Europe is in flux. Politicians squabble over the merits of a single currency and political union, while the growing number of unemployed and homeless wonder whether they will share in the 'dream of Europe'. Fierce and exclusive national loyalties are on the increase. The economic benefits of unification are not shared by all - so French farmers resent British farmers, British fishermen resent Spanish fishermen. Where is Europe heading? Who will steer it? A unified Europe will be meaningless without a shared vision. ..................................................................................................................................................................................
Europe is my home. It is cathedrals standing out on plains and churches nestling in valleys. Europe is seasons - the eager signs of spring after long winter months. Europe is crossing five borders in a day without showing my passport. Europe is the quiet dignity of war cemeteries (French, German, British, Commonwealth, American), the rows and rows of crosses, the moving phrases chosen by mourning families.
Europe is not just being British or Swiss, it is being both this and European; a plus for my identity, not a surrender of the differences which make up the richness of our national cultures. What would we be without our rich variety of sausages?
Europe is a growing, a developing of something entirely new, with no model elsewhere. A coming together, an overcoming of differences. Not the United States of Europe, a new nuclear and economic superpower. A federation? A confederation?
So much energy is wasted in defining what we don't want. So little vision, compared with the early post-war years, is going into the Europe we do want to see - the things we could do better together than alone. The details may have to come later, when we have worked out more of the spirit. It starts with an end to our terrible civil wars that have cost humanity so much; it continues with the search for ways to create a global community and make up for our colonial past. Idealism and realism in harmony.
Europe is learning to live with neighbours, within a shared culture, history, faith - and beyond. Europe is about relationships, healing the past, forestalling future conflicts. The Anglo-Irish relationship, the Franco-British love-hate, the Basques in Spain, Corsica and France; and now that the heavy carpet of Communism has been lifted, we see more clearly a host of fresh and potential conflicts.
There is much fear of the future, the present, the unknown, those unlike us; fear of domination by the faceless Eurocrats in Brussels; and in Switzerland, a strangely virulent fear of Germany. Why did Christ so often say, "Fear not'? We must name our fears, face them, and sort out the real from the illusory? The future, like the past, will be determined by those claiming a vision and struggling for it to become a reality.
Andrew Stallybrass, UK/Switzerland
Every inhabitant of this continent must ask themselves, 'Where is Europe heading?'. I write from my experience as an ordinary, and privileged, Frenchman, living in Lorraine.
When my wife and I went to Leipzig (in former East Germany) for the first time in I 987, I decided: 'Don't judge, but appreciate, listen and be honest.' The East-West wall fell in my heart while listening to a communist men's choir singing Bach. I came back certain these people hadn't lost their soul. It was then that European reunification started for me. Do we in the West take enough time to understand the deeper message from our brothers and sisters of Central and Eastern Europe?
Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the project to unify Europe, believed that uniting Europe would contribute to peace in the world. We all want our continent to live in peace. But I cannot ask my politicians to act differently if I am not ready to change my attitude towards fellow Europeans.
We still carry part of our nation's history, arrogance and fears in our subconscious. In President Mitterand's words, 'We must overcome our prejudices. We must overcome our history.' And we can overcome them if we accept and discuss them with humility and openness. We must leave our old securities and engage on an unknown road which will challenge and enrich us.
As Czech President Vaclav Havel said, 'Europe must not just be a kind of administration or organisation, it must also embody a spirit, an idea, an ethic, a charisma. It must include that necessary spiritual, moral and emotional dimension.'
President Roman Herzog from Germany said, 'Visions, unlike Utopias, are uncomfortable. For the materialisation of Utopias, no one is responsible, for the fulfilment of visions it is we ourselves.'
In Europe we are involved in a vision in the making. The vision of a peaceful and united Europe concerns each of us, and we have many tools at our disposal political, cultural, social and economic. As a former Member of the European Parliament once said; 'This project is unique. We have no examples to follow, and even though we make mistakes, we move forward!'
Charles Danguy, France
The Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall may now be consigned to the history books. But there are still two distinct Europes. Prague and St. Petersburg are becoming haunts for Western backpackers and shady entrepreneurs alike, but have Western Europeans made the mental jump and accepted the East as equal partners in Europe's future?
The name of our continent was once written by a famous Romanian cartoonist as EU-RO-PA, with EU being the European Union, RO being Romania's symbol and PA meaning 'bye-bye'.
Only six years after the events of 1989, it appears Europe is again excluding us. Forgotten for decades after World War II somewhere behind the Iron Curtain, Romania has been an easy victim for the 'Great Eastern Brother '. Although our army was ranked fourth in the coalition against Germany, and in spite of the promises broadcast on Radio Free Europe that the Americans would come to free us, we were abandoned and obliged to suffer the consequences of the Yalta treaty. Few people from the other side of the Wall knew what was happening here but did they really want to know and do something about it?
