At a graduation ceremony at Charles University several summers ago, Maart Lar of Estonia addressed this question and answered that the future of Europe depended on whether the direction of change was toward the New Europe or the Old Europe. The New Europe offered freedom and new possibilities, the Old Europe alternatively offered protectionism and bureaucracy. Unfortunately, France and Germany pull the EU toward the Old Europe and not the New Europe.
Last Thursday night Anthony Evans and I attended Timothy Garton Ash's talk on Europe and Freedom. I have been reading Ash with great benefits since the 1980s and find his intellectual project of writing the "history of the present" to be inspiring. When I first read him I had the experience of wishing I could possess his skill with the written word and his insight into the revolutionary changes we all witnessed in 1989 and 1991.
Garton Ash is now a professor at Oxford and a well known political journalist. His talk reflected his latest project which is to persuade his audience (whether through spoken or written word) of the powerful role that Europe could play in the world-wide battle for freedom. Europe, he contends, must replace the US as the beacon of freedom. At the LSE talk he gave the following core claims of the European freedom project:
1. rule of law
2. religious toleration
3. independent media
4. agenda for development assistance to the 3rd world
5. cannot separate the means of attaining freedom from the ends of freedom; as the polish dissident Adam Michnik said during the Solidarity movement -- 'Those who start the revolution by storming the bastile, will end up being hung at the bastile.'
6. No stable democracies go to war with one another --- support stable democracies
7. Humility -- find value in alternative civilizations
The challenge for Europe with regard to freedom is how to move from the politics of invitation, induction and inclusion, to a politics of dealing with neighbors who are not members of the EU and who will not be offered membership to the EU.
This is especially important for Europe's dealings with Turkey and Russia --- which are in a fundamental sense the two countries in Europe where Europe fades away as one moves further into the respective countries. The freedom story of Europe, Garton Ash insisted, is one of peace and reconcillation. In telling this story, there will be a variety of stories that must be told and numerous sins that must be forgiven.
It is not clear to me that Garton Ash has a compelling story to tell. The concerns of Maart Lar are very real.
My favorite part of Garton Ash's talk was in the remarks leading up to his talk when he was explaining the task of the historian of the present. He argued that when a politician speaks we expect him to tell stories, but we neither expect these stories to be factual or true. When a novelist writes, when they are a good novelists, they tell us stories that are true, but we don't expect them to be factual. But when we read a historian of the present, we expect that historian to be factual, and if he/she is a good historian the stories will be both factual and true.
Story-telling is what we do in the human sciences, but Garton Ash hit the nail right on the head in stating that our stories must be factual and if we are good social scientists they will also be true.
Unfortunately for Garton Ash -- who is an outstanding historian and writer -- his story about Europe and Freedom might string together facts, but it doesn't ring true.