First of all, let me thank Katharina for hosting my rant on here. I've been waiting to get this off my chest for a while, and with this, I had an excuse.
Let me start with the obvious. A lot is wrong with the Euro, a lot is wrong with the EU, and a lot is wrong with how the crisis is being dealt with. I have to admit I have no idea how to fix it and, most likely, neither do the "experts", really. The Eurozone, and more importantly the world economy is one of those complex systems where if you tighten one screw, another one will come loose somewhere else.
The economic effects of the crisis are frightening, but what frightens me just as much or perhaps even more at this point is how easily we have let go of a dream Europeans had previously been constructing for six decades.
Before all economic hell broke loose, I never thought we could go back to old stereotypes so easily. Anyone not living under a rock will have known that they were still around within Europe, but I honestly never thought they would get this nasty again this quickly. From German "newspaper" Bild naming the Greeks almost exclusively with the word "bust" in front,* to Greeks burning German flags and equating Merkel with Hitler, negative national stereotyping has become wide-spread in Europe at an alarming speed. You see, Bild is the most-read "newspaper" in Germany. It's not just some idiotic right wing nutters who are going crazy here, it's a mass phenomenon.
Equally fashionable, closely related and nearly as scary is the Europhobia - because what we are seeing here is beyond Euroscepticism - that is spreading like wildfire across Europe. The crisis-ridden countries of the South blame "Europe" for strangling their economies, while the less afflicted countries blame it for having to fork out "their" money to finance Southern mismanagement. It seems as if many, if not even a majority of Europeans couldn't care less if Europe were to fall apart. And nowhere have politicians risen above exploiting the crisis for national and even sub-national electoral purposes.
What worries me most is that for the first time, Europhobia is gaining a strong following in Germany, traditionally a very pro-EU country, and for good reason: the standing we have in the world, economically and politically, we have thanks to European integration. And we are forgetting that.
This is not only a German phenomenon, though. All over Europe, we are forgetting what Europe really is: an idea, a dream. A dream that we can work together to live in prosperity and in peace, in tolerance and in freedom. What is at peril in the crisis is a European Dream that is just as great and possibly even more ambitious than the American Dream. Because while the American Dream is about achieving your aspirations by working by yourself, in Europe for decades we have dreamt of achieving them by working together.
We have good reason to be proud of Europe and its achievements. Because apart from creating a number of bureaucratic monsters - although bans on bendy bananas and curvy cucumbers are largely mythical - Europe has done an awful lot for each and every single one of us. We have come to take these achievements for granted, and it seems to me that people are just not aware of all the amazing things that would disappear if the European Dream were to break down. Let me give you a few mundane examples.
Thanks to the European Dream, can travel freely across Europe. Wherever you go, you are covered by health insurance just by waving a little blue card with the sexy name EHIC (if you're interested, it stands for European Health Insurance Card). You can work in another country, earn pension rights, and take them with you when you leave. Granted, it's a little complicated in practice, but at least you can do it at all. Thanks to the EU, my boyfriend and I can live in the same country without one of us having to worry about residence and work permits or visa. We just live.
You can study abroad thanks to an elaborate party scheme called Erasmus. You can study abroad outside the Erasmus framework and be spared having to pay ridiculous overseas fees because the European Union deemed discrimination among different EU nationals illegal on your behalf. If you return to your home country or move somewhere else, your university degree will be recognised. You may have to jump through some hoops, but you will get there in the end.
Throughout the Eurozone, you can pay with the same currency. If you're a little older than the Euro, you'll have (hazy) memories of how much of an enormous pain it used to be when you had to exchange money everywhere you went. In fact, if you've recently travelled outside the Eurozone, you will have quite a vivid memory of it. Thanks to the European Commission's "regulation fever", mobile roaming fees are getting lower and lower (they are still excruciatingly expensive, but we're making a start).
If you are travelling outside Europe and find yourself in trouble - say, you've been robbed or lost your passport - in a country where your home country doesn't have an embassy, you're not alone. You can go to any other EU country's embassy and they will help you as if they were your own. The idea is so awesome it gives me goose bumps.
Listing these things harbours the danger of boiling the European Dream down to a few practicalities. These are just a few of the achievements the European project has brought to our everyday lives in the EU.
But the European Dream is so much bigger than that, and we are watching it crash and burn without doing much about it, indeed some seem to be betting on its failure and spurring it on. At the first sight of adversity, we are letting the dream that we can live together in a space free of borders go in favour of a bunch of narrow-minded, simplistic stereotypes.
And the world is watching us, with many onlookers shaking their heads in disbelief. Because here's the thing: the European Dream is not just our dream. In many places, more or less successful attempts have been made to recreate what was perceived as a zone of economic prosperity, democracy, and personal freedom. We're not just endangering our own dream, we're destroying the aspirations of many who wanted to live in an environment a little more like Europe.
Believe me, I am aware of a lot of the one-size-fits-all, sometimes neo-colonial external relations the EU has been involved in where it hasn't exactly covered itself with glory. I am also aware of "fortress Europe" that has sought to shut others out of our prosperity and freedom by building high external walls.
But even so, it is my belief that if we continue to watch the European Dream shattering around us, we make ourselves responsible for other, similar and more fragile dreams being suffocated before they have even been fully born. As European citizens, we bear a responsibility that goes beyond our own borders.
Let's keep dreaming, and let's work to rescue our European Dream. Let's rescue Europe.
* I tried hard and unsuccessfully to find a translation that would even come close to the demeaning term "Pleite-Griechen" Bild is using. There's a linguistic connotation here with the word "Pleitegeier", originally from the Yiddish and meaning someone who goes bust (Wikipedia enlightened me on that one). "Geier", however, also means vulture in German. Mix that together and you hopefully get exactly the yucky feeling that overcomes me when I hear the term "Pleite-Griechen".