The European dream in times of crisis

Jeremy Rifkin and Rajeev Bhargava

The time has come to have a look at the status quo. Has the European dream become an utopia? Is Europe getting smaller? What are the implications, consequences, risks and opportunities? Which steps could be taken in order to strengthen it again? And how is Europe perceived in other continents today? Jeremy Rifkin, author of The European Dream, and Indian professor and political scientist Rajeev Bhargava provide a perspective on the current state of Europe both from the United States and from Asia. Journalist and independent expert Mia Doornaert chairs the debate.

The longer the European debt crisis carries on, the more the European dream seems to turn into a nightmare. Every development of the crisis seems to tear Europe further apart. Originally, the European monetary union was meant to be a blessing that should promote growth and multiply Europe’s economic but also its political power. After the creation of the single market, the common currency was the next step towards a political union. For decades, European integration seemed to work. Now the crisis is also fraying Europe’s politics. The hope of forging a common European identity has given way to greater national assertiveness, even chauvinism and far right-wing parties are gathering strength with anti-immigrant and anti-EU polemics.

What will happen if Europeans do not succeed in overcoming the systemic shortcomings of the “federal currency” by building a federal Union? Would this bring about a complete collapse of the EU and the “united in diversity” dream?

Back in 2004, Jeremy Rifkin (photo) published his book The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. Rifkin described Europe as an economic superpower rivaling the United States. He observed that Europe had become a giant laboratory for rethinking humanity’s future.

According to Rifkin, the European Dream was, in many respects, the mirror opposite of the American Dream. While the American Dream emphasized economic growth and individual opportunity, the European Dream focused more on sustainable development, and the quality of life. He observed that Americans emphasised the work ethic whereas Europeans placed more of a premium on balancing work and leisure. According to Rifkin, America had always seen itself as a great melting pot. Europeans, instead, preferred to preserve their rich multicultural diversity. Americans believed in maintaining a strong military presence in the world. Europeans, by contrast, emphasised economic cooperation and consensus over traditional geo-political approaches to foreign policy. Particularly, he argued that the European Union had the potential to become a world super power and that the European model was better-prepared to face the challenges of a globalizing world in the 21st century than the American equivalent.

Is Europe’s commitment to cultural diversity and peaceful coexistence substantial enough to withstand the crisis the old continent faces? The crisis challenges and tests the people and the vitality and viability of their dream. Rifkin affirms that Americans have already stood the test several times. Already in 2004, he raised the question if Europeans would be able to say the same about their own rather adolescent dream when facing a deep downturn? During this event Jeremy Rifkin will first give a broad update on his version of the European dream. What happened to the European ideals since he first published his book eight years ago? In addition to this American perspective, the Indian professor and political scientist Rajeev Bhargava from New Delhi will complement Mr. Rifkin’s speech, presenting views from India as an emerging market. The debate will be chaired by Mia Doornaert, former journalist of the Belgian newspaper De Standaard and independent expert on international issues.

Getting Smaller* – Dimensions and Perspectives of a shrinking Europe

Further to the series of events started in September 2011, EUNIC in Brussels (European Union National Institutes for Culture) together with the Bertelsmann Foundation in Brussels invites you to the final conference as part of the project Getting Smaller* – Dimensions and perspectives of a shrinking Europe

*Today’s EU is the result of a process lasting over 60 years that has seen member states gradually adapt to new European realities. The concept of Getting Smaller is closely connected to the notion of sharing sovereignty and decision making-responsibilities. Today, such notions are becoming increasingly important as economic crises, geopolitical shifts and questions about language and identity put new strains on the EU. The ability to take example from the longer standing member states and the decisions, good and bad, they have taken in the past, seems to be vital. Can we turn these new European realities to our advantage and how? Which strategies would enable us to make good use of our experience of Getting Smaller?

EUNIC in Brussels & Bertelsmann Stiftung Foundation also cordially invite you to the workshops part of Getting Smaller - Determinants on a shrinking Europe:

29 November, Goethe Institute

  • Workshop on Concepts of Power, 14:30 > 15:45

Since the end of the Cold War, the strategic and security-political role of Europe in the world has been subject to dramatic change. After the period of East-West bipolarity and a seemingly short interim of absolute American dominance, a new polycentric division into major blocks in the world became apparent. Not only did we witness the rise of new, ambitious power(s) such as the BRICS but we saw the formation of regional “Great Powers”, like, Turkey and Iran, who geographically are European neighbours.

In this context, analogous to the economic and demographic situation, Europe is not getting stronger but has to struggle for the protection of its interests in the global game for the future distribution of power.

