The “Dahrendorf Forum – Debating Europe” is a joint initiative by the Hertie School of Governance and the London School of Economics and Political Science, funded by Stiftung Mercator. Under the title “Europe and the World – Global Insecurity and Power Shifts” the project cycle 2015-2016 fosters research and open debate on Europe’s relations with five major regions (China, MENA, North America, Russia/Ukraine and Turkey).

Europe and the World
The Dahrendorf Legacy

The Dahrendorf Forum: Europe and the World

If Europe is to develop a foreign policy identity, institutional reform must be met with democratic debate. How livable Europe will be in the future also depends on today’s external policies. No fence can shield Europe from the impact of global problems; old demarcation lines between domestic and foreign policy are fading. While this requires strong European responses, public acceptance of further integration is dwindling.

The Dahrendorf Forum recognizes that both, expert knowledge and public debate can benefit from mutual exposition. It therefore researches future scenarios for Europe’s external relations and discusses the findings with an audience as broad as possible. The project’s gaze thereby goes beyond eurocentric worldviews: it puts non-European perspectives center stage.

The most recent project cycle ‘Europe and the World’ (2015-2016) was shaped by five interdisciplinary working groups with specific focus regions (Russia/Ukraine, MENA, China, North America and Turkey). Each Working Group was coordinated by at least one Chair and Research Associate, with Working Group Members appointed by the respective chairs in consultation with the Academic Co-Directors. Members included academics from other institutions of academic excellence as well as leading practitioners from relevant sectors.

The Dahrendorf Blog features sound and cutting-edge commentary on international affairs, while the Dahrendorf Policy Brief and Dahrendorf Analysis offer more in-depth analyses and policy recommendations. Impact is strengthened through publications in both, major academic journals and the media. High-profile events in Berlin, London and beyond are intended to foster lasting engagement between decision-makers and all kinds of social actors. The series of events culminated in the Dahrendorf Symposium from 25-27 May 2016 in Berlin.

The Dahrendorf Legacy

The Forum takes its name from Ralf Dahrendorf (1929-2009). Professor Dahrendorf rose to academic fame in postwar Germany as a leading social scientist with a wide range of interests in sociology and political thought. He entered politics in the late 1960s, first as a liberal member of the Landtag of Baden-Württemberg in 1968 and then as a Member of the German Bundestag in 1969. In 1970 he became a Commissioner in the European Commission. From 1974 to 1984, he served as Director of the LSE, and from 1987 to 1997 he was Warden of St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford. He was appointed a Member of Britain’s House of Lords in 1993 and took the name Lord Dahrendorf of Clare Market.

In 2010, the Hertie School of Governance, LSE and Stiftung Mercator created a joint initiative to honour Lord Dahrendorf’s legacy as a leading sociologist and public intellectual with a passionate commitment to the European idea. It was initially focused on a series of high-level Symposiums that addressed contemporary issues in the European debate. The initiative has now grown into the Dahrendorf Forum, a place for bringing together academics and political practitioners and for stimulating critical reflection on Europe’s future.

Writing in 1969, Dahrendorf famously defined the role of the public intellectual thus: “to doubt everything that is obvious, to make relative all authority, to ask all those questions that no one else dares to ask”. It is in this spirit that the Dahrendorf Forum promotes critical thinking on the public policy challenges that Europe faces. The Forum seeks to highlight those issues and perspectives that tend to be ignored or underrepresented – not for criticism´s sake but in order to move Europe forward.

Reflecting on Europe’s revolutionary year of 1989, Dahrendorf raised the possibility of a “democratic, united Europe”. At the same time, he recognized that the continent was “as yet less real and relevant, and certainly less generous. Still, the fortunate Europe to which we belong exists and has a certain magnetic effect even if it does not discharge its evident responsibility very impressively” (After 1989: Morals, Revolution, and Civil Society, 1997). Today, Dahrendorf’s vision of a democratic and united Europe remains as relevant as it was in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Communism. The institutions of European integration have grown bigger and stronger, public debate about Europe has become more vibrant and an increasingly diverse civil society has strengthened the social fabric of Europe.

Yet, a sense of crisis characterises discussions on the continent’s political and economic future. Despite an expansion of European electoral politics and parliamentary authority, the democratic legitimacy of European political integration is increasingly being questioned. And old and new threats – from ultra-nationalist and xenophobic movements to external security threats – risk tearing Europe apart.

Central to Dahrendorf´s intellectual approach was the insight that liberal market societies are prone to tensions and conflicts of many kinds, and yet, at the same time, they are also in a better position to handle them. Unlike statist and autocratic forms of governance, liberal societies prevent conflicts from bottling up. Instead, social and economic tensions become creative elements that allow societies to move forward. Smart forms of governance turn potential conflicts into opportunities, and actual conflicts into solutions.  If this is to happen peacefully, societies need some form of conflict management, an agreement among stakeholders that legitimate and viable solutions can be found. Indeed, the way Europe has evolved over the last decades is a good example of what Ralf Dahrendorf had in mind, even if the European Union needs further development to achieve this potential.

What is the source of conflict in modern societies? For Dahrendorf, it is more than the obvious fact that individuals have different interests and expectations. Rather, it is the outgrowth of unavoidable tensions that modern societies have to negotiate and balance, between the competing values of justice, liberty and economic wellbeing, and between economic efficiency, identity and security.  While some stakeholders may prioritise one set of objectives over others, policy-makers will want to have all of them realised. How can European societies become just, open and prosperous? How can they aim for efficient economies where people have a sense of community and enjoy internal as well as external security?

Managing such tensions at the national level is hard enough under the best circumstances. It becomes even more challenging in a European Union of 28 diverse member states. If we add to this the complex layers of sub-regional and international governance, from the Eurozone to NATO, the United Nations and transnational regimes, it becomes clear that such tensions exist at multiple levels. Identifying Europe’s latent and manifest tensions at these different levels, their conflict potential, and the options that present themselves for managing and resolving conflicts – that is the essence of Dahrendorf´s approach. The Dahrendorf Forum will pursue this approach through research, engagement and debate, and in doing so seeks to honour Dahrendorf’s intellectual legacy.