Saturday, October 20, 2012
The European Union
The European Union (EU) experiment is an essential requirement for a Europe that has viewed warfare as a noble and natural national expression of the human spirit and a process that gave us our vitality and our creativity.
The EU was never intended to mimic the United States of America. A United States of Europe was first and foremost an embrace between traditionally overinflated national egos. Its intent was to finally bring peace and reconciliation to Europe by inhibiting the propensity for intermittent and internecine hostilities between rival European nations that was characteristic of European civilisation.
It is also true that the greatest periods of innovation in human history ran concurrently with periods of human conflict; that necessity drives innovation while serenity fuels leisure.
To this day Europe remains deeply divided along class and ethnic lines. Each nation hides behind a mountain of EU regulation. But the European economic crisis has exposed divisions that were concealed by an income redistribution policy that created an illusion of prosperity built on corruption, lies and false hopes, all of which was beautifully wrapped in breath-taking amounts of Euros. The cost of administering the EU budget is approximately £100 billion per year ($160 billion). This is in addition to individual state budgets.
The “Copenhagen criteria” specified that any European nation could join the Union if it possessed stable democratic government with its associated institutions and freedoms. Additional criteria mandated the gradual harmonisation of national laws. The accession process created the requirement for social, economic and political reform and it hugely accelerated many of those reforms. It was without a doubt the major trigger for the democratisation of Eastern, Central and Southern Europe.
Cultural identity is associated with sovereignty. It was the most sensitive issue on any international agenda and it continues to create controversy. Membership of the club was not made contingent upon easily verifiable progress towards cultural reform eliminating social tensions.
Europe has lots of issues it has failed to address: its discrimination against Romanies, violence in sport, popular intolerance towards Jews and black people – even its failure to address the underlying secessionist tensions between Flemish and Walloon, or Catalonia, are symptomatic of a reticence to address barriers standing in the way of cultural normalisation. And now I can return to the difference between the United States of America and the Disunited States of Europe. In the USA I can be Polish, Chinese, Italian or Spanish and celebrate my unique cultural background AS AN AMERICAN. In the EU there has been no attempt to replicate this model for cultural diversity within a supranational environment. European ambivalence towards accelerated integration is based on long and culturally ingrained intolerance.
The sad fact is that for as long as the money continued to flood into regional coffers (needlessly enriching the bank accounts of special interest groups) defects in the unification model remained unimportant so that the occasional outbreak of bad news could be dismissed as no more than the aberrant behaviour of malcontents and not a national attitudinal pathology.
Individual nations remain committed to a twin track policy that simultaneously satisfies EU membership while pursuing unofficial national policies that are incompatible with that membership. Regional sovereignty is central to European identity. The principle of the sovereignty of nations in use today was established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which created a basis for national self-determination. It failed to prevent war in Europe but it gave people the right to an identity that few in Europe are willing to abrogate.
Germany may have tightly embraced France so that their historic enmity cannot erupt into anything violent but it has also enthusiastically embraced rapprochement with Russia which makes it geopolitically stronger than its neighbours. At the same time it reduces EU and NATO manoeuvrability when conflicts with Russia arise.
Certainly Sweden with its minute Jewish population and large Muslim population has failed to protect the former while politically, it actively encourages the latter towards violence and hate.
Principles and international statecraft may inevitably be oxymoronic but without principles, significant inconsistencies are liable to arise between nations. This provides the best reason extremists have for challenging the right of democracy to influence cultural integration.
The desire to join the EU is strong enough to agree to and accelerate internal political and economic reform even as lip service has been paid towards reforming the social contract in order to discourage prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion. Because of this failure of will, it has not been possible to alter behaviour that encourages a culture of bigotry. Greece just needed austerity (albeit severe) in order to begin rioting and mass demonstrations of support for a neo-Nazi political party. It did not take much for Turkey to begin killing Kurds again. Of course Turkey is also problematic because unlike Serbia which, took responsibility for its war crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars (1991 - 1999) Turkey has never recognised its genocidal actions against Armenians and Kurds; it has refused to review its illegal invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and it continues its illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus.
It is not possible to have two entirely disparate models for integration into the European super state.
Common values, even similar cultural quirks reduce the differences that divide people and again, foster reconciliation and co-existence.
The European experiment has been bloodied because it assumed that it could throw money at its European partners while it failed to address the issues that were fundamental to what culturally divides the nations of Europe.
The motivation behind membership is irrelevant. What is intrinsic to its success however is to understand its weaknesses and address them honestly, and with vigour. Principles do count. It is not naivety but appeasement and cowardice that fails to confront what divides us. If our ethical behaviour is so different then we need to be able to agree on what we are able to accept and to confront what is unacceptable to us. Only then can the negotiation on how we reconcile or even whether it is possible to reconcile the two positions begin.
The US saw the EU as the panacea that would put a stop to European bloodletting but it failed to appreciate the forces of history that worked against its successful implementation. For as long as money was the only issue and cash continued to flow unimpeded, the cracks in the European experiment could be papered over. Perhaps because the USA views itself as endowed with an ethic of Exceptionalism it could not appreciate the burden of history working against integration. The dysfunctional family can lurch from crisis to crisis, its suppurating wounds may not kill it but the re-emergence of the contagion that is Europe’s legacy will continue to intermittently erupt if the importance of social integration is not recognised as at least, equal to economic prosperity.