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16/11/2006

Opening up Fortress Europe

Jürgen Habermas on immigration as the key to European unity

As a student, I often looked from the other side of the Rhine over here to the seat of the four high commissioners. Today I enter the Petersberg for the first time. The historic surroundings recall the deep roots that the old Bundesrepublik sank into the Rhine and Ruhr landscapes. I was always proud of a homeland characterised by a civil spirit, a certain Rhine-Prussian distance from Berlin, an openness to the West and the liberal influence of republican France. From here, the Bundesrepublik achieved its goal of sovereignty only in conjunction with the political unification of Europe; we only achieved national unity within the European framework.The genius loci invites us to consider the irritating fact that this benedictory European dynamic is flagging today.

In many countries, the return of the nation-state has caused an introverted mood; the theme of Europe has been devalued, the national agenda has taken priority. In our talk-shows, grandfathers and grandchildren hug each other, swelling with feel-good patriotism. The security of undamaged national roots should make a population that's been pampered by the welfare state "compatible with the future" in the competive global environment. This rhetoric fits with the current state of global politics which have lost all their inhibitions in social darwinistic terms.

Now we Europe alarmists are being instructed that an intensification of European institutions is neither necessary nor possible. It is being claimed that the drive behind European unification has vanished and for good reason, since the objectives of peace between the European peoples and the creation of a common market have been met. In addition, the ongoing rivalries between nation states are said to demonstrate the impossibility of a political collectivisation that extends beyond national boundaries. I hold both objections for wrong. Allow me to name the most urgent and potentially risky problems that will remain unsolved if we stay stuck along the way to a Europe that is politically capable of action and bound in a democratic constitutional framework.

The first problem, which has long since been identified, is a result of this half-heartedness: the European member states have lost democratic substance as a result of European unification. Decisions, ever greater in number and importance, are being made in Brussels and simply "applied" at home through national law. The entire process takes place beyond the political public of the member states, even though European citizens can only place their votes here – there is no European public space. This democratic deficit can be explained by Europe's lack of an internal political constitution. The next problem is European's inability to present themselves to the world as one.

Since the government in Washington has gambled away its own moral authority, the international community is turning to the European Union with expectations that it cannot fill unless it has a united foreign policy. While in the Near East, diplomacy can, for the first time since 1948, count on a third party with a robust UN mandate, the European governments, envious of each other, prefer to press ahead on their own rather than strengthen their chief diplomat Solana with a shared agenda. Sixty years after the Nürnberg trials, torn Europe's largest failure is the long overdue reform of the UN. If anyone, it will be the Europeans that will prevent their American allies from continuing to damage the only legitimate conception of world order that they themselves initiated: namely, the further development of classic international law to a politically defined world community.

Likewise the third problem, the progressive undermining of acceptable social standards, can no longer be solved by national governments alone. The justified criticism of the inconsistencies of neo-liberal orthodoxy cannot hide the fact that the obscene combination of rising share prices and mass layoffs rests on a compelling economic logic. Little can be done about this within the national context alone, because the relationship of politics to the market has gotten out of balance on a global scale. It would take a European Union with a cogent foreign policy to influence the course of the world economy. It could drive global environmental policy forward while taking first steps towards a global domestic policy. In so doing, it could provide an example to other continents of how nation-states can be fused into supra-national powers. Without new global players of this kind, there can be no equilibrium between subjects of an equitable world economic order.

The fourth pressing problem is the fundamentalist challenge to cultural pluralism in our societies. We have approached this problem from the perspective of immigration policy for far too long. In times of terrorism, there is a threat that it will only be dealt with under the heading of domestic security. Yet the burning cars in the banlieues of Paris, the local terror of inconspicuous youths in English immigrant neighbourhoods and the violence at the Rütli School (more) in Berlin have taught us that simply policing the Fortress of Europe is no real answer to these problems. The children of former immigrants, and their children's children, have long been part of our society. But since they are simultaneously not a part of it, they pose a challenge to civil society, not the Minister of the Interior. And the challenge we face is to respect the different nature of foreign cultures and religious communities while including them in national civil solidarity.

