The European Union, part 1: A clique of multinationals or a union of peoples?
By Gaither Stewart
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Nov 29, 2007, 00:56
In a disturbing cartoon, security inspectors at a US entry
point welcome a neatly dressed, probably European, passenger. Expeditiously
they isolate him, efficiently fingerprint him and record his eyes, then,
medically, they pore into his every orifice before photographing and X-raying
him, after which, the dazed and confused tourist or businessman is pushed toward
the exit under a sign reading: �Welcome to the USA.�
The cartoon reminded me of arrival controls at the Soviet
Sheremetovo Airport in Moscow during the dark night of Brezhnevism.
While to justify the existence of the KGB/Stasi-like
Homeland Security 21st century America erects new barriers against foreigners,
across Europe old frontiers are falling. From December 21, peoples of 24
nations of the European Union (EU) will be able to travel over the continent
without showing passports or identity cards, from the island of Malta in the
Mediterranean to Riga on the Baltic, from Greece to Finland.
It�s as if a second Berlin Wall were falling.
The crumbling of the old frontiers once defended by barbed
wire and armed guards marks the entrance into the European Union of nine new
countries -- Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia,
Lithuania, Latvia, all once part of the USSR, and the island nation of Malta.
The new EU members plus non-EU Norway and Iceland have also signed the Schengen
Accords, which guarantee the free movement of the European Union�s peoples.
Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania will soon follow.
What is modern Europe all about? And where is it going? Is
it simply retracing old paths trodden by Charlemagne and Napoleon to unify the
un-unifiable? Can one even speak of a plural them on a continent of
numerous peoples speaking different languages and believing in different gods
The concept of the European Union today seems like the end
of a closed process, for the urge toward unity has been underway since the
Roman Empire. Often one is tempted to think of only the western part of the
European Union, forgetting the East that until recently was �unified� under the
hammer and sickle. In a way just speaking of �Europe� is an attempt to
reconstitute a civilization lost somewhere in the past, or perhaps something
yet to be born following some catastrophic calamity. In that respect a united
Europe appears to some as a symbol of what perhaps mankind has always dreamed:
return to a perfect Eden of harmony.
When recently in my neighborhood of north Rome a supermarket
was held up by hooded bandits, the first question people on the post-crime
scene asked the frightened cashier was whether the robbers spoke with East
European accents. The answer that no, they spoke in thick Roman accents
satisfied no one. For only a few days before a Romanian had robbed, raped and
murdered a woman near an urban train stop and Romanians are blamed for
robberies up and down the peninsula.
In EU Italy, Italians tend to blame rising crime and
violence on foreigners. In all of Europe, geographic expansion and the free
movement of peoples are a challenge. The balance of freedom of movement and
security is a delicate mechanism. Not by a long shot is free movement all roses
and flowers. Massive immigration is a headache for all.
With an ageing population, Europe needs immigrant labor but
at the same time it fears immigrants because of the real or imagined threats
they pose. Experts in the EU capital in Brussels now foresee a flood of nurses
and household servants from Poland to West Europe, while Germany and Holland
have not yet come to terms with their millions of Turkish and Moroccan
immigrants. Italy is uncertain of what to do with its some 500,000 Romanians
and an unclear number of illegal Albanians. Now, also the arrival in Europe of
extra-EU nationals will be facilitated since a visa issued by one of the 24 EU
nations is valid in all the rest.
The world remembers the uprisings in France two years ago of
African immigrants, first in the Paris banlieues, then throughout the nation.
Spain and Italy face hordes of illegals arriving each day and night on
precarious dinghies that have made of the Mediterranean a graveyard and the two
countries the entranceway to Europe.
Political parties like the National Front in France, the
Northern League and extreme right parties in Italy, the Freedom Party in
Holland and groups of neo-Nazis in Germany have grown rapidly based on
anti-immigration and anti-Islamic programs. Slogans of �A tsunami of Moslems
will overrun Holland� or �Ban the Koran� or �Mohammad is a pervert� echo
through The Netherlands. A recent poll in the Lowlands claimed that 33 percent
of the population relates to the Freedom Party.
Turn back the clock?
As a rule, Europeans hold to traditions more than Americans.
These are the quaint things American tourists note and photograph and take back
home as treasures to be preserved. Each country has its traditional folk music
and dances, dress and ways of celebrating its holidays.
A Paris businessman acquaintance notes that although the
French -- except for extreme right-wingers -- do not feel they have lost their
freedoms nor have strong desires to return to the good old times, they feel
nostalgia for the era when French prestige was great. Older generations speak
of the �moral decay� of modern times. In this respect new generations of French
are �cool� and are proud of their Europeanness.
Contemporary life in The Netherlands presents a whole gamut
of new social problems: European integration, increased use of drugs and
alcohol by minors, over-sexualization of society, the distance between
immigrants (20 percent of population is non-Dutch) and the old population,
problems between freedom of choice and religion and ethical issues such as
euthanasia. A banker friend in Amsterdam notes that such questions inevitably
awaken nostalgia for �the good old days� and stir nationalistic sentiments,
foreign to the Dutch character marked by tolerance and openness.
