18th Mar 2018


Rising to the challenge of 'European Angst'

Populism, extremism and euroscepticism are haunting Europe, creating a tense atmosphere in which fear, hate, anger and anxiety generate a climate of angst.

The current rise of radical parties such as AfD in Germany, Ukip in Great Britain and FN in France indicates a drastic change in European societies and politics – and the more momentum these populist movements gain, the more clueless the established political, cultural and legislative institutions seem to be.

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The prevalence of hate speech and violent acts threatening migrants and refugees, and hostile attitudes towards liberal values and modern, open societies are clear manifestations of this angst.

Xenophobia still looms large in the modern history of our continent, and it was never completely quashed in the process of an ever closer integration. A very recent expression of this phenomenon is the surprising outcome of the EU referendum in Great Britain, driven by a fear-based campaign.

Political leaders and the traditional political parties are seemingly failing to act on these issues haunting Europe. Following summit upon summit, from Bratislava to Ventotene, solutions seem to be in short supply. Pressing matters such as the redistribution of migrants fall by the wayside, brutally exposing the lack of solidarity in the EU.

This year has seen a tumult of challenges to strident liberal democratic states - popular protest against Ceta, TTIP and globalisation; the biting impact of global terrorism; and most recently an external shock in the form of the American elections. Liberal ideologies have hit a blockage, and responses to this unanticipated outmanoeuvring of the political left and centre by the (far-)right have been muddled.

A constructive discourse

A much talked about phenomenon of recent weeks has been the presence of “fake news” carried by social media sites, and the gullibility of the general public who apparently swallow these articles without question.

Extremism comes in many guises, but the rise of the far-right across our continent, and the at times impassive response to refugees, coupled with the growing presence of insular, nationalist voices, has led to a contagion of hostile sentiments in our daily lives.

On social media, in the press we read, and in the conversations we hear, we are fed a narrative of false dichotomies based on fear. The ease of posting commentary online has led to a culture in which my ignorance is given equal airtime to your hard fought for knowledge. Thus, a question arises: how do we counter these “post-fact” narratives and create a constructive, yet informative discourse in the media?

Who now of our political leaders, of our commentators and philosophers and laureates can stand above the fray, speak out and tackle these fears? Much has been written of chancellor Angela Merkel’s stand as the last bastion of a crumbling liberal elite, not only in Europe, but also in a global context. From who else or where else do we seek the strength to forge new paths, and build a new future that will deliver on shared goals of prosperity, diversity and peace?

New narratives needed

The European Angst conference will shed light on these questions in a unique way. It will leave the comfort zone of liberal consensus by inviting thinkers from across the spectrum of ideas, thus creating a space for passionate debate, for reflection and in-depth analysis. Going beyond the so-called Brussels bubble, the event seeks to take the discussion beyond our well-established comfort zone.

Among the participants are the writers and philosophers Slavoj Zizek, Didier Eribon and Nobel Prize winner Herta Mueller, as well as 42 students selected in an open pan-European call. The students will play an active role in the conference, and they will draft a manifesto on Europe’s future to be handed over to EU officials.

The European Angst conference will create a pan-European space where open discussions will negotiate how we can create better societies. We urgently need new narratives to create a better perspective for Europeaness and to get over the current angst that openly questions Europe’s future.

Alex Godson is the head of communication of the European Movement International

The European Movement International is a partner in the European Angst Conference, which is an initiative of the Goethe-Institut, organised in collaboration with 4 members of EUNIC, and BOZAR. The media partner for this event is EUobserver.

The European Angst Conference takes place in Brussels on Tuesday 6 December and Wednesday 7 December 2016.

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