Special Reports
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 and ideologies?

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.

Internal immigration

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 requirements.

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 world.�

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 English exiles.

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: gaither.stewart@yahoo.it.

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