Where is Europe going?

Vaclav Havel at 'Quo Vadis Europa' session, photo: CTK

On Thursday a Forum 2000 Foundation event was held in Prague's historic Municipal House on the topic "Quo vadis Europa?" - Latin for "Where are you going, Europe?" As you can gather from the title, the participants - who included former Czech president Vaclav Havel and intellectuals from all over the Continent - were there to discuss the future of Europe.

Vaclav Havel at 'Quo Vadis Europa' session,  photo: CTK
Where is Europe going? That's a question on everyone's lips these days, especially in the Czech Republic, which is about to hold a referendum on European Union membership in June.

In Prague on Thursday, a group of intellectuals, politicians and diplomats got together to discuss the future of Europe. The event was part of a series of conferences and discussions on global issues organised by the Forum 2000 Foundation, a joint initiative of former president Vaclav Havel, philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.

Mr Havel was at yesterday's roundtable discussion, and it was actually his first public appearance since the end of his presidential term. The other participants included the ambassador of the European Commission to the Czech Republic, Ramiro Cibrian; French political scientist Jacques Rupnik; former Slovak foreign minister, Pavol Demes; the European Commission's expert on EU enlargement, Graham Avery; Czech philosopher Vaclav Belohradsky; and commentator and former Czech dissident Jan Urban.

Vaclav Havel at 'Quo Vadis Europa' session,  photo: CTK
Among the issues discussed by the participants were the relations between big and small states in Europe; the role that the EU should play in the development of southeastern Europe; whether Turkey should be allowed to join the union; and the nature of the relationship between Europe and the United States.

While much attention was given to economic and political issues, Larry Siedentop, a professor of political thought from Oxford University, brought up another important issue that he believes has been much neglected in the debates on European integration. As he told Radio Prague, Europe's future depends on the quality of its education:

"Well I think it's depressing. If you read most analyses of the leading universities in the world - with the possible exception of Oxford and Cambridge - European universities hardly figure in the list of the world's leading universities. And even Oxford and Cambridge have some difficulty getting near the top. When you consider how rich Western European countries have become since 1945, and consider, on the other hand, the great intellectual traditions of Europe, this seems to amount to outrageous neglect. And, if Europe is serious in the deepest since about providing competition with the United States and some alternative models, then that neglect of its mind - of European minds - is very serious indeed."