December '89 brought a tremendous wave of sympathy for our country but not for long. Gradually the world ignored us, and only terrible events (such as the June '90 miners demonstration in Bucharest) made the news. While other ex-communist countries benefit plenty from international support, we feel that the Iron Curtain was only moved a short distance eastwards. It has been replaced by a barrier between the rich and the poor, between visa-free travel and humiliating queues in front of Western embassies, and between media coverage and total ignorance. It is difficult for us to understand why.
We have never ceased to consider ourselves as Europeans, and wish to be treated as such. We are Christians, descendants of the Romans, and our language is closely related to French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Western countries have assimilated scores of natives from Africa, Asia and elsewhere so why is it so difficult to include our people in the great European family? During my first trip to the West, after explaining the hard times we had lived through and how we felt about the lack of (political) intervention from the West, I was asked what the West could do to compensate for it. My answer was, "Let it never happen again'.
Instead of discussing Maastricht and the 'EURO' currency, I feel Europe should prove its unity in practice. By rejecting countries like ours again, the outcome could be a return to those days when, from one side of the Berlin Wall, EU waved PA to RO and Eastern Europe.
Petru Avram, Romania
Western Europe has long advocated the joys of capitalism and democracy. But high levels of unemployment, homelessness, and anti-immigrant violence, coupled with of stream of public scandals and political resignations, have often left ordinary people feeling disillusioned and powerless.
Membership of society is portrayed as the ability to vote and earn a wage. Yet, without a permanent address you can't vote, and without a regular wage you seem valueless. And what of the growing immigrant communities? Clearly, value systems need rethinking.
Practical grass-roots initiatives all over Europe are trying to change society, and it values, from the bottom up. For example, in Belgium, Germany and Austria hundreds of thousands of ordinary people have been mobilised to protest against racist attacks on immigrants. And almost 60 'street papers' hove now sprung up across Europe - paying homeless vendors a commission for selling them.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a job in Berlin. Nearly 300,000 are out of work. Jobs in the electronics industry and the public service sector in particular are being lost as companies are moving out of the city, or reducing the number of staff they employ. Even the previously booming building industry is now offering fewer job opportunities as construction firms prefer to use cheap labour from Southern and Eastern Europe. The situation isn't much better for the rest of Germany. As a whole, its unemployment level is 11 % (4.3 million) and in the Eastern parts they are faced with a level of 18%.
In response to this growing crisis, I started a self-help group called "Jobhunters'. Within this group, unemployed people find encouragement, advice and new ideas to help them find jobs. It serves to support and inspire them in that often discouraging search. Many of our past members have succeeded in finding new jobs or at least further training.
If hands and minds remain unused, we end up with a wasted humankind. What can be done to avoid this? There are the obvious needs of decreasing the cost of employment and working out ways of job sharing. But we must also help the unemployed to get out of isolation and possible depression. Their self-esteem is often low, and they cannot always see the skills they do have. Ideas on how to spend non-paid 'spare-time' usefully - like exploring the second labour market (eg. community work) - are very much needed. It would be good to share our ideas and experience of employment initiatives in Globol Express.
Matthias Freitag, Germany
In the 1990s everything seems to come down to identity. And in Europe, identity seems to come down to history. The self-confidence, which so often comes across to the rest of the world as arrogance, is still visible, and yet beneath it Europe lacks a certain confidence and sense of direction.
As I start to reflect about Europe's future, I realise that to be European does not mean much! Travelling abroad I never tell anybody 'I am European', but 'I am French'.
Our national identity is much stronger than our continental identity. I compare the French character and culture to that of the Germans or British as often as to the Americans or Japanese.
Despite our growing European Union, Europe is still to be created in the minds of all Europeans. The issue at stake is our identity. If people do not want to continue with the European process of 'Unity', it is because they feel their identity is in danger.
This question of identity is crucial because we seem to be a bit lost at this stage of our history - looking for direction and meaning. We have pushed aside the Christian faith which gave us the values on which our society is still based. We realise that the market economy is less and less able to ensure the well being of all, and instead creates exclusion and injustice. And yet, we come from a long history, we are brought up in the middle of an incredibly rich cultural background, and we inherit centuries of thinking and creativity. The
answer can be found in the values inherited from our ancestors.
I believe Europe is not meant to become one of the big powers dominating the rest of the world. Rather, it should maintain and share the richness of its identity and values - a richness that each nation and continent possesses equally.
