"Crisis" is a word of ancient Greek origin. It is a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events is determined, in other words: a turning point. Once again, Europe is at a crossroads. But once again we Europeans can decide what comes next and shape the future for ourselves.
Youth unemployment, sovereign debt and - especially in the South - growing poverty are just three of the worst problems Europe must solve. But the story of European integration has always been one of trial and error, success and setbacks. The continent will cope with the current crisis, I am sure. In the long term Europe, and especially its growing unity, is a success story that is the envy of the world.
Let's think about reasons to be proud of Europe. Let's talk about what the world owes to Europe. Let's remember that European culture and civilization still shape the world today and serve as a role model.
China and Europe as the only lasting, advanced civilizations
Of course, there are and always have been many civilizations around the world. But nearly all of them blossomed briefly and then vanished. Just two regions developed lasting, advanced civilizations: China and the Mediterranean region including Europe. And the former English colonies such as North America and Australia are originally based on European cultural heritage.
China's civilization declined from world prominence around half a millennium ago, although it was far ahead of Europe in many ways some three thousand years ago: with its system of government, administration and order, for example, as well its technology: paper, printing, the wheelbarrow, gunpowder, porcelain and the magnetic compass were used much earlier in China than in Europe. A few years ago, the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson asked, "Where would the World Economic Forum have been held in the year 1411?" His answer: Nanjing, China. The Middle Kingdom was the center of the world.
In the late 14th century, the Chinese planted 50 million trees in the Nanjing region to provide material for building a seagoing merchant fleet. Their imperial trading ships sailed as far as East Africa - earlier than the Portuguese. The fleet included huge nine-mast seaworthy junks and employed up to 30,000 sailors. Just under a century later, Columbus discovered America with only three caravels and a crew of 90.
By that time, China's rulers had lost interest in seafaring and in influencing the rest of the world. In the early 16th century they destroyed the fleet and penalized the building of large sailing ships - and radically turned their focus inward. China became self-sufficient and isolated itself politically, economically and culturally - thus losing influence over the wider world. It was the Europeans - Portuguese, Dutchmen and Britons - who centuries later forced China to open its doors again. Against the backdrop of China's rise and the shifting of political and economic influence toward the Asia-Pacific region in general, China's influence will rise once again. And it will be fascinating to watch.
Europe as an attractive vision of a community and a life worth living
But now let's look at Europe. There are four elements that make Europe a role model for the world: its values; its way of using scientific discoveries to aid human progress (including material progress); its system of government and order and the legal systems that underpin it; and its civilization in the form of music, art, literature and much more.
First, our values: Germany's Federal President Theodor Heuss once said that Europe is built on three hills: on the Acropolis, or the values of freedom, philosophy and democracy; on the Capitol, meaning Roman law and state order; and Golgotha, or Christianity.
I think all Europeans would agree with that. But you may well ask whether that is of any use to us. Whether it can be the glue that holds Europe together. Whether it is still a role model for the world.
Personally speaking, I think so. It is with these values that everything started. These values harbor a promise to the world, an attractive vision of a life worth living, as a community. Europe's Western values have made it what it is today, with our culture of openness, freedom, diversity and competition, respect for human dignity and the law: the center of global power. While China virtually stood still during its isolation from the world, the Europeans were driven by the desire to spread their values and the Christian faith, by their pursuit for freedom but also by their hunger for gold, riches and power to go out into the world: first to South and North America, then to Africa and Asia.
Today more than ever, people around the world want to lead a self-determined life in dignity, freedom and the rule of law. Events like those in Tiananmen Square and Myanmar, people such as Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi and the young people on the streets from Istanbul to São Paulo stand for these values. In Tahrir Square in Cairo, protesters held banners bearing the words "Thank you, Europe." As Europeans, it cannot fail to move us that around the globe there are people who are so fascinated by our values that they are prepared to risk their lives for them. They trust our values and they fight for them. Europe therefore has a duty to keep the Acropolis, Capitol and Golgotha alive - that is, the respect for the individual, and the importance of freedom.
Intellectual and individual freedom as the engine of progress
Freedom has always played a prominent role in intellectual development. This takes us to the second area in which European civilization has gained a leading role in the world: its scientific, academic and economic system. The Age of Enlightenment, that deeply European way of thinking, shaped Germany, France and Britain in particular in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was preceded by upheavals in astronomy, physics and other sciences. Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire and Kant: their free thinking ran counter to church and government paternalism. The Enlightenment thinkers banished the shadow of the Dark Ages with the light of reason and the ideal of intellectual freedom, equality and tolerance. With growing intellectual and individual freedom, Europe brought forth science and technological progress. The steam engine marked a sea change for all humanity - the start of the industrial age. This sea change brought about growing prosperity for more and more people - first in Europe, then in other parts of the world.
