“The Vienna Conversations” is a group of European women and men, who have been engaged in the last few years in a profound discussion over how to (re)create the missing sense of ‘togetherness’ among Europe’s citizens and manifold communities. Their aim is to foster a new open context in which humanistic, universal and progressive values can be strengthened to address and confront the dangers of our time, dangers which threaten the constitutional principles of Europe and have a clear impact on the future of European diversity.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BELONGING FOR A EUROPE LIVING TOGETHER IN DIFFERENCE
The European problem we are confronting is: Can we live together in difference? One of the main factors determining this is our—individual or collective—sense or senses of belonging in Europe.
Fostering a sense of belonging to Europe was a core aspiration of the European project from the start. Today, European politicians, officials and leading thinkers lament a dwindling of a sense of belonging in Europe, liked to fierce debates about immigration, yet regard it as key to a uniting, integrating EU. Although they rarely explain what they mean by the notion, over the last 20 years it has been subject to increasing discussion and study: theoretical, ethnographic, sociological, political.
The literature may sometimes confuse rather than clarify, but what it does do is show that belonging is a complex phenomenon, not an unquestionable good (7); a fundamental, human emotion and a political project taking many forms, especially in immigration policies, citizenship regulations and the EU’s elitist decision- and policy-making processes, all of which seek to determine who belongs and who doesn’t. These projects are invariably about exclusion rather than inclusion. They articulate, at the public policy level, the fundamental trait in all societies of making distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
All who have a position on the future of Europe take a political stand on the question of belonging—either implicitly or explicitly. Two stands dominate public debate and political action:
1. The right-wing and/or far right, anti-immigrant populists have a very narrow concept of belonging, seeing it as fixed, grounded in centuries of tradition, an expression of attachment to the nation, not transferable or applicable to immigrants.
2. The advocates of ‘more Europe’, who embrace diversity and inclusiveness, see belonging as a dynamic process and are ready to grant immigrants belonging in Europe and to their own communities. They acknowledge people’s potential to have multiple belongings in the EU’s transnational and cosmopolitan space, but seek to foster common belonging in and to Europe by de-emphasising the national and developing a European identity grounded in the idea that Europe has a common culture and history.