Which security scenarios do we have for the future, including for instance questions of border security of the EU, and future enlargement or alternatives thereto? Which new threats do we need to address, and can we offer any smart solutions? How can the frequently mentioned shift from “hard to soft and smart power” be embedded in security-politically reliable strategies in order to avoid greater risks? Finally, to what extent does European integration need to be deepened and strengthened (including the further pooling of national sovereignty) if we want Europe to play an adequate role in global politics while protecting its values and liberal democracy?

What role will NATO as a Western alliance play within the new constellation of crisis and power in Central Asia and the Pacific Area? And what is the role of Europe within the NATO?

Which concepts and strategies are needed concerning European defense policy? Does a “smarter military power” exist?

To what extent is Europe a role model for other regions and a ‘normative power’ exporting its norms and values? What can Europe learn from other countries and regions?

  • Workshop on Demography and Mobility, 16:15 > 17:30

Although Europe has never been a big continent in terms of its landmass, it was able to secure and maintain a dominant role especially in terms of economic, scientific/technological and also demographic size for over a century. Whether it is considered in relative or absolute terms, one of the most important determining factors for Europe’s position in the world has been demography. Europe’s population is not growing any more. In the best case scenario, it is stagnating and declining vis à vis the rest of the world. An ageing society with a foreseeable decline in its working population means a serious change in a global economy that is programmed for growth.
The simplest and in many places premature answer given to the question about demography equates, for many, to an argument for a quick and structural opening of Europe to migrants from the whole world. Concepts that cut across borders, which include a long-term European policy for qualified and managed immigration, have so far been absent. On the one hand, there already is intense competition between European countries for young and qualified immigration into our education and economic systems today. On the other hand, many of our societies already have enough to do with the sociopolitical and cultural consequences which have emerged from an immigration policy that has been managed to a small extent or not at all managed and whose main rationale has been economic necessity ...
How much of a real threat does demographic development pose to our economic, cultural and social development and to an appropriate role for Europe in the world? Are migration and a goal-targeted immigration policy really the key to solving problems, which have resulted from demographic changes?

30 November, Goethe Institute

  • Workshop on Economy and Ecology, 9:30 > 10:45

The European Union is going through its deepest economic crisis in its history, and economic recovery seems still far away. Europe’s economy is growing very slowly with certain countries experiencing a serious recession. In the longer term, Europe is running short of working population due to demographic change. The continuing budgetary and debt crisis further aggravates the current situation. It is a burden on Europe’s economic recovery, and at the same time threatening one of its key projects, the common currency. The eurozone risks to fall apart as some of its members are having more serious financial problems and it is unclear if the other members can or want to support them.
Since all forecasts for the industrialized world predict at least a decade of extremely modest growth rates, it might be overdue that a shrinking Europe in economic terms fosters the public debate about a more comprehensive and less BIP-related understanding of its citizen’s well-being, putting a much stronger emphasis on issues like resource efficiency and sustainable development in the EU. Another possibility is that the Europeans successfully strive for developing a new economic project which puts the EU again on the forefront of BIP growth – at least in the industrialised world. In this context, one option frequently discussed to maintain or restore Europe’s global economic influence is a New Green Deal merging economy and ecology into one project. Can green technology pave the way for a leading role of Europe in the future global economy, anticipating a growing need for low carbon and sustainable resources, energy and products?

  • Workshop on Dimensions of Culture, 11:15 > 12:30

Europe is known for its diversity in cultures and languages, but in Europe and throughout the world, competence in English is spreading at a pace never before achieved.  Should we welcome this development? Could one vernacular language make Europe stronger as an entity, but also less influential when it comes to spreading the values of multilingualism and respect for diversity? 
Is Europe and its institutions capable to safeguard and promote cultural and linguistic diversity?
Citizens shape their belonging to an imaginary community through information. Is Europe getting smaller because its citizens have trouble identifying themselves with one big, bureaucratic entity?
The bubble of social media cannot leave out the answers to divisive questions: are Facebook, Twitter et alia enhancing freedom of expression? Does social media connect European citizens or deepen the generational gap? Are we one community online or just further cutting the bridges to the real world outside?
Culture opens doors and builds bridges between people all over the world. Culture is a constitutive element of economic and social development. Is Europe still leading the way when it comes to setting the example of democratic values?

Reservations for the 4 workshops at

A EUNIC in Brussels and Bertelsmann Stiftung event with the support of Flagey. deBuren is a member of EUNIC in Brussels.


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