Empress Theophano Prize

The Prize

The Empress Theophano Prize rewards individuals or organisations who make an outstanding contribution to bridging Europe’s historic diversities.

The Prize pays attention to the improvement of understanding of the diverse historic interdependencies in Europe, in particular but not only, those of the former Eastern and Western Roman Empires, and of their lasting and constructive impact on Europe’s identity.

The Prize aims thus to deepen and widen the narrative of European cooperation, as it developed originally after 1945, whether in the construction of the European Union or otherwise.

“The Prize pays attention to the improvement of understanding of the diverse historic interdependencies in Europe.”

Developing inclusive European mind frames

Ways of thinking and imagination frame popular self-belief; they are the currents flowing below collaboration and policy making. They often lag behind reality in Europe.

Decades after enlargement, a binary vision about European cooperation, based on the history of the Western Roman Empire and its successor, the Holy Roman Empire founded by Charlemagne, still dominates. But this vision was developed in the particular circumstances of post-war Europe and the division into two political blocs.

In reality, contemporary Europe was nourished by multiple and diverse sources and by their inter- connectivity. Its identity resembles a rich mosaic of geographical, cultural, religious, political, economic and social influences.

The 19th century ideology of nationalism had a narrowing effect on Europeans’ views of themselves. The early narrative of European integration has been equally reductionist.

It is time to open our minds again to the fascinating interaction of influences which has made Europe, which remains the fundament of its civilisation and of its particular place in the world.

The Empress Theophano, a nearly forgotten, historic, European figure, who played an important role in its development in the 10th century, is an inspiring figure for this task.

History of the Prize

The traditional historic narrative for European integration has become insufficient in an enlarged European Union. It is based predominantly on the history of succeeding political organisations of the Western Roman Empire, and in particular on the Carolingan Empire before and after its division in 843 at Verdun and the resulting struggles between its three parts, up until the devastating wars of the 20th century.

The history of the countries from successive EU enlargements has not yet become fully integrated in its founding narrative inspired by the particular historic situation of the 1950s. The political, economic and cultural influence of the Byzantine Empire, successor of the Eastern Roman Empire after its conquest of the Ottoman Empire, remains largely ignored. As has the impact on European history of many other political constructions and of almost permanent intense cultural and economic interchanges. None of them have yet been given their due place in the founding narrative, based on their interaction and connectivity throughout the ages.

In fact, the narrative for European collaboration is too much an extrapolation of 19th and 20th century nation state histories, which, in order to consolidate themselves, developed a one-sided re-interpretation of many more centuries of cultural, economic and political interactions of a different nature. European identities are formed by more complex interdependencies over the ages than is often assumed in technocratic thinking. A too narrow historic reading is insufficient to give modern Europeans a sense of collective belonging.

It is necessary to create better understanding for the multiple influences in forging European identities, both to reassure people and to encourage openess to a more cosmopolitan world.

In the independent High Level Groups on Policy Innovation it had been often remarked that the EU needs a new narrative. Its secretary general, Stefan Schepers, developed this idea further and proposed Empress Theophano as a rallying figure to start remedying the historic narrative on which the EU is based. The idea was taken up enthusiastically by a group of Greek businesspeople who wanted to make a contribution to European collaboration and who founded the Empress Theophano Foundation. It received early support of the first President of the European Council, Herman Count Van Rompuy and the King Baudouin Foundation of Belgium.