On the European Impossibility — A lesson learned in America

Written by Dimitris Tsingos[i]

Washington DC, USA
03/03/2018

It was my second time in Washington DC — four and a half years after having had the pleasure of attending the International Visitors Leadership Program, organized by the State Department, this time I was honored with the Marshall Memorial Fellowship by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (which by the way does some truly amazing job in strengthening the Trans-Atlantic relationship).

As it often is the case with these leadership program, after a very intensive day with interesting workshops and heated debates, we took a walk to see the city; from the White House we walked to the Washington Memorial and from there all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, observing the monuments of honor and respect for the founding fathers of the American nation as well as for the hundreds of thousands of citizens who made the ultimate sacrifice in response to the calls of their country.

I tried to think how North America was in the 18th century; how limited power these people had in comparison to the glorious British Empire. I guess that everyone likes freedom, however often the circumstances simply do not allow for fighting for it — in those cases, people face the impossible.

What is even more intriguing though is the very constitution of the American nation and how has it evolved over the centuries; starting with settlers from England, France, Netherlands and Germany. Receiving later huge waves of immigration from Ireland, Italy and Greece. Continuing with immigrants from most, if not all, of the European nations, Asia and, very importantly Africa. The latter is of utmost importance and African-Americans indeed shaped the United States as the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, through their ongoing fight for human rights, equality and inclusion — having its victorious foundations in the American Civil War and continuing to win smaller and larger battles each and every day.

How possible then was it in the late 18th century to be a settler in the New World and to stand on your own feet, fighting for freedom against the absolute super-power of the era; Even more, how possible was it to form a new national identity having a population from countries which had brutally fought against each other for centuries? On top of that, how possible was it in the most critical moment to fight for the equality of those who were not even considered as human being by your own political opponents?

The answer in all these three question is consistently the same: It was absolutely impossible. Still, it did happen.

The 20th century definitely was not a good one for Europe; the continent got burnt twice by the flames of brutal, merciless wars, which evolved to what is known as the 1st and 2nd World War. The results of this insanity were horrific: Millions of lives were lost, several generations of human beings were tremendously affected; countries were completely destroyed; economic and social constructs were demolished; glorious European nations that had been leading the world for centuries fell into miserable decline.

What was the European response to this unprecedented crisis? The European Union.

The founding fathers of the supranational institution which is nowadays known as the “EU” had a very clear vision: Europe had to be united for some very obvious reasons: Make sure that the tragedy of the war in Europe will never be repeated again; Create the economies of scale which will help all of the European nations to prosper; Make Europe relevant again in the global geopolitical arena. Have no doubt: The EU’s founding fathers had clearly envisioned a federal future, have definitely dreamt of the creation of a new nation.

The journey however has been anything but easy. The WW2 was succeeded by the Cold War, which divided Europe and harmed all of the European nations. The Western bloc had to protect its interests and it was not uncommon to do so in a very harsh and often unfair manner, resulting to the well-known feelings of anti-americanism in several European countries, primarily in the South. Eastern Europe had some very hard time in the so-called Soviet bloc and hundreds of millions of people went into decline and poverty — again. Europe did not have a strong voice, did not even have a single voice, let alone that was extremely vulnerable to divide-and-conquer tactics coming from both the opponents of the Cold War.

However, slowly but steadily, Europe went onto a track of unity. The European Union became a reality which nowadays is largely shaping the lives of half a billion Europeans. The process is far from being complete of course, but several important steps have been taken already. The Erasmus generation is a reality, a new nation is under formation and will completely change the dynamics.

People of course complain. They complain for several reasons, most of the times very good ones. They often complain against what they perceive as “the EU”, however if one dives into the problem, it will become evident that people in essence want more Europe. They want a stronger monetary policy. They want a more solid fiscal policy. They want better health system, better education, more safety and more investments. They want stronger defense and more influential foreign policy. What people want, is a stronger EU, which has to move closer to realizing the vision of its founding fathers.

Then comes the fear. It doubtlessly is a time of significant change for Europe. The step of pooling our sovereignties together, the step of moving powers from national to federal institutions (as well as of revoking certain powers from the EU back to the Member States), the step of realizing the federal structure is indeed a very difficult one — undoubtedly involving some risk too.

The most natural reaction of all when it comes to change, is fear. It’s not surprising then that many Europeans are afraid of change and this fear drives the increase of nationalistic and xenophobic powers in several European countries.

Which should then be the response of young leaders in this emerging situation? What should we do now that the benefits of the Union are clearer than ever before, now that it is getting obvious that the peoples of Europe actually want what the Union shall bring, but at the same time fear seems to become dominant at many levels?

During the Washington DC seminars of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship I’ve shared with many of the Fellows my vision for the European Federal Union, as it was articulated at the “Rome Manifesto” — of which I am a proud co-author. The reaction of my fellow European consistently followed this pattern:

It is a beautiful idea, indeed. It would be so nice if that vision could be realized; unfortunately though Europe is too diverse; we are so different that our union cannot be as deep and efficient as in the US. Unfortunately, uniting Europe to a federation is impossible”.

I frankly have incredible respect for my fellow European Marshall Memorial Fellows who expressed that opinion. They are extremely smart and intelligent human being; with great drive and motivation for making the World a better place and truly wanting to make progress happen; they just assess the situation objectively and conclude that the evolution of the EU to a European Federal Union is indeed, impossible.

My response is clear: Please look at George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Please see how a new nation was formed and how a societal, political and military battle was won for a higher cause. Look how the new American nation has been created as a live organization integrating peoples from all around the Globe on the basis of respect for shared values and principles.

We must do nothing different in Europe. We have to decide to unite and to proceed with realizing the European Federal Union. I admit it: It feels impossible. What is “impossible” though? Impossible is a fear. Impossible is a reaction. At the end of the day, impossible is just an opinion. Kudos to the marketers, Adidas got it right: Impossible is nothing.

It’s true that few European are excited with the EU today. It seems slow-moving, costly and hesitant. There’s a general feeling that elites dominate the political process and, putting it politely, that some Member States are more equal than the others. The room of improvement is clearly huge.

However, we need to look back and see how Europe was before the EU. How Europe was in the beginning of the 20th century and which political strategies resulted to the unprecedented tragedies of WW1 and WW2. The EU is far from perfect, yet is the best we’ve ever done in this continent. Human beings tend to be forgetful, it is then a duty of the leadership to simply remind the facts to the public.

What in any case is clear, is the following: We are on a cross-road and we have to move. Staying still is not an option. The dilemma is whether shall we go forward and evolve the EU to the European Federal Union, a new super-power of peace, prosperity, justice and equality, or will we go backwards towards a super-fragmented tiny geographical area of which the best-case scenario will be to become the World’s open-air museum for international tourists.

Inspired by how Americans achieved the impossible, I say we’d better go forward.

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[i] Dimitris Tsingos is a spring 2018 Marshall Memorial Fellow. Born in Athens, Greece, Dimitris is a serial tech entrepreneur and early stage investor. H served as President of Yes for Europe — European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs from 2011 to 2015 and has co-authored the “Rome Manifesto” calling for the evolution of the EU into the European Federal Union.

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