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The contradiction of European democracy is that while citizens are freer, they feel more powerless towards global developments
The contradiction of European democracy is that while citizens are freer, they feel more powerless towards global developments
Daniel Dettling*

-OpEd-

BERLIN — The late Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a great European who led Germany through its unification, was wrong. European integration is no longer "irreversible." Today, in 2019, disintegration is the declared goal of many member states. It is dependency, not independence, that has until now made Europe strong. For the future, Europe does not need a Declaration of Independence, but a Declaration of Interdependence.

The contradiction of European democracy is that while citizens are freer, they feel more powerless towards global developments such as migration, climate change and digitization. Populists take advantage of this fear of the future. They promise their constituents identity and intimacy, feeling and belonging and a return to the alleged "good old days."

But a return to the past would be fatal. Europe would continue to lose sovereigntyvis-a-vis the U.S., China and Russia, politically, economically and socially. Citizens don't want "no Europe," but they want a different one — a Europe that gives them back control over their lives. This requires a new balance of sovereignty, democracy, subsidiarity and solidarity.

What about an Interrail pass for EU youth?—Photo: ::ErWin

Europe must be more "sovereign" in facing global challenges such as migration, climate, terror and digitization. Europe will have to think bigger and wider as the U.S. withdraws from the continent and powers such as China and India become stronger globally.

Above all, "sovereign" are those who decide to pursue a policy of cooperation and equality rather than a policy of unilateralism and coercion; those who protect their citizens. With the new security situation in the world, a common defense and energy union is on the agenda, as is a European asylum authority and joint border police.

Second, the EU must become more democratic. The European model in the digital age is not data capitalism (like in the U.S.) or data authoritarianism (like in China), but a social digital market economy. However, Europe has completely relinquished control of algorithms to private American companies.

The biggest supporters of the EU nowadays are young people.

The director of Bayerischer Rundfunk public radio, Ulrich Wilhelm, has recently proposed a European digital infrastructure in response to the U.S. and Chinese platforms to defend European values and rules in the digital space. Germany and France should get it started.

The European response to globalization is not superstate or national state, but subsidiarity. The future of democracy is decided in the regions, cities and local communities. Mayors and regional politicians are the bearers of a European movement for inclusion, environmental protection and new mobility. The answer to the global struggle for the best ideas and minds is a European network of partnerships between cities, schools and universities.

Fourth, solidarity must become stronger. The biggest supporters of the EU nowadays are young people. Three suggestions: Every European should live in another EU country for at least half a year during school. Every EU citizen should receive an Interrail pass for their 18th birthday. Every young woman and every young man should carry out civil or military service in a EU member state before the age of 25.

Fifteen years ago, U.S. economist Jeremy Rifkin predicted the slow death of the "American dream" and the emergence of a European one. Instead of being afraid of its own maturity, Europe should embark on a new enlightenment.

Europe can stand for a second Renaissance if it uses its opportunities — confident and in command.


*Daniel Dettling is the founder of the Zukunftspolitik think tank.

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