Wer sind wir?”, “Who are we?”: this is the starting point of Thomas de Maizière’s interview published back in April in Germany’s most read tabloid, the “Bild”, in the column “Debatte”. The general topic tackled in the interview revolves around Germany’s true identity in today’s Europe: with this in mind, Germany’s Minister of Interior emphasized the idea of a “Leitkultur für Deutschland”.
The question risks sounding politically incorrect (doubly so when posed by a German), especially in the context of a contemporary Europe that is based on the conceptual precondition – broad and controversial – of a proverbial acceptance of multiculturalism; the type of multiculturalism we can experience walking down the streets of Berlin or Hamburg.
“Leiten” is the German verb that expresses the ability to lead; in that sense, “leiten” recalls the idea of leadership. Indeed, the subtitle of the Bild-interview examines the idea of “Leitkultur” in a critical light wondering “was ist das eigentlich?”: what does “leading culture” actually mean? Before answering, we should first ask ourselves whether today’s Europe really needs a leading culture(s).
Thomas de Maizière replies by identifying the German leading culture, first and foremost, in the fundamental precepts of dignity and democracy: unambiguously politically correct, unquestionably tolerant and, most importantly, devoid of any trace of nationalism.
The topic at hand deserves to be repurposed for Europe: does a “Leitkultur für Europa” exist? And, if so, which is it supposed to be? In a European political landscape that appears to be completely uncertain (aside from the recent Brexit, it is worth reminding the reader of the forthcoming referendum for independence in Catalonia as well as the general feeling of precariousness that can be felt all over Europe … not to talk of the rumored “Italeave”), the solution which I recently proposed in “AcrosstheEU” for a system tumbling into crisis, is to help our Union regain its footing by relying on an ancient and strong Tradition of European Private Law.
The protection of human rights and the dignity of people – which De Maizière mentioned in his interview, evidently recalling the first article of the German Grundgesetz – are founding values of Europe: while the validity of these maxims might seem self-evident, the same holds true with regard to the capability of both our laws and the politicking of our political establishment of effectively enforcing them. Europe should try a fresh start on the basis of the pragmatism of its Private Law Traditions, the only law of (and for) the citizens. What is a contract? What is a tort? What is inheritance? Why are the answers to those questions still so different from each other in Germany, France, Italy etc.?
It is time to restart with a strong process of harmonization of European Private Law, and set aside the localisms that in the past years have caused many harmonization projects, such as the Draft Common Frame of Reference (DCFR) and the Common European Sales Law (CESL), to end in failure.
In order to justify the EU’s role in the field of Private Law and in light of the principle of conferral of powers (e.g. Reg. 44/2001, considerando n. 1), the European Union has in many occasions underlined the need for a common and shared Private Law system able to simplify and encourage the circulation of people. Exactly this type of circulation is the basis for the creation of a broad and real common culture.
Common rules may lead to a common culture: but a common European culture, authentic and leading, must be founded on the basic needs, that are the ones shared by all European citizens.
Operating on this level can actually ‘touch’ the daily life of our citizens.
This could be the real turning point for a real “Leitkultur für Europa”.