21 February 2012

Foreign Policy: “The Myth of Europe”

In her 2002 essay, "What Is a European," British novelist A.S. Byatt asked German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger whether he felt European or German. He replied there were no such people as Europeans but, after a short pause, added, "On the other hand … if you took me up blindfolded in a balloon and put me down in any European city, I would know it was Europe, and I would know how to find a bar, and the railway station, and a food shop." There is something to this. Standing on the Charles Bridge in Prague, lazing on La Concha beach in San Sebastián, or tucking into fresh goat's cheese at a farmers' market in rural France, you just know you are on the same continent. Gareth Harding

My sentiment exactly. Other than this, the article makes a lot of questionable statements that often contradict themselves:

  • The author seems to think that the only way for Europe to gain an identity is for the individual nations to shed their particularities and to embrace some kind our continent-wide conformity, American-style. That was fortunately never the point of the European Union – or else we might as well have surrendered to the Soviets decades ago.
  • it lacks […] people who share a common culture, language, or narrative – yes, if you think of Europe as a an institution or political identity, you could say that, but the continent as a whole has at least two and a half thousand years of shared history, about ten times more than the United States. And the assertion about lack of common culture is contradicted by the quote above; how else would that feeling of being on the same continent would come to place without a common culture to tie the different places together? Maybe it’s more subtle than the blatant differences, but it’s still at the basis of most European nations.
  • The article laments the lack of representation in the European institutions – a common critique – while failing to mention that the proposed European Constitution tried to reform the system and improve the representation of member states and citizens in the Parliament, but was rejected by several member states, through referendum even, for fear of losing ‘sovereignty’ and some special voting rights in the old system. Clearly, national prides still run high on our continent, despite the rapid globalization and rise of new powers. Ultimately, the ‘average European citizen’ doesn’t care that much about the political process, regardless if it’s on a national or European level, but he’s more interested in his own welfare.
  • Instead of ushering in a new era of prosperity, the euro has condemned millions of Europeans to decades of penury – sorry, the euro didn’t do that, bad management and lack of reform did that. The euro simply makes it harder to get away with bad economic policies, because they can no longer be easily tricked away by pumping inflation. Germany prospered under the unified currency and there is no reason other countries couldn’t do the same – other than their own bad choices. Blaming everything on something rather abstract like the euro doesn’t solve any problems, it just creates new ones. It’s like blaming the economic crisis of post-World-War-One Germany on the Jews…

Nobody said achieving Unity in diversity is easy. Doesn’t mean we should simply give up at the first sign of trouble.

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