Experts discuss European and American dreams

  • 2005-06-15
  • By Ksenia Repson
TALLIN - The Open Estonia Foundation celebrated its 15th birthday with a traditional open forum on June 10, and this year the discussion inevitably led to the hypothetical question, "Where does Europe end?" In light of France and the Netherlands' resounding "no" to the Constitutional Treaty, the 10th annual forum proved one of the most pertinent and interesting.

OEF Executive Director Mall Hellam opined that these protests were the consequences of insufficient cooperation between Europe's leaders and the public. "The European unification progress has stopped for a while, because people in the old EU member countries do not know, or forgot, the real meaning of it," said Hellam.

"As to the new EU members, Estonia has to go on sharing its experience of political and neighborhood policy reforms with other states on their way to join the EU," she said.

Another distinguished speaker was president of the Washington Foundation on Economic Trends Jeremy Rifkin. A well-known expert on civil society, Rifkin reflected upon the "European dream" vis-a-vis its American counterpart.

"The EU is the strangest political experiment in all history. Every territorial expansion is traditionally closely related with violence, this time the sword is put on the ground and the bridges of peace are being built," he said.

Rifkin brought his newest book, "The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream," to Estonia, and his speech followed his thesis: The differences between Americans and Europeans lie in lifestyle. In America, happiness means freedom and freedom means independence. Europeans, however, are beginning to adopt a new global consciousness that extends beyond and below the borders of their nation-states, deeply embedding them in an increasingly interconnected world," Rifkin wrote in his book.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, MEP and deputy chairman of the EP's foreign affairs committee, gave a pessimistic assessment of the situation, saying that EU expansion has been impeded. Formally, Bulgaria and Romania are far away from the EU criteria, he said, and Turkey is unlikely to be a part of the official European Union.

Indeed, Turkey and Ukraine are most affected by French and Dutch votes, Ilves added. "The fresh and crispy carrot that we have offered to Ukraine is fading, and the same is happening to the Turkish carrot," the MEP said, pointing out that Germany's Christian Democrats, who are very likely to come to power this autumn, have already said they prefer strategic cooperation with Turkey.

According to Ilves, the chief task for Estonia is to understand that European integration is helpful and useful mostly for little countries. As an example, he pointed out how the European Union helped Lithuania solve a visa problem with Russia four years ago when the Baltic state was not yet an EU member.

Ilves also mentioned that Russia's media reaction to the French and Dutch votes was too enthusiastic, and demonstrated Russia's position on European unanimity.

Rifkin, meanwhile, said the new European dream is far better suited to meet the challenges of a globalizing society in the 21st century. The "autonomous and mobile" American nation lives to work, while Europeans work to live and believe that safe communities and neighborhoods bring satisfaction. Rifkin said that, while in America, he never heard the expression "quality of life" - a widespread European value.

The EU has strong economic perspectives, he added. European GDP was higher than in the U.S.A. in 2003; the EU is the biggest exporter in the world and the largest domestic market. Sixty-one of the world's most powerful corporations were established in Europe, along with 14 of the 20 biggest banks. Indeed, the average American income is 21 percent higher than in Europe, but it is not evenly spread among inhabitants: Forty-five million American citizens do not have basic medical insurance, and only five days of paid vacation, Rifkin said.

An effective and positive model for the EU is based on political integration, gradual integration of transport and energy infrastructures, then social and tax policy, Rifkin added. Still, Europe could adopt some American values, such as personal responsibility, optimism and the ability to take risks.

Both Rifkin and Ilves, a former U.S. citizen, agreed that the true European citizen thinks of himself first as a European, then as a citizen of his country.