At first glance the integration problem has nothing to do with the future of the European Union, since every national society must deal with it in its own way. And yet it could also hold the solution to a further difficulty. The second objection of Euro-sceptics is that there could never be a United States of Europe, because the necessary underpinnings are lacking. In truth the key question is whether it is possible to expand civil solidarity trans-nationally, across Europe. At the same time, a common European identity will develop all the quicker, the better the dense fabric of national culture in the respective states can integrate citizens of other ethnic or religious origins. Integration is not a one-way street. When it is successful, it can inspire strong national cultures to become more porous, more sensitive and more receptive both domestically and abroad. In Germany, for example, the more a harmonious coexistence with citizens of Turkish origin becomes a matter of course, the better we will be able to understand other European citizens – from the Portuguese winegrower to the Polish plumber. In opening up domestically, self-contained cultures can also open up to each other.

The integration problem hits a raw nerve in European nation-states. These developed into democratic constitutional states through the forced creation of a romantically inspired national consciousness that absorbed other loyalties. Without the moving force of nationalism, the Bavarians and the Rhinelanders, the Bretons and Occitanians, the Scots and the Welsh, the Sicilians and the Calabrians, the Catalans and the Andalusians would never have merged to become citizens of democratic nations. Because of this tightly-knit and easily combustible social fabric, the oldest national states react far more sensitively to the integration problem than immigration societies like the USA or Australia, from whom we can learn a great deal.

Whether we're dealing with the integration of gastarbeiter families or citizens from the former colonies, the lesson is the same. There can be no integration without a broadening of our own horizons, and without a readiness to tolerate a broader spectrum of odours, thoughts and what can be painful cognitive dissonances. In addition, Western and Northern European secular societies are faced with the vitality of foreign religions, which in turn lend local confession new significance. Immigrants of other faiths are as much a stimulus for believers as for non-believers.

The Muslim across the way, if I can take the current situation as an example, confronts Christian citizens with competing religious truths. And he makes secular citizens conscious of the phenomenon of public religion. Provided they react sensibly, believers will be reminded of the ideas, practices and attitudes in their Church that fell afoul of democracy and human rights well into the 20th century. Secular citizens, for their part, will recognise that they have taken matters too lightly by seeing their religious counterparts as an endangered species, and by viewing the freedom of religious practice as a kind of conservation principle.

Successful integration is a reciprocal learning process. Here in Germany, Muslims are under great time and adaptation pressure. The liberal state demands of all religious communities without exception that they recognise religious pluralism, the competence of institutionalised sciences in questions of secular knowledge and the universal principles of modern law. And it guarantees basic rights within the family. It avenges violence, including the coercion of the consciences of its own members. But the transformation of consciousness that will enable these norms to be internalised requires a self-reflexive opening of our national ways of living.

Those who denounce this assertion as "the capitulation of the West" are taken in by the silly war cry of liberal hawks. "Islamofascism" is no more a palpable opponent than the war on terrorism is a "war". Here in Europe, the assertion of constitutional norms is such an uncontested premise of cohabitation that the hysterical cry for the protection of our "values" comes across like semantic armament against an unspecified domestic enemy. Punishing violence and combating hatred require calm self-consciousness, not rabble-rousing. People who proclaim against their better knowledge that the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Orhan Pamuk is proof of an unavoidable clash of civilizations are themselves propagating such a clash. We should not follow in the footsteps of George W. Bush in militarising the Western spirit as well.

In Germany, the tensions between Christianity and Islam that have been mounting since 2001 recently set off an exciting, high-level competition among confessions. The subject at issue is the compatibility of faith and knowledge. For Pope Benedict XVI, the reasonableness of belief results from the Hellenisation of Christianity, while for Bishop Huber it results from the post-Reformation meeting of the Gospel with the post-metaphysical thinking of Kant and Kierkegaard. Both sides however betrayed a bit too much intellectual pride. The liberal state, for its part, must demand that the compatibility of faith and reason be imposed on all religious confessions. This quality must not be claimed as the exclusive domain of a specifically Western religious tradition.

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This is an abbreviated version of the speech that Jürgen Habermas held on being awarded the state prize of North-Rhine Westphalia. The article originally appeared in German in the Kölner Stadtanzeiger on November 8, 2006.

Jürgen Habermas
, born in 1929, is one of Germany's foremost intellectual figures. A philosopher and sociologist, he is professor emeritus at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt and the leading representative of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. His works include "Legitimation Crisis", "Knowledge and Human Interests", "Theory of Communicative Action" and "The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity."

Translation: nb, jab
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