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By Jacques DeLors

Jacques Delors was formerly the president of the European Commission.

PARIS -- To refer to the cultural dimension of Europe is to pose the question of the European identity or -- more accurately -- of the European identities.

Should we hesitate to shake the kaleidoscope for fear of seeing strong and often contradictory images appear in it? Is it possible to reunify Europe without wondering about this identity and without trying to bring out the awareness that Europeans should have of themselves? Frankly, I don't think so, even if the undertaking should prove risky and difficult.

No reasonable doubt exists that the specific nature of Europe is built on diversity, contrasts and contradictions -- whether with reference to languages, religion, philosophy, social organization or, more simply, to climates, agriculture, cooking or the art of living.

Let us recall certain evident facts for the benefit of all those who find in this the reasons for forgoing the European project: All these Europeans travel in the same airplanes, drive in the same cars on the same motorways, stay in the same hotels and take their holidays on the same beaches.

More and more they eat the same food, look at the same programs on television, share the same fears, rush to see the same films, get enthusiastic about the same sports, dress in the same way and read the same books. They draw on the same sources of information or of reflection and have at least one common language in which they express themselves, even if this is a sabir that has only distant relations with the language of Shakespeare or of Queen Victoria!

But, one may answer, all of this is due more to globalization than to a progressive drawing closer of the ways of living due to a sort of European miracle. I will willingly grant that but accordingly propose we proceed further in this quest for a European identity.

I would be tempted to refer to our common heritage: the Judeo-Christian civilization, the Greek-inspired democracy, Roman law and the age of Enlightenment. Without forgetting the contributions of those who have invaded and occupied us and who, like the sons of Islam, have left us eloquent testimonies of their innovations and their religion.

But let us go on. At the famous Congress of The Hague in 1948, which brought together politicians and intellectuals all fighting for a united Europe, it seems to me that we suddenly saw the very soul of Europe appear.

"Europe is the land of men continually fighting against one another, ''Hendrik Brugmans, who was to become the first rector of the College of Europe at Bruges, declared on that occasion. "Europe,'' he said, "is the place where no certainty is accepted as truth, if it is not continually rediscovered. Other continents boast about their efficiency, but it is the European climate which makes life dangerous, adventurous, magnificent tragic and, thus, worth living.''

In our quest for identity, we must look at one and the same time to the past and the future. It thus seems to me that the feeling of being the continent of doubt and of perpetual self-examination is, for the Europeans, an exceptional asset for meeting the challenge of adapting our principles and our models of equilibrium between society and the individual to the changing world.

(c) 2000, Aspenia. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate

For immediate release (Distributed 9/12/00)

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