A second European Renaissance

Culture is a priority for the new President of European Economic and Social Committee.

Italy’s Luca Jahier has been elected (April 2018) as the 32nd president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the EU body representing organised civil society, which he will head for the next two and a half years.

In his speech Mr Jahier spoke of taking up the Presidency with a ‘spirit of service, with passion and hope’ and quoted the philosopher Aristotle  that ‘Hope is a waking dream’?’
Mr Jahier wants us all to dream, dream of a re-energised Europe working together for a second European Renaissance. Dare we hope for such a Renaissance? In these times of populism and xenophobia Mr Jahier’s words are certainly positive but it falls on all of us to ensure that those words are translated into action. The EU is arguably going through a period of transformative change. If we follow Mr Jahier’s dreams for a Renaissance then that change can be controlled, shaped and ultimately directed to deliver positive results. The first Renaissance was a wonderful humanistic revolution, which promoted culture to its central place in the social and civic life in Europe. A second Renaissance can and should  re-assert that place.

Mr Jahier’s four stated priorities were a European Union of sustainable development, the promotion of Peace, strengthening the role of Culture within the European political discourse and give our youth the space and voice that they deserve. All laudable aims. But perhaps they might be better arranged. A European Union of sustainable development that promotes peace and gives our youth the space and voice that they deserve can all be built on a foundation of culture as the unifying and mobilising force for Europe. European culture is a wonderful treasure trove of art, history, philosophy,  music, literature and shared values. We have multiple communities producing varied ideas. We have movement of peoples that invigorates and challenges. We have old foundations and new evolutions. We have riches beyond our imagination. And it can all be used to help us build that second Renaissance.

And with that second Renaissance comes opportunities for young people, the promotion of peace and new ways to live and develop sustainably. The Europe of tomorrow will, and should be, different from today and if we all work to ensure that culture is placed at its centre then no matter what it looks like it will be a place of vibrancy, openness and diversity. Institutions have their place in promoting and protecting our culture but we must never forget the humanity that created that culture, that absorbs that culture and that will ultimately shape that second Renaissance. People who make art, individuals who argue passionately with friends, families that explore culture together, these are the people of the second Renaissance. And we must make sure that all of us make our voices heard in defence of the place of culture. When a government talks of economic gain, we must remind them of the value of culture. Where our universities chase after money, we must celebrate the humanities. If our civic leaders promote increasing development, we must show the power of community places.

But more than challenging the obvious, we must not be afraid of change but rather embrace the new, we must not shy away from what is different but step forward to explore. The people of Europe have created that culture, we cannot and must not let it be sidelined from its place at Europe’s heart. Culture, in all its wonderful forms, has made the social and civic life of Europe today, with a second Renaissance it can and will make the Europe of tomorrow.


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