250 years ago, GDP per capita - if it had been measured that way - was roughly the same everywhere around the globe. The only factors of production were labor and land. But it was Europeans who creatively turned scientific discoveries into industrial inventions and shifted the world's focus to today's dominant third production factor, knowledge and capital. The point I'm trying to make: there is a common concept that originated in ancient times and went on to span humanism and the Enlightenment - a model of freedom that was born in Europe and that the world aspires to wherever people want prosperity and dignity. Remember: Europe not only invented the steam engine, car, electricity and penicillin, but also the computer and the Internet. They were marketed and sold in other countries, but those were industrial societies also based on the European model.
The social market economy: a European key concept and top export
As science, technology and industrial production moved forward, Europe also developed the model of the market economy. From Thomas Aquinas to Adam Smith, pioneering European thinkers laid the foundations. The Americans implemented this model in a radical form, as has Communist China since Deng Xiaoping - with great success. They are not doing it for the love of Europe, but because they know that they depend on technological progress and the free market to make life better and more prosperous. The social cataclysm brought about by capitalism and industrialization led the European Karl Marx to think about the causes and find alternatives. He did not foresee that his analysis and the ideologies derived from it were to divide the world for over a century. But my point is that this revolution, too, had its roots in Europe.
And the building blocks of socialist ideals in connection with the West's Christian vision of human nature ultimately led to the social market economy: a key concept of Europe's culture that helps balance social and business needs. It is developing into one of Europe's top exports.
Freedom depends on democracy
I have now come to my third point: Europe's system of government and its foundations based on the rule of law. Freedom depends on democracy: Europe realized this earlier and more consistently than other regions. The Greeks and Romans taught us democracy 2,500 years ago, and the European philosophers of the Enlightenment refined it. King William III of England had to sign the Bill of Rights in the 17th century, following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This bill is so important because it granted Parliament comprehensive rights. Members of Parliament were guaranteed immunity so that they could pursue their duties free of royal interference. The declaration of human rights in the French Revolution of 1789, the American constitution of 1791, the Belgian constitution of 1831, the German constitutions of 1849 and 1919, the German Basic Law of 1949 and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 are all based upon this. This European constitutional tradition has long been the driving force worldwide. Even dictatorships cannot resist it forever, even if some of them enjoy economic success thanks to free-market reforms and technological progress.
No absolutist monarchy, no theocracy and no dictatorship has ever been as successful as the diverse, freedom-loving Europe, even though European unity remained a dream of philosophers and visionaries for a long time. It was only after the war that the "idea of Europe" took off as a peace project. Winston Churchill famously spoke of the "United States of Europe" in his speech in Zurich in 1946. Konrad Adenauer and French foreign minister Robert Schuman also spoke out for unity and reconciliation. The focus of their realpolitik was initially to find a practical way of combining the German and French coal and steel industries. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was founded. In 1957 the Treaties of Rome were signed, which established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). In 1967 these two communities were merged into the European Community (EC). For the past 20 years, since the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993, the term European Union or EU has been used. With the introduction of the common currency, the euro, in 1999, the union became closer and opened its doors in 2004 to eight more countries from Central and Eastern Europe. As you can clearly see, over 60 years the sense of community and willingness to integrate has gradually moved to the forefront. This success story gives us every reason to think that even a serious euro crisis will not really jeopardize European integration.
European civilization meets the greatest global acceptance
This takes me to my fourth point: the global acceptance, if not dominance, of Europe's civilization. Once man has satisfied his basic needs, civilization, art, music and literature start to flourish everywhere in the world. We can marvel at great civilizations and impressive works of art all over the globe. These have existed in China for more than 5,000 years, and we can also find them in many other Asian countries as well as the Arab world, Africa and Central America.
