social Security

Following the tough approach to the Greek debt crisis in 2008, the EU seems to be increasingly underpinning the importance of social security. We saw an example during the corona crisis where Member States could more easily borrow money on the basis of the SURE program to combat unemployment. It was also decided not to drop the southern European countries as tourism revenues fell, but they came Corona bindings: joint loans, through which cheaper money could be borrowed to absorb the damage. The Netherlands also indirectly benefits from this.

Why is there e.g. not yet a European talk show where different nationalities can discuss current affairs?

The important questions of our time therefore remain: how do we bring Europeans closer together and how do we lay the foundations for a stronger sense of European solidarity?

Firstly, there is a need for more discussion among Europeans about the course to be taken. The conference on the Future of Europe in recent months, in which European citizens discussed the course to be followed and the Union’s role in this with politicians, was an important start to this discussion. But this can be set up bigger and wider. Why is there e.g. not yet a European talk show where different nationalities can discuss current affairs?

Or think of apps where Europeans can respond to today’s news or take part in discussions about initiatives such as realizing a basic European income. In addition, we need brave politicians who explain that we as Europeans are in the same boat and that we still want each other in the future. And it is up to artists, writers and thinkers to show that we are not strangers, but friends in the ancient history of our common European history.

In this volatile world, we must recognize that the European Union offers protection in turbulent times. Where our common culture forms the basis of a common history, a stable economic and social basis forms the cement. Only in this way can we work towards a stronger sense of European solidarity.

Thomas Huttinga (1994) is an author and publicist. He is the author of the book To Europeans today and tomorrow (Jernforlaget). He talked about this radio and on TV† He is currently writing a book for Uitgeverij Pluim about our common European history.

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