Creating Europeans through European culture
“European culture is distinctive in that it entails not choosing a regional culture, or a fortiori a national culture. The culture of Europe is experienced according to the various customs, identities, languages, cuisines and landscapes of the entities comprising this mosaic”.
In the imagery of ancient Greece, Europe was a Phoenician princess, abducted by Zeus, who after coupling with her, gave her to Asterion, the king of Crete, to take as his wife. This mythological figure is now represented on the coins of the European countries that have formed an economic and political union.
Europe’s history is well known, culminating in 1945 with the end of the third conflict to oppose primarily Germany and France in the span of several decades – a conflict that was, above all else, extremely deadly and incredibly destructive. A year later, in Zurich, Winston Churchill called for a “United States of Europe”. But it was too early to take such a large step; so it was Robert Schuman who, in his declaration of 9 May 1950 written by Jean Monnet, began building a union of European countries according to a new, more pragmatic method. The idea was to bring the countries together by creating a “de facto solidarity”, through the pooling of France and Germany’s coal and steel production in 1951, in the framework of a European authority, the continent’s first supranational institution.
There is reason to believe that the founding fathers of Europe who followed Monnet were familiar with Victor Hugo’s assertion a century earlier that “a day will come when there will be no other battlefields than markets open to trade and minds open to ideas.” In Rome in 1957, and again with the Single European Act in 1986, Europe was (re)constructed as a common market within which goods, services, workers and capital would be able to circulate freely. It should be noted that Europeans were considered solely in their capacity as workers and only became citizens of a Union with the Maastricht treaty in 1992.
Though Europe is now largely pacified and united, Jacques Delors himself was forced to admit that “one does not fall in love with a single market”. To forge closer ties between Europe and its citizens and thus develop the continent in an economically, socially and ecologically responsible manner, Europe needs to delve back into its common culture and bring it to life. That culture can perhaps be found in specific elements of its Judeo-Christian heritage or in the Enlightenment for example, or perhaps in a singular approach to the defence of human rights and freedoms and civic commitment.
Beyond that, European culture is distinctive in that it entails not choosing a regional culture, or a fortiori a national culture. The culture of Europe is experienced according to the various customs, identities, languages, cuisines and landscapes of the entities comprising this mosaic. As a result, it can ultimately be discovered only through an experience which I believe each and every person, particularly young people, must be given the means to enjoy: the experience of mobility and travel. After all, this is what the myth of the eponymous Phoenician princess is telling us: to be a European is to leave one’s home, live elsewhere, and then return.
Thomas Goujat-Gouttequillet, who is 20, is a student at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Science-Po) in Paris. He is a convinced European who has been a member of the European Youth Parliament since 2010 and is preparing to continue his studies in Germany.