Across Europe, pundits demand a new narrative for the EU. But our foundations remain strong. We must only broaden our gaze: We used to say "never again" to the threat of war. Today, we say "never again" to the danger of debt.
History has touched us, however undeserving we might be. In 1989, the Iron Curtain fell. For my generation (I was born in 1976) it was a dream come true. Having grown up in the 1980s, we still knew what the threat of nuclear war felt like. Shouts of "Russians attack!" -- a phrase that was popularized by a German cartoon in the late 1990s and still serves as the basis for humorous dialogue -- literally sent shocks down our spines.
The Western history of peace that began in 1945 came full circle in 1989. For the first time, Europe did not have to fear the outbreak of another war. Previously, intra-European tensions had already been resolved. Nobody expected that France and Germany would wage war with each other. But the possibility of a full-scale attack on Europe from the East lingered until the end of the Cold War. 1989 was the year when the EU could begin to show its full potential. In 2004, that history reached its present peak when former Soviet republics were integrated into the EU.
Most important was the addition of Poland to the ranks of EU members. After the war, the bishops of Germany and Poland began the first East-West reconciliation talks. A Polish pope visited Germany. And with the end of the Cold War, Poland became the symbol of the integrative force of the European Union. To us Germans, Poland has become as important as France.
2004 was only a few years ago; 1989 and 1990 are not part of the distant past, either. They remain key dates in the European narrative and identity. Our shared history is the story of "never again." No to war and destruction! Chancellor Merkel now demands that Europe needs a new narrative. Today's young generation cannot connect with a history that was born out of Cold War perils, she says. But she is wrong. World War II and the Cold War are not the only foundations for our European identity. Most of us can clearly remember the peak of European integration in 2004. By the way, a tidbit of history: The treaty with Poland was signed in Athens.
For the past six years, we have been able to fully enjoy the fruits of the "never again" narrative for the first time. We have witnessed reconciliation between East and West and trans-European solidarity. In the 1990s, we became reluctant warriors in the Balkans. And we were right to accept a military leadership role. We cannot stand by and watch while the dark chapters of the Third Reich are relived on our doorstep.
Europe is no empire. Hence our history is different from the histories of the Roman Empire, or from the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations. It differs from the historical narrative of the Bismarck era, and it is certainly at odds with the narrative of the Third Reich. Today's leaders are no heroes, no kings, no Robin Hoods. They are no murderers and thugs. The secularization and demystification of the political sphere is the basis for our lasting peace. Where pathos and heroic stories cease to dominate, honor ceases to be a part of politics.
Europe does not require a new narrative. The only task in front of us is the defense of "never again." Our historical vision must expand to include another pastime of European states: debt-financed budgets. Since 1945, we have come to rely on each other. And we have proven to the world that it, too, can rely on Europe. That, too, is a part of our shared identity.
Today, we say "never again" to the idea of ever-expanding debt. Never again can we risk the trust that has been placed in us with reckless financial and fiscal policies. Never again can we risk the achievements of postwar European history. Never again can we accept debt as part of a policy of national interest. Never again, not even one bit!