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  • Let’s get this straight – there is no such thing as Europe

    Posted by Helen on July 27th, 2008 (All posts by )

    That is not exactly true as there most definitely is such a geographical concept as Europe and even a cultural one, though there have been enormous problems in defining the latter ever since it emerged in the fifteenth century or so. The great historian of the Renaissance, Sir John Hale, has written about it at length in many of his works. What there is not is a political and social entity called “Europe”.

     

    There are few things more irritating than blithe American assumptions about “Europe” and “Europeans”, all of which have been in evidence in connection with Obama’s Berlin speech, which seems to have been a little less than overwhelming according to what people who were there say.  

    Before I go on to the problem of Obama’s speech let me say that blogs and forums telling us that “Europeans” always do this or have always done that, are not encouraging anyone on this side of the Pond to believe that Americans who take the trouble to make a comment would also take the trouble to do some thinking. Some Europeans have in the past welcomed oppressive and even totalitarian political systems; others did not. Many Europeans have fought against both extremely nasty systems of the twentieth century at a time when Americans ignored the problem; they even fought when their British and American allies refused to give them the support they had expected. All that is history as are the Nuremberg Rallies. Of course, history must not be forgotten and must be studied and analyzed. But it is history.

     

    Futhermore, all Europeans except those who are making their way through the transnational euro-organizations (at our expense, naturally), think of themselves as being part of specific nations (sometimes more than one). Let me repeat: politically speaking there is no Europe and there are no Europeans.

     

    Apart from announcing that he was uniting all the people of the world by his speech Obama spoke of healing the trans-Atlantic rift and reuniting the West with no walls to divide them. On the basis of this, Britain’s Daily Telegraph, supposedly our leading righ-wing publication, which has found no space to report the Mark Steyn case and has appointed itself as the cheer-leader for Obama, announced that with a few words the latter had made himself into Ronald Reagan’s heir. That would be the Reagan Obama did not even mention. I do not recall President Reagan making waffly meaningless speeches about the people of the world uniting in some vague fashion in, say, Majorca or Dublin. He made a pithy comment to President Gorbachev in Berlin, which was then the frontline.

     

    The point is that the trans-Atlantic rift is an invention of the media and of the liberal analysts in America. More European countries have supported America in the fight against terrorism and, even, in Iraq than opposed it. Senator Obama chose to make his speech in one of those who had opposed for various reasons of its own. He has been feted in the other country that opposed the war for reasons of its own, France, with President Sarkozy going far beyond Chancellor Merkel in his adoration of the presumed Democratic candidate. But then President Sarkozy is less popular in his country than Chancellor Merkel is in hers. He needs all the help he can get. Rather belatedly Obama came to Britain, America’s ally, where the Prime Minister has other worries though, according to the fawning news reports, Obama has “reassured Brown over his plummeting popularity”. Well, that’s all right then.

     

    The question of why Obama made the speech that was supposed to be but was not an outline of his presumed foreign policy in Berlin remains. Germany is neither America’s closest ally nor the frontline in any battle the West that is, on the whole, as united as it was at various times in the Cold War, waging. If he was not going to produce fighting words in Baghdad, perhaps the Senator should have gone to one of the East European countries. They have supported America all along the line, incurring the wrath of President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder in the process and are now trying to fight off Russian bullying. They have had President Bush’s unwavering support but will they have the same from his successor? What does one possible successor think on the subject? In addition, the Poles could have shown him the Auschwitz memorial museum and he could have made another speech there. Or he could have gone to Ukraine and made his speech there, heartening the Ukrainians, who could have shown him a few places where Nazis and Communists murdered people by the tens of thousands. Georgia needs the sort of words that President Kennedy said to the Germans in 1961 now. But Germany?

     

    I am told by one who was there in the crowd, which was very mixed from the point of view of nationality but tended to be rather young, that his calls for greater effort in the fight against terrorism were greeted coldly but there was rapturous applause when he spoke about Darfur, Zimbabwe, global warming and nuclear disarmament. That figures. The sort of people who go to these sorts of rock concerts – think Bono and U-2 – tend to like warm fuzzy causes that they can do nothing about.

     

    German obsession with nuclear disarmament has meant a refusal even to consider nuclear power. Existing stations will be closed down and there will be no new ones. As a consequence, Germany is relying more and more on Russian oil and, especially, gas. If Senator Obama becomes President and if he recalls that Germany (or Europe as he seems to think) is now his closest ally he will find a rather sinister tertium quid in that relationship: Russia. We have already seen something of it during the last NATO Summit.