Christine Jaulmes, France
I can picture the shape of Europe. I have seen it time and again during long geography lessons. I can list the capital cities and perhaps say a few words on each country's history and current situation but that is about it.
'Europe' has until now been a rather abstract concept. Politicians throw it around, and say it represents the future, but in my life it hasn't taken shape. How can I picture 'Europe' when I don't even know the furthest reaches of my own country? We do share history, literature and art, but will this suffice to generate a sense of belonging to each other?
Only once did I feel European. That was in India. My skin colour and clothes singled me out. I spoke English and could have been an Englishman, Dutchman or Swede but they said to me, 'You come from Europe, you are a European'.
I want to explore what else is involved. I already sense the direction in which to look; dismantling the deeply hidden barriers that exist within me because of a history of discord between the countries in Europe - especially between Germany and the others.
Heinz Krieg, Germany
I am a European but does that have any significance, apart from the geographical one, when there is so much to fear, and so many prejudices between the countries that comprise Europe?
I am a Dane, so I make jokes about the Swedes and am critical of the Germans. I fear being in, and outside, the European Union. As for Eastern Europe, it is still so new it has not yet been incorporated into my internal map of Europe.
I am a Dane. But I am a European. I perceive religious people as a minority. I accept it as natural that I should be allowed to travel to any country I wish and be welcomed rather than suspected, and my money can buy much more in the South. From the news, I know much about the war in Bosnia but I only hear about non-European crises when they interfere with European activities. I view our values as the norm.
I am a European. The significance of being a European depends on the aspects one focuses on. For me, the greatest significance is our great potential, the capacity to serve the rest of the world. We have a terrific infrastructure, heaps of knowledge, a good economy generally, well documented history, different cultures close together and time to spare. However, when we get caught up in our internal differences or even our differences with the rest of the world we do not fulfil this potential.
I am a European. I did not ask for it, I did not deserve it, I cannot help it. Wouldn't it be good if we could stop worrying about whether or not we like it and start to make use of it?
Anna Christine Christensen, Denmark
DID YOU KNOW THAT...
...AUSTRIA, BELGIUM, DENMARK, FINLAND, FRANCE, GERMANY, GREECE, IRELAND, ITALY, LUXEMBOURG , THE NETHERLANDS, PORTUGAL, SPAIN, SWEDEN, AND THE UNITED KINGDOM MAKE UP THE EUROPEAN UNION.
...IF THE PRESENT EUROPEAN UNION BECOMES A FEDERAL STATE IT WILL BE THE 3RD LARGEST STATE IN THE WORLD AFTER CHINA AND INDIA.
..."THE AVERAGE LIFE EXPECTANCY OF A DUTCH, FRENCH OR SWEDISH WOMAN (80 YEARS) IS 10 YEARS LONGER THAN THAT OF A RUSSIAN MAN (60 YEARS).
...GERMANY'S FOREIGN NATIONAL DEBT IS 10 TIMES BIGGER, AND FRANCE'S 7 TIMES BIGGER, THAN POLAND'S.
...ONLY 20% OF ROMANIA'S RIVERS ARE CLEAN ENOUGH TO PROVIDE IT WITH DRINKING WATER.
...MILAN HAS THE HIGHEST RECORDED LEVELS OF SULPHUR-DIOXIDE POLLUTION OF ANY CITY IN THE WORLD.
...THERE ARE MORE MUSLIMS (1.72 MILLION) THAN PROTESTANTS (0.8 MILLION) IN FRANCE.
...18 MILLION PEOPLE WITHIN THE EUROPEAN UNION ARE HOMELESS OR IN SUB-STANDARD HOUSING, AND 40 MILLION ARE UNEMPLOYED OUT OF 350 MILLION.
...4000 OF SWEDEN'S 90,000 LAKES ARE SO POLLUTED BY ACID RAIN THAT NO FISH CAN LIVE IN THEM.
...47% OF LIVE BIRTHS IN DENMARK, AND 31% IN THE UK, ARE OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE.
...THERE ARE 7 MILLION RESIDENT FOREIGNERS IN GERMANY, OF WHICH 2 MILLION ARE TURKS AND 1 MILLION ARE YUGOSLAVS.
...0F THE POOREST 2O% OF THE UK POPULATION 95% HAVE A TV, 80% A VIDEO, AND 15% A COMPUTER.
...THERE ARE 50,000 HOMELESS IN ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA.
Compiled by the Editors.
Sources: 'Hutchinson Guide to the World, 1994; 'The Statesman's Yearbook', 1995; 'Britannica Book of the Year', 1994.