Whitsun Dialogue – Styria 2017
Europe.USA.3.0 – Memorandum Seggauberg 2017
Held at Seggau Castle every two years since 2005, the series of Whitsun Dialogues, “Geist & Gegenwart” , have served to determine the status quo of the “European project”; its opportunities, hopes, but also dangers and problems, its developments and challenges.
Whilst the last Whitsun Dialogue in 2015 addressed the fundamental questions of the future of the European project and the values that carry it forward, alongside threats and prospects, under the general theme “Europe.valued”, in 2017 it went by the title “Europe.USA.3.0.Values.Interests.Perspectives” and dealt with the universal and global fundamental questions facing a free and open society and liberal democracy on both sides of the Atlantic together.
Beginning in the time of the Enlightenment, more than two centuries ago, the USA and Europe are linked by a shared spiritual-societal development and central achievements, such as democracy, the rule of law, universal human rights and human dignity, particularly the freedom of the individual, self-determination and equal rights, regardless of gender, origin and race, upholding freedom of faith and opinion.
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote his “Declaration of Independence”, which was to become the fundamental declaration of the independence of the United States and consequent general human rights – inspired by the founding ideas of great thinkers and philosophers of the European Enlightenment.
This demonstrates how, from the very beginning, Europe and America have been interconnected in the process of constituting fundamental democratic principles, have drawn impetus from one another and so have worked closely on implementation to this very day. First one, then the other, takes a step forward, yet always with their destinies linked and dependent on one another, above all in acting as exemplars with regard to societal development and peace in the world.
All the more significant is the realisation that, right now, Europe is thinking back to the beginnings of democracy as it approaches forthcoming decisions on which direction to take at the intersections between peace or war in Europe and the world. Whilst Europe will not gain strength as an economic power or in competition, it will through zenithal illustration of the significance of linguistic diversity and diversity of individuality of the spirit alongside respect for the dignity of all people, regardless of culture, religion, language or nationality.
Through the Marshall Plan, initiated 70 years ago in June 1947, addressing the reconstruction of a Europe ruined by war, transatlantic relations became closer.
Of course conflicts of interest arose on a regular basis, whether regarding assessments of hotspots in world politics, matters of security and economic questions, or in connection with American enterprises’ power over markets. Also, over recent years, there have been indications of a gradual shift of US-political interests away from the Atlantic towards the Pacific zone.
These problematic aspects have gained particular currency and poignancy as a result of the election and assumption of office of the 45th President of the USA, Donald Trump, and his statements including those at the first NATO and G7 summits of his presidency. Above all for Europeans, this has to be a wake-up call to do their homework – domestically and in the EU. The notable German political scientist, Herfried Münkler, put it in a nutshell in March 2017 in a presentation by way of preparation for the Whitsun Dialogue, the “Geist & Gegenwart” series of events near Graz, when he concluded his analysis by saying: “Europe is now condemned to success.” Or, As Angela Merkel put it after the G7 summit in Taormina: “We Europeans really must take our destiny in our own hands.”
So it was that, despite all the problems, the 2017 Whitsun Dialogue gave out a clear, pro-European and pro-transatlantic statement: against inflammatory anti-Americanism and cheap Trump-bashing and for a pro-active, responsible espousal of the indivisible, transatlantic value set and that shared development, which will be stimulated, and for which responsibility will be taken, by both sides going forward.
In spite of all the conflicts, the USA and European democracies have fundamentally the same interests alongside strong mutual dependencies. The USA and EU were, are and remain the most important of global partners.
Europe must reflect on its intellectual strengths and resources. As was already stated by the US futurologist Jeremy Rifkin at the 2007 Whitsun Dialogue, with its motto “United in diversity” the EU can set an example globally in many respects. There is general support for sustainable development and, above all, climate protection, as is taking place in numerous states of the European Union and in the majority of states of the USA too. The subsidiarity principle, and a correctly understood, modern federalism, are decisive formative principles for the future.
As the Charlemagne prize-winner Timothy Garton Ash put it on May 26th with reference to a Winston Churchill quotation, the EU is “the worst imaginable Europe, apart from all those other Europes that have been tried from time to time”. Europe must continuously change and renew itself, whilst also clarifying the prospects for the EU–USA relationship. Project Europe is a long-term task and a continuous, dynamic process. Europe must not be perceived as a project of “aloof elites”, but rather it must be shaped together with its citizens.
Populism and nationalistic egoism cannot be allowed a dominant role here and cannot offer any good solutions either. There is a need for politics in touch with the people, inviting them to contribute and taking their worries and fears seriously, whilst also presenting prospects that inspire trust through the struggle for better ideas.
After the great financial crisis from 2008 and the year 2016 with its Brexit vote, terrorism and wars on the edges of Europe, in 2017 there are signs of a positive mood change: the elections in the Netherlands and France, the green shoots of European economic growth.
In the USA the system of checks & balances is working and, since the presidential election, the media and civil society are stronger than before. These are encouraging signals that the peak of pessimism and populism is behind us. The challenge for serious politicians, the media, science and civil society is to amplify these rays of hope.
Above all the younger generation can particularly convey this realistic optimism. To this end, the Whitsun Dialogues apire to constitute and strengthen both a lobby and an enduring network.
Daniel Hamilton, Marshall Plan Professor and Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Washington, D.C., said this in his opening address:
“If we do not manage to adopt a resolute stance now, if we yield to temptation, withdraw, turn in on ourselves, then we – Americans and Europeans alike – may have to pay a much higher price for that later on.
Because there is no ‘united and free Europe’ without America.
And there is no ‘America First’ without Europe.
This is the lesson from the Marshall Plan.
This is the lesson from the year 1989.
This is the lesson from our partnership.
This is the lesson from history.”
This is a mission for the present and the future. The Whitsun Dialogues aim to contribute.