The Shared Values of Europe are the Values of the West : Heinrich August Winkler in Die Welt : European Union Urgently Needs to Develop a "We-Feeling"

Surely one of the most perspicacious analysts of the European Union is Heinrich August Winkler (German bio, English bio), until March 2007 Professor of Contemporary History at the Humboldt University of Berlin, who has a superb article in the December 27, 2007 issue of Die Welt (online in German).

As written about Professor Winkler by the German Historical Institute:

Prof. Winkler has been a Kennedy Memorial Fellow at Harvard University; a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., and a fellow of Berlin’s Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg).

Winkler is also the author of:

Auf ewig in Hitlers Schatten? Über die Deutschen und ihre Geschichte (Forever In Hitler’s Shadow? Concerning the Germans and Their History, a seminal work unfortunately available only in German);
Germany: The Long Road West (in English by Oxford University Press, 2006) in which author Winkler:

follows the West’s long path to the division of power, the inalienable rights of humankind, and pluralistic democracy. At the end is a plea to the listener to understand the political culture of the West as “Streitkultur,” as a culture of conflict. Transatlantic controversies about political conclusions, a result of western values, are necessary again and again. It’s really a matter of the interpretation of values that both sides understand as obligatory.

In his “Die Welt” article, which we translate as The Values of Europe are the Values of the West: Why the European Union Urgently Needs to Develop a “We-Feeling”, Winkler identifies some of the cardinal problems facing the EU specifically and Europe generally.

  • Among these problems, and above all is the current lack of a feeling of togetherness in Europe, the lack of a “we-feeling”, which is fundamentally necessary for what Winkler calls “Project Europe” to succeed in the long term.
  • Moreover, this lack of a “we-feeling” is being exacerbated by a – too hasty – territorial expansion of the European Union which is proceeding at a faster pace than a corresponding – and absolutely essential – understanding of that expansion by European citizens, not only from a historical perspective, but also in terms of contemporary events and foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future developments. Winkler urges further necessary consolidation of the EU already formed, before any further expansion takes place, since this would only counteract such a consolidation at the present time (see in this regard euro|topics).
  • Winkler also points to the power of the executive in the Europe Union as “taking on a life of its own” as institutions such as the European Commission and the Council of the European Union increasingly dominate EU affairs, to the detriment of the European Parliament and the EU’s judicial organs, a phenomenon which Winkler compares to Karl Marx’s characterization of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III), under whose rule, as written in the Wikipedia:

    New constitutional statutes were passed which officially maintained an elected Parliament and reestablished universal male suffrage. However, the Parliament now became irrelevant as real power was completely concentrated in the hands of Louis-Napoléon and his bureaucracy.

It is a direction which the European Union, following the French tradition, also appears in part to be taking under the currently dominant EU executive-based bureaucracy.

Winkler’s primary thesis in his Die Welt article is that Europe alone is not “the West”, as used in common parlance, but that “the West” transcends Europe and includes not only and especially the transatlantic connection to the United States of America and its modern-era concepts of “representative government”, “checks and balances” and “the rule of law”, but also extends to lands of the Occident which historically share the West European legal tradition, but who must battle the burden of their periods of previous Byzantine and Osmanic oppression.

Winkler says that the job of “Project Europe” can not be built by the “political class” alone, but that European consolidation can only be achieved if the civil population, the intellectuals, the scientists and the writers/commentators all understand Europe to be their project as well. Indeed, this posting at LawPundit is one small contribution to this effort.

Winkler asks all of those named groups to work to create “a commonly shared European public sphere,” which has been identified as follows by publisher Routledge in describing a book edited by John Erik Fossum and Philip R Schlesinger, The European Union and the Public Sphere:

The European Union is often attacked for its ‘democratic deficit’, namely its deficiencies in representation, transparency and accountability, as well as its lack of popular support. Can these shortcomings be counteracted by the development of a viable European public sphere?

This book assesses the possible formation of a communicative space that might enable and engender the creation of a transnational or a supranational public. The contributors consider the EU’s democratic credentials and how well it communicates, and they also evaluate the major institutions and their links to general publics.

The European Union and the Public Sphere emphasizes a ‘deliberative democratic’ perspective on the public sphere, addressing some key questions:

• What are the prospects for a European public sphere?
• Should we think in terms of the EU having a single public sphere, or are overlapping public spheres a more viable option?
• What do this book’s findings on the question of the public sphere tell us about the EU as a political entity?

Students and scholars of European democracy, political communication, and the politics of institutions will all be greatly interested by this book.”

Put into straight language, what Winkler is arguing in his Die Welt article is that it is going to take a massive effort far beyond the EU institutions to get the people of Europe to adopt a “we-feeling” as Europeans, rather than seeing themselves as “nationals” belonging to a loose confederation of largely sovereign States with whom their own State shares some superficial commonalities.

Winkler sees the “shared value system” of “the West” as the primary common ground for the Member States of the European Union. In the last analysis, that is most certainly the glue required to establish a more unified Europe in the long-term. Shared values — and their effective communication in the European public sphere — are the key to the future consolidation of Europe. Those shared values also mark the limits of European Union expansion.