     

    He will also find that different European countries have different interests and are likely to react differently to whatever an American President does. Incidentally, the same people who swoon over him now will oppose him as soon as he starts putting any policies in place which he will have to do.

     

    Then there is another player in the field, one that neither Senator Obama nor his advisers seem to have heard of: the European Union, which is still in the process of turning itself into a state with a foreign policy, a legal personality (it’s there in the Lisbon Treaty) and a Foreign Minister, known as High Representative. Is that what Obama means when he speaks of Europe? Once again I have news for him. The idea that the European Union is going to be anything but a thorn in America’s side is moonshine.

    However, it might be a good idea for the two presidential contenders to start paying attention to the European Union as a player on the scene and decide what they might do about it. The Lisbon Treaty a.k.a. the old rejected Constitution under a different title with a few unimportant matters missing, devotes many pages to Title V of the Treaty on European Union (part of the Consolidated Treaties), “General Provisions on the Union’s External Action and Specific Provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy”.

    The idea of a common foreign and security policy that would overrule the foreign policies of member states has been there in the project of European unification from the very beginning. In fact, the European Defence Community was going to be the first of those communities but failed to pass through the French Assembly. Thus integration proceeded through the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Atomic Community and the big one, the European Economic Community. But the idea had only been shelved and was revived in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 (brought to us by our own Conservative Government). Since then the structures and institutions have been made stronger and more elaborate and the possibility of national veto removed from more areas. This is known as the Monnet method – create the structures and the content and policies will follow. To this day most politicians and commentators in Britain have failed to understand it.

     

    The project of the common foreign policy will not be complete with the Lisbon Treaty. There will still be possibilities for member states to conduct some separate foreign policy. The biggest problem with the whole concept, however, is the reaction of the member states. Almost uniquely in foreign policy the structures matter almost as much as the content and there has been more opposition to the construction than in most fields. Furthermore, there is the problem that not having common interests, as has been made clear over and over again in such matters as the war in Iraq or relationship with Russia, it is very difficult to create a common foreign policy.

     

    When asked to elaborate, the proponents come up with two points: one is the general one of “Europe must speak with one voice to make itself a stronger power”, without ever specifying what the single voice might say; the other comes from the more honest of the europhiliacs, who explain that Europe must have a common policy or a single voice in order to stand up to the United States. Beyond facilitating the creation of a unified European state, the only purpose of the common foreign policy is to oppose America. No amount of blather (sorry but it is the only way I can describe it) about closing doors, not building walls and America promising to behave better will change that. That, of course, is not what Europe or Europeans think. That is what the European Union wants.

     

    President Bush seemed to understand it. He made polite noises to please his friend Prime Minister Blair and cheerfully went on negotiating with individual European states who were America’s allies. Will his successor understand the problem, particularly if that successor is one Barack Obama?

     

    Then again, the Lisbon Treaty may well provide us with a solution to the Obama problem. As I understand it, the difficulty he and his supporters are facing is that they all think he should be President and, in fact, probably is President, without the cumbersome necessity of running in an election campaign and having to have people voting. Well, we in Europe or, rather, the European Union, know all about it. Our real government in Brussels is unelected by us and it can overrule those we elect.

     

    Article 15 provides for a new position, that of the President of the European Council, the latter consisting of the heads of state or government of the member states, together with the President of the Commission and the High Representative (a.k.a. Foreign Minister). With some changes this is the European Council we have had for some time. The difference is that new President, who will be elected by the Council according to the convoluted and incomprehensible rules of qualified majority voting.

     

    This person will not be the President of the EU as there is still the President of the Commission and much entertainment will be extracted from the two jousting for power and position. He will, most certainly, not be the President of Europe, let alone the World. But it is a presidency that will not be elected in any real sense of the word and a position that will probably have more trappings of power than power itself. I think this may be perfect for Senator Obama. On top of which there are no tiresome requirements of nationality at birth, so there will be no need to produce that elusive birth certificate. Perfect.

     

    All those in favour say aye. All those against will not be allowed to vote. The ayes have it.

     

    25 Responses to “Let’s get this straight – there is no such thing as Europe”

    1. Ginny Says:

      Thanks Helen. And who better as EU President than a community organizer from Chicago? Then perhaps we Americans could go back to our pattern of electing fallible mortals as our leaders. Is this president going to be term-limited?

    2. Helen Says:

      Two and a half years. Not sure whether he can be re-elected. Perhaps they will call a special IGC to change that for life if they can have who is clearly not a fallible human being.

