European Affairs

Forging Commonalities in Europe’s History     Print Email

jacquelinegrapin2015cEurope cannot escape its history. It needs to digest it.

It is in this spirit that a group of 30 eminent historians from seventeen European countries and different schools of thought recently met at the College des Bernardins, a foundation close to Notre Dame de Paris, to present their research and launch a dialogue on the commonalities that lie at the core of a European consciousness. It is a consciousness that is increasingly discussed, despite, or perhaps because of, the many criticisms leveled at the European Union.[1]

Together this group hopes that, after reproducing the same kind of meeting and following the same methodology in several European countries, they will produce a common new narrative on European history and European culture. For those who know about the disagreements that traditionally confront experts in this field , the challenge is enormous. Is it possible to describe the invasions of Western Europe by German tribes in the IVth century without calling them “barbaric” as the Germans would prefer it? Can the debate between Spain and Great Britain about who Francis Drake was be settled when Spain maintains that he was a pirate even though Elizabeth I of England awarded him a knighthood that made him a national hero (in 1581). Not to speak about the various interpretations of the causes and consequences of recent wars on the continent.

There is a new trend among historians to admit that misunderstandings among the European peoples can only be settled if they agree to openly discuss the topics on which they don’t agree naturally. The fact is that there is a growing consciousness among Europeans that they belong to each other, as demonstrated in circumstances such as the Paris and Brussels attacks. There is a collective body of thought among Europeans who more or less share the same notions of what is good and what is bad, although many of them still do not realize what they owe to their common ancestral religious and philosophical background. It is this consciousness that the Cultural Foundation and other European institutions are trying to raise.

To that end, a new project is about to be completed in Brussels: the House of European History. It will be inaugurated this Autumn, situated in a beautiful, recently renovated building right behind the campus of the European Parliament in the Parc Leopold. A committee of historians and museum experts has been working for months to provide a “conceptual basis for a House of European History” insisting on academic independence and modernity of educational programs offered. This project is now part of the European Parliament Directorate for Communication. The exhibition will not only focus on traditional European art, philosophy, and historic events but also include objects such as the guns used in 1914 in Sarajevo to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir of the Austro-Hungarian empire: the event that started the first World War and ultimately resulted in the dismantlement of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires. Six major themes will lead the visitors from the origins and foundations of Europe through the evolutions and events that transformed the continent into what it is today. At a time when Europe is challenged to reflect on the reasons and the process of its integration, an unprecedented amount of efforts is being devoted to focus on the notion of “shared memory”. Better late than never!


[1] The conference was organized by Antoine Arjakovsky, Research Director of the College des Bernardins on May 21st and 22nd under the Presidency of the European Commission in partnership with the House of Europe, the Federation of Catholic Universities in Europe, the chair of research in parliamentary studies of the University of Luxembourg, the Institute for European Studies of the catholic university of Louvain, the European Cultural Foundation, the European Committee for Parliamentary Studies and Information.

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