Interview with Dutch Architect Rem Koolhaas 'The World Needs Europe'

Dutch Architect Rem Koolhaas likes to think in S, M and L, but especially in XL. And that pretty much describes his next project -- a think tank to help overhaul the European Union. In an interview, he discusses the need for a stronger EU role in the world and why we need to stop acting superior when it comes to Russia and China.

Renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, whose innovative buildings can be seen all over the world, was asked earlier this month to mull the future of Europe as a member of a new think tank set up by the European Council of Ministers, the European Union body that represents the interests of the 27 member states. Europe faces many long term challenges, but "if Europe wants the world to listen, it will have to stop talking to itself," he says.

Koolhaas is one of a group of 12 influential Europeans who have been invited to take part in a think tank on the future of the European Union which is expected to come up with a series of proposals for dealing with diverse issues running a gamut of policies that range from energy to security to migration for the period between 2020-2030.

"My job takes me to countries in Asia and the Arab world all the time and there's hardly a European presence there at all," says Koolhaas. "And you can see how badly it's needed. But Europe is too turned in on itself."

His professional and personal experience in China, the Gulf States and a number of European countries and the US gives Koolhaas a unique view on the world. "If you spend so much time in other countries you develop a different perspective on Europe," says the architect, whose membership in the think tank was actively supported by Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

Koolhaas thinks the prime minister may have heard his speech last year on how other continents are gaining ground and what Europe's reaction should be. "Instead of telling other countries what they should do, we should engage them in dialogue," Koolhaas said during the speech.

NRC Handelsblad: Why does the world need a more influential Europe?

Koolhaas: When I was in China, I accompanied the British historian Mark Leonard during his discussions with Chinese thinkers. The Chinese miss Europe on the world's political stage. They say that without Europe, it is impossible for China to confront the United States' domineering stance on issues such as the invasion of Iraq, the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the nuclear conflict with Iran.

NRC Handelsblad: Still, you did see Europe playing a prominent role in the financial crisis.

Koolhaas: Yes, it so happened that France was chairing the European Union at the time. But it also shows how vulnerable Europe is: Had a small country been in the chair (as holder of the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council), things might have worked out differently. This crisis shows we need a European president and foreign minister.

NRC Handelsblad: Doesn't Europe need to become a superpower before it can attempt to influence other parts of the world?

Koolhaas: Europe is a superpower in the sense that it has an enormous cultural influence. And Europe increasingly dictates the rules surrounding international trade. They may be regarded as cumbersome and unnecessary in Europe itself, but African and Asian countries have taken them over nevertheless. They are producing goods along European guidelines. And all this has been achieved without any violence, from small administrative headquarters in Brussels.

NRC Handelsblad: So Europe should loosen its ties with the United States?

Koolhaas: It should become less US-oriented. I am not saying we should turn against the Americans but I think we should also look towards building relationships with Russia, Turkey, the Arab world and China and India, and on an equal basis. China built the Bird's Nest stadium for the Olympics and they chose European architects to design it -- an unbelievably wonderful gesture. We aren't even able to understand that, to appreciate it. The whole world is enthusiastic about it except the European media. We act like we're superior, put ourselves above others. But those days are long gone.

NRC Handelsblad: Are you saying that if we just worked together, democracy in countries such as China will follow automatically?

Koolhaas: That is a typically European way of looking at it. This is an experiment called 'globalization.' If we knew what the outcome was going to be, we would be on a crusade, not conducting an experiment. You can't say: Only democratic countries are ok. And who knows what such a cooperation will bring. We may come up with a new, hybrid system of government.

Interview conducted by Ahmet Olgun.

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