How distant it seems the time when the Italian Renaissance maestros set the standards by which any artist would have been measured since then. When the French revolutionaries established the principles on which modern republics and liberal democracies are rooted. When the British built enduring physical and cultural infrastructures all over the lands of their immense empire. We could go back in time even further to the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece, namely the foundations of the Western world culture.
The contrast between this glorious, magnificent past and troubled current times couldn’t be more blatant. Most people view Europe as an irreversibly declining continent. Frankly, it’s hard to argue with that. Many European countries will be facing severe demographic problems because their populations are shrinking and getting older quickly. From a political perspective, the European Union doesn’t count for anything when it comes to determine the fate of the world. China is penetrating our continent, economically and, to some extent, also geopolitically. A European country, the UK, was able to establish the first, true global empire, but we are probably witnessing the last stages of its break-up—what else will Brexit lead to if not this? These are some of the signals clearly indicating we Europeans lost our leadership position and passed definitively the baton to other countries, namely the US and the Asian emerging nations like China. Despite all this, there are some “buts”, however.
- Nowadays, social media and Internet-based services are so pervasive that citizens’ privacy is at risk constantly. Although this problem has been known for years, nobody was able to design a regulation to protect users’ sensible data until 2016. In that year, the EU—the first legislative body in the world—issued a law that was specifically designed to achieve this goal. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is not perfect, but has the great merit to attempt to regulate this delicate, complex matter. A professor of the most prestigious economy university in Italy refers to Europe as the “world’s regulation factory.” By this, he wants to stress the EU is a worldwide reference when it comes to creating legislations governing new phenomena that pose unprecedented issues.
- In Italy, we are overwhelmed by politics. Traditional media such as television and newspapers devote a lot of space to domestic parties on a daily basis. Every insignificant detail is covered thoroughly. Few relevant facts and political decisions truly affect the life of citizens and allow us to get the big picture about what it’s really going on. Instead of focusing on them, they are often overlooked. Politicians have a large space to talk for hours and hours without saying anything interesting. In spite of this distressing scenario, though, from time to time, some say something compelling and thought-provoking. A few weeks ago, for example, an Italian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) mentioned an interesting figure during a TV debate regarding the so called “European Green Deal.” He stated that the European Union (EU) is responsible for 9% of the emissions of greenhouse gases globally. When I heard this statement I thought that he probably was mistaken. He was right instead, as it can be verified here. Honestly, I believed that Europeans emissions were much higher. Although the citizens of the EU are only about 6.6% of the world population, in fact, the European Union “remains the largest economy in the world with a GDP per head of €25,000 for its 500 million consumers.” So, I had a look at the emissions per capita (8.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent) to determine exactly how bad we Europeans are in this regard. At the end of the day, if the EU were a country, it would be in the 50th place in the list by greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Even though we are one of the top industrialized areas in the world, we are far from the first positions in the sad ranking of emissions per capita. The conclusion is that, despite the fact we need for sure to do a lot of work for reducing our emissions dramatically, we Europeans are not so bad when it comes to environment protection and conservation compared to the other industrialized countries.
- From my point of view, CERN laboratory is the most shining example of cross-nations collaboration in Europe. Although my continent consists of many, often divided, small countries, we have been able to build and develop the largest and one of the most advanced particle physics lab on earth. In this facility, for instance, the existence of the Higgs boson was recently confirmed. CERN—which also includes the gigantic Large Hadron Collider— is probably the most outstanding, impressive artifact in human history. It embodies state-of-the-art technologies in many different fields. In it, people of all the European countries (and the other continents as well) work side by side relentlessly, no matter where they come from, their mother tongue, and their political orientation. If you think that less than about 75 years ago we were still killing each other, it is definitely a remarkable result.
- Even though mass shootings are increasing in the US, every time we Europeans hear about a new one, we still find it unbelievable. We still wonder how it is possible that, in the self-proclaimed most advanced country in the world, you can’t feel safe in a high school or in a mall. Of course violent facts happen in Europe too, but true massacres like the ones that sadly occur in the USA on a regular basis are extremely rare. Needless to say, we can also count on a welfare state that, on average, is known to be much better than the American one. The same is true for the public educational system, which is generally effective although not oppressive towards the students. All things considered, it is not surprising that 8 of the first 10 happiest countries in the world are European, according to the World Happiness Report 2019. For what it’s worth, this ranking seems to confirm that the quality of life in Europe is not that bad.
The list could extend even further. Let there be no misunderstanding: I’m not saying Europe is heaven on earth. If we bring back environmental issues, for instance, Europeans aren’t completely innocent. We too are contributing to destroy the only place in the universe where we can live (incidentally, isn’t it ironic we are so immodest to define ourselves homo sapiens—Latin for “wise man”—but we are the only species that jeopardizes its habitat?). And what about what we did in the past? Don’t we have blood on our hands for the crimes we perpetrated at all latitudes? Didn’t we invent the capitalistic/consumeristic model that is at the basis of the environmental problems we are facing? Didn’t we also impose such a model to the rest of the world? In spite of all these facts, the point is that Europe, thanks to its cultural substrate, still seems to be the only far-sighted place in the world able to depict a holistic vision. With all its limitations and contradictions, this continent attempts to right the ship by learning from previous mistakes. It looks further ahead and arduously tries to pave the way toward a sustainable balance among economics, scientific/technological progress, human rights, and environmental preservation. Europe is still the most craved region on earth from a geopolitical perspective as well. Because of its geographical position, of course, but, more importantly, because of its unique, unmatched cultural depth that makes this decaying continent so charming yet.
At the time of this writing (February 2020), Europe is in the middle of the 2019–20 coronavirus outbreak. Once again, the EU hasn’t missed the opportunity to show the world how divided and dysfunctional it can be. Each and every country has defined different protocols to deal with this issue. Completely diverse approaches have been followed to tackle the spread of the virus, a problem that is inherently cross-border and that could have been faced much more effectively if we had cooperated. Ironically, we have proved we can do that.
Editing assistance by Dr. Emily Braswell.
Featured image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c6/Abraham_Ortelius_Map_of_Europe.jpg