What does that mean to be European? What is a European? Is there such thing as a young European? What does the future of the European Union (EU) look like? In his recently published thoughtful book, Une jeunesse européenne from the Editions Grasset (2014), Guillaume Klossa, speaking in the first person, reflects about growing up European, his life as a European citizen and Europeanist.
Klossa is the founder of the excellent pro-Europe French think-thank EuropaNova. As he explains in his book, the idea of the think-thank emerged after the 2002 French Presidential elections bringing the extreme-right wing party, the Front National, at the forefront of French politics. Clearly, French and European politics have never been the same since the turn of the new century. The most recent elections for the European Parliament demonstrate the rise of populism and extremism throughout the Union. Europe is facing a serious malaise.
This little book is refreshing in its tone, structure, arguments, and ideas as Klossa clearly demonstrates the deep connection between the European experiment and European lives. Traveling throughout the Union, the message tends to be, ‘what has Europe done for me?’ Well, Guillaume Klossa puts succinctly and clearly what Europe has done for him, and ultimately for all of us. Yes, the European experiment can be a little far, complex, and blurry. But, the integration process of a group of Member States starting in the aftermath of World War two has certainly been one of the most fascinating human and political endeavors in the history of humanity. Sixty years later, the Union is a success story. For instance, war has not occurred among European Great Powers – it is necessary to underscore the vicious wars in the Balkans during the 1990s – and each Member of the Union has greatly benefitted from it despite the growing euroskeptic domestic narratives. Certainly the 2007 global crisis causing, by snowball effect, the Eurozone crisis has led to a severe criticism of the Union. But are the Eurozone and Union imperfections caused by the Union or by its Member States? Klossa discusses this question in his book and work produced by EuropaNova.
A recurring theme appears in Klossa’s narrative about the concept of the future and the power of our generations – meaning the ones after the Baby-Boomer raised in the 70s, 80s, and 90s – to take action, and shape our own future. Naturally, the future ought to include a reformed and rethought European Union. Klossa wonders about why our generation has not done more. He asks if a revolution would have been necessary (p. 181) and answers maybe. But he claims that it may have not been possible because our generation is too “well-raised, too polite, and always waiting for the next elections hoping that the new leaders reorient a more ambitious and creative direction” (p. 181). Klossa is right on.
This argument of generational politics has become an important theme in studying the shaping of politics in the Euro-Atlantic community and explaining why the US has a more isolationist foreign policy and Europe has a high level of abstentionism among European youth. For instance, Paul Taylor of the excellent American polling center, Pew Research Center, recently published a book, The Next America, looking at the Millennials in order to understand the future of America (see a more in-depth analysis on the The Next America). Based on the book and politics, one can understand the rising lack of interests in politics in the US. But is the same phenomenon occurring in Europe? I would tend to argue yes, and Klossa demonstrates in some ways how our generation can deal with its current challenges: high unemployment, lack of upward mobility, decline of the welfare state and so on.
How do the youth of Europe become a European youth? Through the creation of a European culture – which already exists – and through its perpetual deepening and understanding. One of the greatest European policies has been the Erasmus program (here is the official webpage), an exchange program for European university students established in 1987. As argued by Klossa, Erasmus has permitted to develop empathy, mutual understanding, and
adaptation (p. 129). These factors developed through Erasmus has certainly contributed to the fostering of a European youth, a European identity. Erasmus has made the EU a reality.
This reflective book may have one core problem: the narrator and the Europeans selected and described throughout the book are all extremely well-educated. Guillaume Klossa figures as one of the top scholars and experts in France on the European Union. His family heritage, his education and his social networks (chapter 3) demonstrates a deep sense of Europeanness and understanding of his democratic heritage. His ‘true’ European youth through his voyages, education and experiences have most likely deepened his degree of Europeanness. What about the rest? What about the lower European classes and their children? The point is not about expressing jealousy, but rather a reflection on the class of Europeans being able to experience such sense of Europeanness. I can certainly relate to Guillaume Klossa having studied in France and the United States and getting to know and appreciate my European heritage, while abroad.
Ultimately, one can wonder about one central question in order to reflect on the future of the EU: Is the European project an elitist experiment? With the recent rise of populism, extremisms and regionalism throughout the Union it seems that the pro-Europeans may belong to this sort of European intelligentsia, while the pro-state to a lower socio-economic class. Klossa’s argument on having our generation in shaping our future is very important, but it needs to include a common narrative, common vision allowing to encompass all Europeans. Historically, the development of the EU has been from a top-down approach, the EU of tomorrow needs to inverse this recurring trend.(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).