But I believe that the works of European civilization meet the greatest global acceptance. They influence local cultures and sometimes even dominate them. North and South Americans, the vast majority of whom are descended from European immigrants, are part of the European-Atlantic civilization anyway. And still American culture did not rise to world levels before European elites arrived in the 1930s and then again after 1945 - in literature, music, the fine arts, even in Hollywood. In Asia, the Arab world and Africa, European art and civilization have an overwhelming impact. A look at the Internet is enough to confirm this idea, if you haven't experienced it firsthand. Regarding the fine arts, just look at websites of museums for contemporary art all over the world or art fairs in Hong Kong and Dubai. As for music, a look at concert and opera programs worldwide will confirm my point. A Chinese opera in Europe is exotic, but European opera in China is a common occurrence. The nature of literature means the situation is not as clear here, but the perspectives, assessments and styles often reveal European influence. Millions of non-Europeans come to Europe to experience its culture and civilization: To Munich, Lucerne and Salzburg for music; to Kassel for the documenta exhibition of contemporary art, to the Venice Biennale and Art Basel. The Frankfurt Book Fair is the most important of its kind worldwide, and Sweden's Nobel Prize in Literature is still the most coveted such award in the world.
Europe's responsibility for culture, values and civilization
I am not saying this from a position of European arrogance or even chauvinism. I'm trying to recall Europe's importance to the world - beyond everyday politics and economic crises. And I want you to encourage Europe to take responsibility for culture, values and civilization, and their development.
It's not just Europe's civilization that leads the world; Europe's economy does so too, at least for the time being. The EU today is the world's largest economic area: It is 1.2 times bigger than the US economy; twice as big as the Chinese economy and 3 times as big as the Japanese economy. The European Union accounts for 7% of the world's population, 25% of the world's GDP, more than a third of world trade and half of global welfare spending - a very special European achievement. Nearly a quarter of global currency reserves are held in euros. China alone probably holds nearly EUR 700 billion. With 3.2% growth per annum since 2000, GDP per capita in the EU expanded more strongly than in the US (at 3%) and Japan (at 2.9%), although EU growth dropped to 2.4% after 2008, the year of the financial crisis. Europe therefore has no economic reason to hide its light under a bushel. But of course only if it pushes its unity forward intelligently, as Europe's population is aging and shrinking and its share of global GDP is falling.
Economic community - community of values - political community
That means common European policies are all the more important. All the more must Europe safeguard the meaning of European civilization and culture for the world and strengthen it wherever possible. I have called my essay "Europe's values, Europe's economy" because I believe that an economic community must also be a community of values to succeed as a political community over the long term. As the Treaty of Maastricht declares, the Union is founded on liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in all the Member States. Or take the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is binding for European institutions, and starts with the same sentence as Germany's Basic Law: "Human dignity shall be inviolable." In other words, it matters that everyone is oriented to the same values. This is precisely what the crisis is teaching us. The Acropolis, Capitol and Golgotha have never lost their meaning.
There is clearly a loss of confidence in Europe, but the crucial point is where that confidence is eroding: As I see it, the idea of Europe is not in question. Instead, people are losing confidence in the way that idea is put into practice. This lack of confidence is not the cause of Europe's problems, but rather the result. Europe therefore needs better policies to restore confidence.
How difficult this can be is illustrated by the following example: A euro country is not necessarily a Schengen country, and the EU is not synonymous with it either. It gets even more complicated: Norway is not a member of the EU, but participates in Schengen processes. It's exactly the opposite for the UK: they are in fact an EU member, but not part of the Schengen area. If you fly from Munich to London, you have to show your passport even though you're not leaving the EU. If you land in Oslo, you don't need your passport, although you have left the EU.
At the same time, there has long been a clear feeling of belonging together. EU citizens grant each other the same political and social rights and responsibilities, with large majorities on either side. Hardly any distinction is made between people from Munich or Madrid. The construct of the "foreigner" is plainly disappearing within the EU. Obviously, for many Europeans, EU citizenship as it has existed since Maastricht is more normal than I would have expected.
Optimism is important. Europe's values play a key role as a compass for the world, and continue to hold an enormous power of attraction. To keep Europe's light from fading, we must stand together. Only as a community of Europeans will we have power, influence and a future.
At the same time, Europe will respectfully acknowledge the rapidly growing and constructive contribution the rest of the world is making to the evolution of our civilization. This contribution comes especially from China, Japan and the rest of Asia, but also from North and South America and increasingly from Africa. Europe will integrate these elements into its own reality and help them blossom.
Prof. Dr. h.c. Roland Berger is founder and Honorary Chairman of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. This essay is based on a speech on behalf of Bavaria's State Premier for the Order of Merit of the Free State of Bavaria award ceremony on July 3, 2013.