Kick-off in Austria

by | 12. July 2018

Vienna, Austria | Austria is holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months starting 1 July. The European Public Sphere is taking up this occasion by planning a small series of Dome-Events throughout Austria over the next few months. For the start, we set up our Europe-Dome in Vienna’s Mariahilferstrasse, one of the capital’s major shopping streets. Ines Kanka reports on the events of the day and on the two Dome Talks on the question of how Europe will move on.
In the early morning we arrive as if with bag and baggage, with skeptical looks towards the sky in view of the looming rain clouds. Now it’s time to put on helmets and get started! And there are enough helping hands present. Beside the decisively practiced for the dome construction also two small child hands mingle themselves and look for meaningful tasks. Thus everything runs quickly and smoothly! Our dome gets its colorful bonnet put on immediately, because the first rain shower is coming for sure. In all its splendour, it is also of interest to a passing editor of the ORF programme “Wien heute” (Vienna Today) and he immediately sends by a cameraman. In the days of the Council Presidency, Europe gets paid a little more attention than usually. As a welcomed “dash of colour”, the dome finds its way into the report on the official visit of the EU Commission to the new EU Council President Austria, which is simultaneously taking place in Vienna.

Even though our event is accompanied by far less media attention than the official events and working meetings with the Austrian government, we are nevertheless present with our open offer for talks for all and intend to realise two exciting dome talks.

The freshly printed info cards for our Austria Tour
“Why is it so easy for us to identify ourselves with such projects (like Project Europe) and why do we have so many, so many contemporaries who find this difficult? Why do we have so many toxic identitarian movements at the moment, i.e. identity formations that are useless for sustainable projects? But these are our contemporaries. We have neglected these questions in our movements for a very long time, because we thought that we did not need these politics of identity at all. That’s dangerous and captious. We have to rethink this.” Wolfgang Tomaschitz

Pollster and Social Scientist and Secretary General to the Anthroposo

At 11 AM everything is ready and the invited guests and interested people who have heard of the Dome Talk are gathered in front of the dome and get to know each other. Shortly afterwards, the sounds of the European anthem “Freude, schöner Götterfunken…” (Joy, beautiful spark of the gods) can be heard from inside the dome, with which a little horn scholar opens the first round of talks, mightily proud to be able to contribute to Europe and to the efforts of the adults.

Now a dense discussion about the European integration process between finalisation and dissolution unfolds: Has the integration process come to an end after 70 years, or does it need to be thoroughly re-examined?

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What should a new approach to a European constitution look like?
Are we now arriving at a change from a previously rather quantitative European integration process to a qualitative, differentiation-oriented, deepened process of community building among the European states? And if further “incorporation” of states into the EU is to take place, would a more thorough clarification of the ideological values that characterise this community not have to precede and be made a prerequisite?

Is there not a need for a new constitutional process for the European Union, this time with more citizen participation? The crucial question here would be whether this is just a discussion process or, ultimately, a social decision-making process.

Video of the first Dome Talk for the kick-off of the Austria Tour in Vienna
But even for such a discussion process there are wishes for a different accentuation so that people can get involved again. And do we not have to ask entirely fundamental questions to the European unification process? What do we actually need it for? Why do we want to unite? What external necessities are pressing for this and what internal reasons make unification desirable?
“The trench warfare that is known from the US is also spilling over to us more and more – especially when it comes to integration – where the left no longer talks to the right, where people in the social media insult each other in the worst way possible. That’s where we have to talk to each other in very simple, very old-fashioned ways again and where we have to consciously bring into our lives opinions that we can’t do anything with, that we might even object.” Philipp Weritz


Identity and Structures of Europe

Time and again we come back to the topic of identity and structure in Europe: Where do I root my identity? Can humans be at home in superordinate structures or do these remain too abstract, so that they can only feel emotionally connected in a small cultural circle? How can I identify with the big Europe? Isn’t the identification-offer of, for example, a “constitutional patriotism” much too weak for this?

Are the identitary movements on the advance because it is not possible to connect emotionally with the greater, the superordinate and to establish a sustainable identity in it? And is it thus inevitable that identity can only be created through differentiation from what is foreign? Or can’t also be valid: “Who is here, is from here”?

