Douglas Adams, the best science fiction author of all times (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) once formulated three rules for people dealing with new technologies, containing the mixture of humour and wisdom typical of him. The gist is:
1.What already existed when we were children belong to the normal state of the world.
2.All developments that we experience between 15 and 35 are exciting and open new possibilities for us.
3.All developments after our 35th birthday contravene the natural order of things.
Sometimes I believe that it is no different for us with major political developments such as the European Union. When I speak to Austrian young people, who know nothing other than life in the Union, then it is unimaginable for them to wait for hours at border crossings to Germany, Italy or Hungary and that the boots of all cars are searched.
If roaming for mobile telephones is abolished and you can telephone throughout Europe like at home, then it is not an interesting development for them but just the much too late establishment of normality. The fact that not all EU countries have the euro and have to exchange money is more surprising to them than the existence of the euro.
However, if I flip open the newspaper Kronenzeitung once a year and read the reader letters sent by post, the opposite picture emerges: everything that happens in the EU appears to be against the natural order of things, which is a cloistered Austria, preferably also with an Iron Curtain.
I was 23 when I voted regarding the EU accession, I voted yes. I grew up by the Iron Curtain and in my childhood the world ended a few kilometres beyond my parents’ house. Austria was a small state at the end of the free world and more than half of the country was fenced in with the barbed wire of neighbouring countries. Europe was exciting and opened new possibilities, as Douglas Adams says. I am not drive by the end of the World War like the founders of the Union, peace was already a matter of course for me. For me the accession ended a spatial and mental narrowness that I do not want to be locked into again. The accession flung the windows open and let fresh air in! This is how I still see it, deep down: the Union is not a matter of course, nor is it unnatural, it is something that is created and developed and therefore I suppose I always wanted to work politically on this level.
Can Sebastian Kurz pivot so easily on Europe-sceptical populism because deep down he takes the EU for granted and does not believe at all that the project can be damaged in the long term? One should not stretch a witty idea of an author too far and that would surely be the case for too much individual psychologising. But if one looks, for example, at the results of the Brexit referendum, it reflects the analysis of Adams: the young ones want to stay, the older ones want to get out. “You’ve stolen our future”, this accusation has been heard often in British media. Today is Europe day. For me it is still one of the most exciting political projects on this planet, or let’s face it, the most exciting. The world is developing, cloistering will never be possible again, nor was it ever the natural order of things. But how the world is developing must be shaped and the EU is the tool for that.
Everyone should contribute to it. And while we may have to motivate some of the younger ones not to view Europe as a given, I can see a special significance for the generation that was already over 35 upon accession. Because of course Adams’ model is a cliché, that is why it works. Beyond the cliché, I know hundreds of people from the generation who still know the natural order of the cloistered national state so well that they do not want to go back there. They can and should contribute this experience and not allow readers’ letter authors have the upper hand. Shaping Europe is a democratic battle and we should all lead it together with dedication
PS: The Douglas Adams fans commemorate their favourite author every year on Towel Day, the 25th May. Next year it is a Saturday, the last day of the European election campaign. Let’s ensure that hope then wins on 26th May.
PPS: Douglas Adams had the idea for “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” according to his own statement when on a pub crawl in Innsbruck he ended up in a lawn and was gazing at the starry sky slightly drunk. Innsbruck is a good plaster.