Lately, the search for the revival of a European spirit to respond to the continent’s pervasive crises in economic, social, cultural, and political spheres has been the subject of many books and articles. This search has brought forth several different approaches, along with heated debates, as to how this resurgence in the first decade of the 21st century could be crystallized and projected into the future. Imagine Europe: The Search for European Identity and Spirituality, edited by Luk Bouckaert and Jochanan Eynikel sets out to keep track on these debates and delve into the question of the identity crisis besieging Europe.
The book is composed of two parts. The first part attempts to take an in depth look into the question of European identity in political and cultural spheres, while the second one deals with spirituality in European business. All in all, the authors of the book agree that Europe is built upon relations of reciprocity and fraternity and these old moral concepts should be reinvigorated in order to tackle the economic, social, and political stalemate that the continent has been mired in for some time. The main question that the book revolves around is how Europe or/and the European Union should address problems such as immigration, rising nationalism, a democratic deficit, identity, and economic issues over the past two decades. Flipping through the pages one would get the impression from the authors that the EU can not overcome these challenges in its current form. Furthermore, even a limited reorganization of the EU and making some adjustments would not help either. What is needed, according to the authors, is creating a novel alternative approach relying on ethical and spiritual bases to the current system. Throughout the book, the authors aim to depict the impact of this alternative model on the economic, social, and political lives of Europeans. The authors argue that the key component of this new Europe is the rebirth of the European spirit, particularly in the cultural sphere. It is the revival of the European identity and culture that would affect the economic and political sectors and rescue Europe from its current morass. Here, Eynikel reintroduces the ‘imagined community’ concept of Benedict Anderson, arguing that Europe can only break out of its current identity crises by stimulating a shared image of the ‘European community’ with its culture, values, and religion in the minds of Europeans. He argues that European society cannot sustain itself only by instituting laws, treaties, and institutions to enforce them.
However, in this context, the authors fail to address fundamental issues such as what Europe and European identity mean and if there is a common European identity. Nor do they address the questions of whether this common identity already exists or needs to be created. Moreover, they do not specify the elements that make up this common identity. They are also unable to explain which groups fit into this European identity and if certain groups living in Europe are excluded from shared European identity. A critique of this work is that the authors do not extend their analysis beyond ready-made clichés on European identity. They reiterate the idea that democracy, diversity, the welfare state, and JudeoChristian values form European culture. This approach is of little help because is attributes the universal values of democracy, freedom, equality, and human rights as only belonging to European heritage. This view point has been seriously contested and challenged by many scholars who believe that ideals that underpin democracy, freedom and equality are universal and an integral part of many of the world’s political and religious systems. Another critique can be leveled at the authors’ attempts to attribute religious sources to European identity by referring to the Judeo-Christian values as the fundamental basis for European culture and identity. Here, Jean Jacque Delor’s appeal to religious leaders to give Europe a new heart and soul has frequently been quoted as a way of propping up their viewpoint.
Taking the complex history of Europe and its current shape into consideration using religion as a unifying theme is a problematic approach mainly for two reasons. First, given the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural composition of Europe as a result of immigration and the enlargement of the EU, encompassing countries of the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and potentially Turkey, defining Christian values as the only common values of European identity is very limiting. Furthermore, it would complicate the situation of millions of immigrants in Europe, particularly Muslims, who do not exactly share the same religious historical European past as their Christian counterparts. The book does not even broach where certain immigrant groups would stand in this European community defined by common religious and cultural values. Would they be allowed to be part of European society or would they be always seen as “the others” in Europeans society? How would this different group be treated? This work also does not address how this new identity would impact the membership prospect of a Muslim country: Turkey. How would this new definition of European identity impact the EU’s membership criteria? Would the EU define itself with normative values such as freedom, equality, democracy, and human rights or would it require cultural considerations to be part of the membership application process as well? How would this impact European citizenship debates? This religious and cultural depiction of European identity would most likely only serve to deepen the identity crisis that Europe is currently going through.
Second, depiction of Judea-Christian values as the common heritage of Europeans is problematic not only for the different groups who do not share the same cultural and religious historical background but also for Europeans themselves. For many scholars, these claimed common cultural and religious values originating from Greek Roman past seem to be of little meaning to today’s modern European citizen. The schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches during the earliest phases of Christianity, followed by the emergence of Protestantism in the Middle Ages, and the religious wars that ensued – often turning Europe into a blood bath – have all left considerable scars and differences among the Europeans of today. Viewing the collective memory of the European community which is fraught with destruction and wars, as a unifying vehicle is unrealistic and even doomed to failure. Therefore it is rather controversial to suggest that Judea-Christian heritage represents a common cultural and spiritual bond for Europeans. This is also evident in Eurobarometer surveys, which reflect that Europeans have a stronger attachment to their own member states or nationalities than to Europe as a whole.
The view that a European identity remains secondary to national identities is also shared by the authors of the book. They do not suggest replacing national identity with European identity, as they argue that these two identities coexist and are complementary, but they contend that European identity should be made more palpable in order to give Europe a stronger more unified spirit. For instance, Eynikel goes on to hold that the European community could be implanted in Europeans’ minds through the education of European history, use of one language as a common language, inter-European exchanges, and the establishment of a European press (p. 73). The authors would encourage the creation of cultural initiatives or ‘projects’ to rouse the ‘spirit of Europeanness’ and foster a new European mindset. Last three decades have born witness to the initiation of many such projects as invention of European anthem, flag, common currency, European years and etc. in order to create the image of Europeannes in the minds of European citizens; however these attempts have not been very effective in implanting European identity spirit in Europeans’ consciousness strongly as they have all imitated nation-building processes. Ironically enough, the EU, from the very go, was designed as a political project transcending nation states; going back to the nation state model on the bases of exclusionary and essentialist culture-centred approach would create introverted and Eurocentred European Union. Unsurprisingly, this EU’s impact in global scene would be dim.
Despite the fact that the authors recognize certain drawbacks, they can be described as, sentimental idealists. In the section on business and morality, the authors attempt to integrate a moral code of conduct into Europe’s economic policies and business practices, thus providing an alternative to unfettered free market economy model. They advocate for a stronger inclusion of civil society in economic and political decision-making and recommend a triangular conception of decision-making, which would include civil society state, and market interests. In this sense, the moral and ethical approach that the book suggests in countering the ongoing economic and political crises that Europe is struggling with could serve to initiate a new debate on what efforts are necessary to further socialize the economic and political systems of Europe.
To conclude, a strong emphasis by the authors throughout the book on the need to incorporate ethical and spiritual values to the social and economic policies is worth-noting as a search for a ‘third way’ which goes beyond individualist and statist models of economics (p.36). However, the merits of Imagine Europe: The Search for European Identity and Spirituality do not extend beyond book’s obliviousness to the cultural and religious heritage of the important immigrant groups in Europe, among them Muslim immigrants throughout Europe, other non-Christian religious groups and ‘new Europeans’ of non-European ancestry.