And lastly: Can the positive answer to the question of whether the lack of democratic opportunities for participation at national and EU level today could have a viable identity-creating effect not point towards the way out?
In the lively discussion, further questions are touched upon: How are democracy and the common good connected? Can the longing for simple solutions be reconciled with the increasing complexity of today’s social life processes? How can we achieve freedom and an open democracy while at the same time dealing with the need for security in our society?

One point that should also be mentioned is the tension between the individual and the community. To what extent do we actually need the basis of social structures? Can’t humans also empower themselves, so to speak, out of a “Just do it!”? It is quickly demonstrated where such an approach could lead without the social basis of the rule of law.

It turns out that the European Public Sphere’s approach to create open spaces for discussion meets a real need, that it is also about putting up with the other person of another opinion and about nevertheless treating him or her with respect.

Conversations following the first discussion round
Lively conversations during the break

During the time between the two Dome Talks, there were lively conversations with passers-by who curiously keep approaching the dome, but obviously don’t want to get involved in a conversation in the larger group. That way we hear in detail about the attitudes of two declared AFD voters from Bavaria, who refer to many years of experience in neighbouring European countries and who present themselves as progressive, emancipated women and self-confident citizens and at the same time show themselves full of unspeakable frustration towards “our Ms. Merkel” and full of resentment towards foreign fellow citizens and terrible empathylessness for people on the run.

Another meeting of this kind, which we had during the break, will also keep us busy in the second round. Here, too, rejection of Europe. Empathylessness with drowning refugees and a hopelessness that man, who for millennia has only been waging war, would never change. The only thing that helps is to see that ones brings his or her own sheep into the dry, that you yourself are one of the winners. A wish of people who perhaps see themselves more among the losers. The conversation with the three men was not disrespectful. They simply do not experience any answers coming from Europe. This also shows that they have hopelessly fallen for some fake news. The conversation lasts a good half an hour. Then we agree that we will not be able to agree today and say goodbye, at least understanding that maybe we were not responsive enough to one another after all.
The second Dome Talk

On the one hand, the second dome focuses on the question of how Europe can be made tangible. What are the emotional and rational approaches to Europe and how are these two levels related to one another?

There is agreement that the two levels must play together. But there is the view that Europe must first be experienced at emotional level, for example through personal encounters with people from other countries, that friendship, fun and inspiration form the basis for a rational debate with the vital needs of the European Union. And also the approach that we first need clear ideas on how to deal with the refugee question, for example, is advocated for and that we then connect ourselves with it with our heart forces, in other words the opposite process. In any case, the need for a rational engagement with Europe is clear.

The second Dome Talk was yet another cliffhanger! 
On the other hand, the second round of talks focuses on human rights, which can be regarded as Europe’s essential contribution to the world to date and at the same time as a future task for Europe. And the question arises to what extent human rights are compatible with a profit-capitalist economic system? Whether a social balancing function of the state can still develop the necessary strength in the future to secure the common good? Or do we not have to find ways to get active in the public interest within the economy itself, i.e. beyond the profit principle? This, of course, without falling into the trap of “real-socialist” experiences and disregarding human freedom.
“But there is also a rational level! Europe must not only touch me in my heart, but it is also a matter of reason to say: we must work together, and perhaps we as states must also surrender part of our sovereignty to the EU, because if we can decide together, we are stronger as Austrians, as Germans or as Hungarians. I believe that this insight is often not yet appreciated. It is also often not presented in this way in politics.” Mag. Sabine Radl

Secretary General to the European Movement Austria

Finally, a question is addressed to the round under the dome, which will still engage us throughout Europe and also as the European Public Sphere team in the future: How can we overcome the gulf that is increasingly opening up in our society between those people who are open to new things and confident about the future of the world and those who think they have to retreat more and more into their own “snail shell” and defend their ancestral spaces from the unknown and uncertain?

The answer to this anxious question was actually given to us by Friedrich Schiller in precisely this “Ode to Joy”, which – set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven – was given to us by the Council of Europe in 1972 as an anthem for Europe. Does it not indicate the direction in which our actions can unfold in order to build such a viable bridge?

“Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter from Elysium,
we enter fire-drunk,
Heavenly, your sanctuary!
Your spells bind again,
which strictly divides fashion;
all men become brothers,
where your gentle wing is.”