By moving peacefully beyond state sovereignty towards shared sovereignty as a way to achieve lasting peace, the European project, despite its many flaws, is the only geopolitical construction that offers a positive message for the 21st century.
When the French Parliament rejected the idea of a European Defence Community in 1954, the creation of the single market was to be Europe’s lifeline. But what once saved Europe has gradually dragged it down. Europe now represents the soft underbelly of economic globalisation.
Europe has opted for globalisation in the limited sense and neglected the broader implications, seeing only the creation of a single global market and not the irreversible, interdependent relationships between the world’s societies and the biosphere.
We are now bearing witness to the consequences of such a mistake, which has made us unable to address the challenges that affect us all: inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, and irreversible damage to the biosphere.
When a society or an individual accepts only a limited amount of responsibility for the situation we are in today, societies end up in a situation of unlimited irresponsibility. It is this irresponsibility that threatens to cause their collapse. Everyone is aware of this. The alarm bells are ringing louder and louder, and yet no serious collective action is taking shape.
Europe once lit the path towards modernity. Can it turn the 21st century into the new Age of Enlightenment? Can it find solutions to the four challenges of the 21st Century and propose them to the world? This is what many expect. If Europe wants to, if it dares to take the steps required, the European project will become an epic journey again for its younger generations, a pioneering force in the world.
Challenge Number 1, revolutionise governance: profoundly rethink the way our societies are managed
All the pivotal issues on which our future depends cut across global, regional, national and local levels. The transition that we need to make happen is systemic, forcing us to abandon a silo approach to policies and move towards a comprehensive approach to problems.
The current crisis of democracy highlights how much it needs to be reinvented. Citizens need to be feel part of it in a new way, with deliberative democracy becoming the dominant form of governance.
Europe needs to set up Federalism 2.0: this is no longer about sovereignty, but about multi-level governance, where common principles and specified outcomes are collectively defined, with each country, each region offering solutions that are adapted to their own context, their own traditions and their own specific character.
The new guidelines for developing European policies, adopted in October 2018, represents a step in the right direction, making active subsidiarity the foundation of the European Union. We need to support and implement these guidelines. Indeed, Europe must play a big role in the big issues, and a minor role in the minor ones.
The European Committee of the Regions’ proposal to hold an annual citizens’ panel in different regions in order to discuss the EU’s main policies also represents a step forward.
Money and the economy should also be managed through multi-level governance and the principle of active subsidiarity. The Europe in which we currently live, with 40,000 norms and a single market that is significantly more unified than the American market and yet which lacks a cohesive political power, will soon be a thing of the past.
We need to develop regional and local currencies so as to encourage people to buy local. We need to foster the development of local markets and encourage local distribution networks.
We need to focus on the local as the proper scale to manage complexity as well as reconcile unity and diversity. We need to enable the public and private spheres to work together for the sake of the common good. We need to design the governance of the future.
Challenge Number 2, promote common values both at European and global level
Human rights aren’t enough. They don’t address the crucial issues of our time; that of the relationships between human beings, between societies, and between humanity and the biosphere.
The 21st century will be the century of responsibility. In any given community, each individual is accountable towards others for the impact of his or her actions. This must also be true for both the European community and the global community.
Disasters are brewing; we all have a role in them and yet no one feels responsible. The time has come to make responsibility the cornerstone of our societies.
We need to work towards a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, which would complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and would redefine responsibility in light of climate change and the interdependent nature of our existence in the 21st century.
By adopting a European Charter of Responsibility, and applying it to the fields of education, research, politics, the economy and finance, Europe will become a pioneering force, as it was in 1950 when it adopted human rights.
Challenge Number 3, radically rethink our economic models
We need to jump back to the future by shifting from the economy to the oeconomy – which was the common spelling of the word up until the eighteenth century. Oeconomy was the art of wisely drawing on the earth’s scarce resources for the well-being of all.
There can’t be an oeconomy without sustainable regions or sustainable global production chains.
For Europe this means renegotiating international trade agreements, basing them on promoting sustainable production chains; it means a new form of local governance; it means negotiable regional fossil fuel quotas; it means using distinct currencies to promote human labour, which unites us, and curb fossil fuel consumption, which is destroying us.
Challenge Number 4, build awareness that we are a community united by a common destiny both at European and global level
Without this awareness, we won’t be able to make the necessary sacrifices or orchestrate the collaborative action required to build a world in which we can live.
In order for Europeans to gain this awareness and become a European people, which European institutions, the single market and a single currency have all failed to achieve, a citizens’ foundational process needs to be instigated as soon as possible after the European elections. This 18-month process should be backed by European regions and take advantage of the web-like network formed by twinned towns and regions.
Regional citizens’ panels should be held throughout Europe, followed by dialogue between these panels, in order to establish a new vision of Europe.
In order for a world community to emerge, one that is aware of its common destiny, Europe needs to promote new forms of dialogue with other regions of the world.
We can no longer leave it to traditional diplomats, with their outdated vision of the world – one which is based on the respective interests of sovereign states – to manage dialogue between societies.
Let us together create, with the people of Africa, China, India and America, what Mikhaïl Gorbatchev called, in his 1988 speech at the UN, our Common Home.
If Europe is able to rise to the challenge of these four objectives, it can reconnect with the true meaning of its history.
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