Europe Day and the battle for Europe

Did you know that 9th May is Europe Day? You’d be excused if you didn’t. Much like Earth Day (22nd April) and Human Rights Day (10th December), Europe Day often goes missing amidst traditional celebrations of religious and national days. But with Europe representing such a significant part of our lives, does Europe Day deserve greater fanfare? I dare say yes.

By André Wilkens

André Wilkens is Director of the European Cultural Foundation. The European Cultural Foundation strengthens European sentiment by developing and supporting cultural initiatives that let us share, experience and imagine Europe.

26 Apr 2023

The European Union represents a modern day miracle. We used to be enemies but are now allies, even friends. We have lived in peace for almost 80 years, something which is historically new for Europe. We live comparably well and support each other. We base ourselves on universal values and have created laws and institutions which protect those values. We have wonderful cultures, heritage and landscapes. We have world leading football teams and we have Eurovision. Overall, there is a fair amount to celebrate.

Of course, we are also faced with many problems and challenges. We carry big historical burdens. But we are facing the problems, challenges and coping with the burdens that come from them together. The modern era shines a light on perhaps the most successful period in our long European history. It is a miracle.

But Europe is under attack. A battle for Europe is raging, with the outcome likely to have global implications. As a united, supranational, cooperative Europe, we have the potential to be a progressive model for the world. The fact that Europe is a place of arrival for many proves this. But we are under attack from those who seek to divide us and undermine our values.

The battle lines are drawn. Opposing us are those who want to re-nationalise, isolate, and return Europe to a bygone era of interstate hostility. They fear a unified Europe and seek to disrupt our progress. From within, we are confronted by nationalists such as Orban, Kaczynski, Le Pen, Meloni, and the Alternative für Deutschland. From outside, we are challenged by Putin, Xi Jingping, Erdogan and Trump.

With Europe representing such a significant part of our lives, does Europe Day deserve greater fanfare? I dare say yes.

André Wilkens, Director of the European Cultural Foundation

Since February 2022, this battle is being fought not just with words, but also with tanks and rockets. Digital manipulation, propaganda and fake news have been used to prepare and incite conflict.

Russia is deploying its brutal military, cyber army and energy resources. Trump has divided America and may still be a threat to cooperation with Europe. China is playing its economic cards skilfully to divide and rule. Erdogan is using refugees and Turkey’s NATO membership to put pressure on Europe.

The majority of Europeans do not yet understand that a global systemic struggle is playing out in Europe. The outcome of this will have consequences worldwide. It seems we have forgotten the incredible miracle of rebuilding today's Europe from the ruins of hatred and violence through sharing and reconciliation. This Europe is not perfect but it is the best Europe we have ever made. This is what is at stake.

5 point plan for the future of Europe

2022 showed that Europeans can pull together in times of difficulty. We are definitely learning to cope and unite, but more action is needed.

First, we must acknowledge the gravity of the situation and defend Europe mentally, culturally, and, if necessary, physically. We must mobilise our resources and unite against our enemies. We must support Ukraine and recognise that its fate is connected to the fate of Europe.

Second, we must have confidence in our modern, supranational European model. This includes our culture of sharing and compromising. We need to celebrate Europe with a European holiday and honour the everyday heroes of Europe.

Third, we need a strategic defence plan fit for 21st century Europe. We need to balance hard security like military, energy, and infrastructure with soft power like culture, media, and education. We must invest in a European digital platform which is open, safe and free to break down national filter bubbles and foster a European public sphere. We must invest in culture to allow Europeans of all backgrounds to help shape this public sphere.

Fourth, climate and environmental policies must be at the forefront of European policy. We must implement the European Green Deal and transition to renewable energy to combat climate change and secure our energy independence from dangerous and corrupt fossil states. The cultural sector plays an important role in helping us to imagine these futures.

Fifth, we must mobilise people and resources for the battle for Europe. We must form coalitions, identify danger, name our enemies, and draw the lines. We must be prepared to defend Europe by all means necessary.

If we win this battle, we must learn from it to ensure that Europe is stable and resilient, at both a supranational and local level. Europe belongs to all Europeans. To make people realise this, we need reforms that put people and the planet at the centre of our policies. We need to continue to fight for a better Europe. We shall succeed.

In this spirit, let us celebrate Europe Day!