Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou: enough said of economy. Europe needs a soul

Last week in Brussels, at the initiative of European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, a meeting was held to find Europe a new narrative. Why is it needed? Read reasons listed to Urve Eslas by Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

Why does Europe need a new narrative? What happened to the old one?

I would say we need to rearrange the European narrative. When the European Union project was launched, the reason was our desire for peace, stability, solidarity. For some reason, that vision is now fading. Many Europeans feel that peace and stability is for granted. The idea no longer lights the flame in people. And, with some people, that’s the way it is – younger Europeans have never experienced war. Which is good, of course. But, at the same time, they have lots of other worries: worry for the future, worries for jobs, worries for losing their jobs. The uncertainty breeds desperation. In their desperation, they blame politicians. The image of politics has suffered a lot. Which makes politicians vulnerable to populism, at places linked to racism-mindedness.

How do we offer the people a new European idea, stirring their hearts again? How to get people involved again? How to give Europe back the soul that it has lost? With the European project, the human aspect has, up to now, remained at the sidelines.

Travelling in Europe, I have met scientists, thinkers, artists, writers, musicians, intellectuals from other walks of life. They know about spiritual cooperation, have travelled and seen the world, know how differing cultures, tongues, arts, ways of thinking can work together.

Only they may have a vision for the new European narrative. They need to be involved, for only they can create the new narrative, put it into words.

That is quite a radical change. Right now, in people’s minds, the European Union rather means collective economy, policy, bureaucracy.

Yes, this is sad but true. But I’m not sure that’s what Europe needs. We are not only economy, politics and bureaucracy. Or, more precisely, we are not all that first of all. Europe was born out of philosophy, culture, science. I would like for us to be reminded what Jean Monnet said back then: should I start the European project from the scratch again, I’d start with culture.

Culture is what unites people. The more so in Europe, with such cultural diversity. We ought to encourage and support our cultural diversity, for that is what makes Europe special.

Up to now, thinkers and culture personalities have felt rather second class, in Europe. As the economic crisis hit, the cuts in universities started from the humanities; in governments, cultural budgets were cut back.

That’s a pity. Europe needs its thinkers. When in need of an idea, it must be sought for at the source of ideas. Not in economy, but in philosophy. We have to get used to thinking outside the box, the familiar. Enough said of economy. Enough.

But, in the end, won’t it still be the money talking – not the ideas? Even for the very lack of money. Or not having enough of it.

At today’s meeting, we gathered thinkers, scientists, artists, writers. And this was just the first meeting of its kind. We’ll be meeting again, many times, to find the new narrative and to put it into words. To start with, we have the idea that it’s needed. The meetings that follow will tell us were the idea leads us.