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Europe must fix its leaning Tower of Babel

Those who want to preserve Europe's unity should not dismiss nationalist sentiments or frustration over austerity policies. Europe must forge a common identity that leaves room for diversity while delivering opportunity and security through a strong but limited European government.

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The challenge for pro-Europeans is not to dismiss national sentiment, but seek to forge a common identity that leaves plenty of room for diversity while delivering opportunity and security through a strong but limited European government.

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At the Berggruen Institute meeting in Paris, students from Sciences Po, the London School of Economics, and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin proposed a narrative for their post-crisis generation founded in “freedom and solidarity.” The European identity for their generation, they argued, would be bound up with the founding idea of European civilization – the universality of reason and the free individual – combined with a social model that doesn’t let fellow citizens fall into the cracks as Europe faces the competitive winds of globalization.

It remains to be seen if such a narrative is convincing. Many fear that the 2014 European Parliament elections will become a platform that will give full voice to the nationalist and populist anti-European backlash. Perhaps such an eventuality ought to be welcomed, not feared, because it would force a strong redefinition of the pro-European identity in the face of an existential challenge.

When Al Qaeda took down the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, Samuel Huntington, the Harvard theorist who wrote “The Clash of Civilizations,” argued that the attacks had “given back to the West its common identity.” The same dynamic will take place if the European idea is thoroughly challenged in 2014.

Whether or not “a certain idea of Europe” triumphs, however, will be determined by how quickly and effectively the present European leaders and institutions stem the current crisis. The announcement in Paris of a concerted “offensive” against youth unemployment by the French, German, Spanish, and Italian governments is a propitious start.

What matters now is whether they will deliver hope through concrete action instead of more empty promises between now and the 2014 election. The fate of Europe is in their hands.

Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of NPQ and Global Viewpoint Network of Tribune Media Services.

© 2013 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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