22nd Feb 2020

Europe urged to take responsibility for its global ideals

The American dream has reached the end of the road and its time for the European dream to take over as the new global vision for the 21st century, according to American author and analyst Jeremy Rifkin.

Speaking at a debate in the European Parliament organised by the Green group on Tuesday (15 February), Mr Rifkin argued that after a century and a half, the American dream has lost its way.

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"For 150 years the dream was robust", he said, but today the dream has unravelled and only 51% of Americans even believe in it any more.

He said it used to be that people thought that a good public education and work would be enough to get to the top, but disillusion has set in.

Rich and poor

The gap between rich and poor is greater only in Mexico and Russia; and Americans work the longest hours of any industrialised nation to achieve their dream.

While America is "losing the vision", it is time for Europe to be a beacon for this century says Mr Rifkin author of a best-selling book called The European Dream.

So what is this dream? Mr Rifkin concedes that no European can describe it. "If you ask Europeans, no one can tell you".

He says it encompasses inclusivity, multi-cultural diversity, quality of life, balance of work and play, human rights, creating a sustainable world and waging peace.

The American dream, by contrast, is about the individual and about "self-reliance, independence, autonomy and mobility".

The contrasting dreams are due to the two continents' differing histories.

Whereas the American dream is based on ideas from the Enlightenment – the hardworking individualistic ethic practised by those pioneering a new life in America – the European dream stems from feudal societies, fortress-wall cities and the paternalism of the Catholic Church.

America's shadow

But despite having a lot going for it, Europe has still to step out of America’s shadow. "You Europeans are always wondering about America. We never think about you, never, you’re not on our radar screen".

According to Mr Rifkin, there is an answer to Henry Kissinger’s famous question asking who he should call in Europe. The answer is ‘everybody’.

Europe is built on consensus and network politics which means that everyone has their say - however frustrating this can prove to be.

This has come about after two world wars and before that, 100s of years of bloody fighting.

Europe is about multi-culturalism, a slower pace of life, human rights and co-operation – the US is about a melting pot, hard work and little holiday and a go-it-alone attitude on the world stage.

While his vision for Europe and its potential is grandiose, Mr Rifkin is also realistic about how things are on the ground.

"Dreams are what you want to be, not what you are", he said pointing out that he could spend hours talking about the hypocrisy in Europe, about the treatment of racial minorities about the behaviour of rich member states to poorer ones.

He told the assembled, and naturally partisan, European audience in Brussels, to take responsibility for this new vision.

It is time for Europe to ‘own’ its dream which is a "truly grand vision" and a "heavy responsibility".

"Like it or not, the whole world is looking to Europe now", he said.

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