Daniel Cohn-Bendit

We are Europe!

Manifesto for re-building Europe from the bottom up  

A European Year of Volunteering for Everyone – for taxi drivers, for nurses, industrial workers, dentists, teachers, journalists, students, pensioners - as a response to the euro crisis!

The young people of Europe are better educated than ever before. Yet every fourth European under the age of 25 is unemployed. In many places, disenfranchised young people have set up camp and made public protests. Their methods are non-violent but their demand for social justice is very powerful – whether it’s in Spain, Portugal, in the countries of North Africa, in American cities or Moscow. They are united by anger about a political system that rescues banks with eye-watering mountains of debt but squanders the future of young people in the process. If the hopes of Europe's younger generations are sacrificed on the altar of the euro crisis, the European model which is widely admired will also fall apart.

US President John F. Kennedy astounded the world with his idea of founding a Peace Corps. “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

This is why we are asking the European Commission and the national governments, the European Parliament and the national parliaments to create a Europe of actively employed citizens and secure the financial and legal requirements for the European Year of Volunteering for Everyone - as a counter-model to the top-down Europe, the Europe of elites and technocrats that has prevailed up to now.

The aim is to democratize the national democracies in order to rebuild Europe in the spirit of the rallying cry: Don’t ask what Europe can do for you, but what you can do for Europe by Doing Europe!

No thinker – from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Jürgen Habermas – ever wanted a democracy that consists merely in being able to periodically vote. The debt crisis that is currently driving Europe apart is not simply an economic problem but also a political problem. We need a European civil society and the vision of younger generations if we are going to solve the burning issues of today. We cannot afford to allow Europe to be transformed into the target of an “angry movement” of citizens protesting against Europe without Europeans.

The European Year of Volunteering for Everyone is not merely designed to plug the gaps. It is not intended as an institutionalized fig leaf for European failures. Rather it forms a self-help organization of creative disobedience, the countervailing force to the power of the European and national elites that exist in politics and business. It offers the possibility of hope and resistance pitted against an institutionalized lack of vision. The European Year of Volunteering for Everyone is an act of self-assertion by European civil society. It does not take the form of hand-outs to unemployed youth. It can be used to grasp once again the political creativity and legitimacy necessary to construct a new proactive constitution from the bottom up.

Political freedom cannot survive in an atmosphere of fear. It only thrives and becomes established where people have a roof over their heads and know how they are going to live tomorrow and in their old age. That is why the European Year of Volunteering for Everyone needs a robust foundation of finance. We ask businesses in Europe to make their appropriate contribution.

'Refuge' or 'fortress' Europe? What we have seen during the past decades is the rise of a fortress political culture that aims to defend Europe against 'the other' - those who are labeled as potential enemies and criminals. But Europe, the cradle of human rights, has historically been seen as a refuge – a place where those who flee from violence and persecution can find safety. It is this idea of Europe as a refuge and not a fortress that needs to be revitalized and put into practice in the re-building of Europe from the bottom up. European political identity depends on looking inward and outward. European civil society will only become a reality when that its citizens learn to see with the eyes of someone else.

If Europe is to develop a bottom-up culture, it will come from the new forms of civic action that take place in transnational networks. Global and European campaigns develop in problem areas where national states are no longer able to offer appropriate solutions - environmental degradation, climate change, flows of refugees and migrants, xenophobia, but also in the field of the Arts. A new contract needs to be agreed between the state, the EU, the political structures of civil society, the market, social security and sustainability.

What is good about Europe? What is the value of Europe to us? Which model could and should be the basis for Europe in the 21st century? For us in “We are Europe” , to be European is to be self-reflective and critical. Europe is a laboratory of political and social ideas that simply does not exist anywhere else. European identity is drawn on dissent and conflict between the many different political cultures – of the “Citoyen”, the “Citizen”, the "Staatsbuerger", the “Burgermatschappij”, the “Ciudadano”, the “Obywatel”, the "Politis". Europe is also about irony; it is about being able to laugh about ourselves.

There is no better way to fill Europe with life and laughter than through the coming together of ordinary Europeans acting on their own behalf.

Initiators: Ulrich Beck, Daniel Cohn-Bendit