– was accomplished by the founding fathers. For us, Erasmus children, Europe’s role is to broaden the horizons of its citizens. To offer everyone greater possibilities for life, work, business, travel, discovery and – why not – love. Whenever they make a new city their own, exploring its bars and centers of life; whenever they feel a new language quiver on their lips, discover other methods of study, or let themselves be swept away by a love that does not seem so foreign, the Erasmus students experience an extraordinary feeling of freedom. It’s this magic of Erasmus, wonderfully depicted in Cédric Klapisch’s film, L’Auberge Espagnole, a film that took us by storm in the fall of 2000, when, with a group of students from 12 European countries, we founded cafebabel.com, the first European current events magazine entirely translated into six languages. To meet the enormous challenges of the twenty-first century, our national societies need a breath of fresh air; they need to open themselves up to one another, to speak to each other. But as she acquires new proficiencies, the European Union suffers from a terrible democratic deficit that alienates it from its citizens. Thus, it becomes pressing to create a European public opinion, with its debates, its catalysts for ideas, its multilingual media. This is our day-to-day work: exclusive coverage, unique interviews, forums and blogs that open up debate. The Erasmus generation is the first to have successfully wagered on this. Because this generation “thinks and speaks” European, as opposed to the leaders of different countries who increase their plans of national revival, confront each other on foreign policy issues, and act “as if” the sharing of the sovereignty (currency, borders, legislation) were not already a reality. Political Europe will not be built in this way, but rather through the creation of a transnational public space. For the past eight years, through collaborative journalism, our magazine has been rising to meet this very challenge. These transnational points of view are rich with multicultural perspectives to which 300,000 Internet users respond monthly. Thanks to the Erasmus generation, a European public opinion is being born. It must be heard.
A real world education
Psychologist and founder of the IMC WeekendschoolAsk Americans about Europe, and many say: “history”. Ask Europeans about Europe, and many say: “Brussels”. This seems odd, as if a bureaucracy blinds Europeans. But this is not the case. European culture simply slips away in any attempt to define it. This implies a great asset, if only we’d involve our students in the right stuff. European school children learn about Plato as “Greek”, Descartes as “French” and Goethe as “German”. Although the shreds of history intertwine into distinguishable European patterns, students do not explicitly learn about “European values”, let alone “European identity”. They learn to relate history to their own societies, and if they are lucky, to their own lives. With the euro as about the only practical European symbol, there is not much to encourage European identity. Nobody cheers for the European soccer team (there is none), or pledges allegiance to the European flag. Europe is a set of hazy boundaries, cultural diversity with lots of history, and “Brussels”. Is this a threat for Europe? No. Rather, it is an opportunity. European students are well aware of cultures other than their own. They learn about the winding roots of their societies, they learn to live together with the many other cultures in Europe, and many speak more than two languages, especially immigrants. The next step would be to cherish European students’ already existing ability for cultural comparison and tolerance, but not by locking them up in a forced “European identity” that would exactly oppose their abilities. We should involve students in world issues, like migration, religious diversity, climate change and social injustice. Precisely, while discovering the world, they will find out for themselves how “European” they are. As my experience with the Weekend Schools shows, once education is organized around this principle, children are extremely eager to learn. And, as Sajjaad, an alumnus said: “At the Weekend School I learned to dare to think.” “One single European identity” is not one of those. In scaling up our students’ abilities to the world level, we embrace the best in European tradition, notably that of exchange and tolerance.
Old Europe has a bright future