Holland is by no means a nationalistic country; the
multilingual, world-traveling Dutch are Europe�s great internationalists. But
faced with globalization and integration in the EU, people feel lost in the
crowd; that they have lost control. Rita Verdonk recently broke away from the
Dutch Liberal Party and founded the Proud of Holland Movement (Trots op
Nederland). Polls showed that even without a political program the movement
could win 29 seats in parliament out of 150. Though Dutch people aren't happy
with many EU decisions, taken in meetings in elegant locations in Brussels or
in one European capital or the other, more and more frequently they don�t
bother to react anymore.
The banker says that Brussels and The Hague, less than two
hours distance by high-speed train, are at the moment a world apart.
Europeans seem to be living a double morality, a new market
morality and a partially false morality of a globalized game of which they do
not understand the rules. As French philosopher Jean Baudrillard notes, you
must be totally implicated in order to be able to play the game. I personally
don�t believe Europeans are yet at the point for total commitment to the game,
neither to the game of �Europe,� nor to globalization. The evocation of a glorious
past is too great, the past of ideas and discovery and invention, of the
Renaissance and Enlightenment and individualism, of nationalism, Socialism and
Communism, and above all the social state.
How could thinking Europeans, the descendants of peoples
wrapped in secret and the mysteries of Cabala and alchemy, be duped by promises
of imperialist parvenu economists and storytellers of wealth for all peoples on
the basis of something called the market? These are peoples whose ancestors were stargazers, whose artists
depicted people with their eyes lifted upwards toward untold secrets and
interpreted life�s mysteries in the numbers and the stars.
Europeans and the European Union
The French attitude toward the European Union appears less
hostile than skeptical; they are uncertain about the advantages it offers them.
Educated upper middle classes are open to Europe and see advantages in free
trade and monetary and political stability; those lower on the economic scale
identify the EU with the dislocation of industry, the loss of jobs and growth
of immigration. Moreover, the increased cost of living is blamed on the EU
and its euro currency. In general, French people today are less Europhile than
10 years ago.
Italians are more ambivalent. Like Germans, Italians have
been among the most fervid �Europeans.� They pay lip service to the EU and are
proud to be called Europeans. Italian traditions do not stand between them and
Europe as in Holland. Even Italian right-wingers, who detest rules limiting
their opportunities to gain, especially the stringent EU economic-finance
regulations, pay lip service to Europe. Since price hikes across the board have
been more dramatic in Italy than elsewhere, people gripe that life would be
better outside the Euro zone and cite the example of Great Britain, prospering
without the euro.
My Parisian friend finds that if Europeans are less
Europhile today, they are more Eurocentric than 10 years ago. The EU is an
ongoing process, affecting peoples� day-to-day lives. People tend to believe
that the EU and its strong currency are protection against the rise of the
China superpower and against dependence on Russia for Europe�s energy
Europeans have not learned that centrism is a dangerous and
slippery devil as exemplified in the USA. They hold onto the center of European
mainstream life; the edge, the perimeter, is for travel and vacation and study
but the real center of life is here. The wild unknown beyond the edge is
only for kicks while the magnetic center is the assurance for continuing life.
Because of their 2,500 years of history, Europeans ignore that the earth�s
center keeps moving, shifting, changing. Ancient China became a center, then
Egypt, then Greece and Rome and Old Europe. At last arrived the Americas. Each
believed it was the center. But the center of civilization has turned out to be
elusive, a point which modern man in his short life can no longer pinpoint.
The negative image the USA projects today confirms the
traditional mistrust of the European Left of America -- imperialist, warlike,
savagely capitalistic and anti-social. Those policies and qualities alienate
also the nationalistic Right. My Amsterdam banker acquaintance, a man of
moderate though internationalist and social views, as are the majority of
Dutch, reflects new sentiments spreading across the continent:
�The Dutch are less pro-American than before. Today�s
American president and the war in Iraq are the basic reasons -- the way the war
is being conducted, the bogus case for the World Trade Center, Abu Graib, the
secret CIA night flights and torture and US military bases in Europe. The Dutch
have lost faith in America as a world moral leader and shun American cultural
outlets in Holland. No longer role models as in the 50s and 60s, Americans are
now seen as fat, loud, arrogant, stupid and oblivious to the rest of the
My businessman friend in Paris draws similar conclusion:
�Most certainly French are more anti-American today (despite right-wing
President Sarkozy�s new-found link with Bushian America!), the effect of Bush
and the Iraq war. Though there is no a visceral antipathy to the American way
of life, people are simply convinced that the French way is better.�
The Spaniards, too, perceive European life as superior.
Ditto Italians, except that academics and scientists recognize the greater
professional opportunities in the USA. Though insular Brits, with their special
relationship with America, remain in some respects the mavericks of Europe,
they are perceived as Europeans. A half-million Brits live in France and the
same number of French in Great Britain, while parts of Tuscany host legions of
Most anti-American feelings have to do with the US warlike
stance in the world today. The fact is, the European love affair with the USA
is over. At the same time, the emergence of the EU as a potential counterweight
to the US on a global scale is a matter of pride and hope for the future.
Next, Part 2: What kind of Europe?
Gaither Stewart is originally from Asheville, NC. He has
lived his adult life in Germany and Italy, alternated with residences in The
Netherlands, France, Mexico, Argentina and Russia. After a career in
journalism as a correspondent for the Rotterdam newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, he
began writing fiction. His collections of short stories, "Icy Current
Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger" and "Once In Berlin" are
published by Wind River Press. His new novel, "Asheville," is
published by www.Wastelandrunes.com
He lives with his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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