    3. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Helen, you have been hanging out with those people from the Hudson Institute again. Maybe you should cut down on their version of Kool-Aid a bit. ;)

    4. Helen Says:

      Hudson Institute? Wot dat? What I have been doing, sadly, is reading EU documents, particularly the Lisbon Treaty. It is a long way from anything resembling Kool-Aid but I recommend you try it some time, Ralf. Amazing what you can find out.

    5. fred lapides Says:

      Not sure what is meant here. Obama speech not liked byh the 200,000 people who cheered wildly? Not enjoyed by many Americans who listened via Video?

      I am sure there are many who did not like it, both here and abroad. and as sure that more did enjoy it, here and abroad.

    6. Mitch Townsend Says:

      Re Fred’s comment, let me quote Lincoln: “Those who like this kind of thing will find that this is the sort of thing they like.” It was meant to encourage the faithful, not to convert the heathens.

    7. Helen Says:

      My posting was not about any of the things Fred Lapidus mentions. That may be why he is a little confused.

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      Are you sure there’s no such thing as Europe? I’ve got a map that shows it right next to the dragon-mermaid thingy in the north sea.

    9. fred lapides Says:

      thanks for clarification. Lincoln meant preaching to the choir? why not convert the
      heathen (aka savages)? and put them on welfare and give them the vote…

    10. veryretired Says:

      Europe is a fracture zone, much like the newly independent former colonies in Asia or Africa. Te ongoing terroristhe former colonies of the soviets fear and suspect the Russians, and move towards the US. The former protectorates of the US, esp. Germany, are now open in their animosity to their recent occupiers. France, as always, lives in the fantasy land in which it is still a great power.

      Europe is yesterday in so many ways. The future of the US, whether economically, culturally, or militarily will be looking south and to the far east. Once the oil issue is resolved over the next few decades, even the mideast will be irrelevant, except for the ongoing terrorist threat from islamic loons of one stripe or another.

      Obama’s another Carter by way of the cesspool of Chicago/Illinois politics and corruption. Either the voters will catch on before the election and reject him, or they’ll have to endure 4 years of incoherent, politically correct ineptness untill they get another chance. We’ll see.

    11. veryretired Says:

      The above post got some words improperly placed in that first sentence. Not sue how.

    12. Helen Says:

      Well, yes, Shannon, there is that lady riding on the bull. But the mermaids appear to have more fun.

    13. Shannon Love Says:

      Upon reflections I think we can that in terms of politics, there is no Europe because “Europe” fails a simple test: No body is will to fight and die for “Europe”.

      Well, except Americans, of course.

      No one in “Europe” itself seems willing to assume the moral burden of the grim acts needed to make a concept like “Europe” into a reality. Once “Germany” was just a theoretical land comprised of all the people who spoke the german language. It took Bismark, conquest, and war against a non-german speaking foe to create something that people would fight and die for.

    14. Shannon Love Says:

      Upon yet further thought, having a region named a mythological character best known for being scammed and raped by a bull seems weirdly symbolic although I’m not quite sure how.

    15. fred lapides Says:

      Europe, when I was a kid, was considered a term to describe a number of countries that had separate languages and cultures but occupied a defined geographical area. Africa too is such a “place.” If I tell someone I am going to Europe this summer, they usually ask which countries I will visit. Hitler had a plan to make it all one place, ruled over by him and under the nation he led. There is a “place” south of Mexico that consists, too, of a number of nations, but which is often referred to as Central America.

    16. Dan Nexon Says:

      “More European countries have supported America in the fight against terrorism and, even, in Iraq than opposed it.”

      How many of the European countries that committed troops to Iraq had majorities that supported the deployments? How many are still in Iraq?

      But I agree that collaboration on terrorism remains quite good. In fact, there was almost no spillover from opposition to Iraq to terrorism cooperation (see Germany and France, as examples).

      But “there is not is a political and social entity called “Europe”?

      Depends on what you mean. I challenge anyone, however, to try to understand contemporary international political economy, particularly with respect to regulator regimes, without reference to Europe as an entity. Or to make sense of the massive restructuring of the domestic regimes that once lay behind the Iron Curtain without reference to the European Union as an actor.

    17. Dan Nexon Says:

      s/b “regulatory regimes”

    18. renminbi Says:

      One big weakness-suppose parliament shows guts and doesn’t pass a law they are tsupposed to? As a kid we had an expression: “you and what army?”

      Looks like they jumped the shark with Ireland.

    19. James R. Rummel Says:

      “I am told by one who was there in the crowd, which was very mixed from the point of view of nationality but tended to be rather young, that his calls for greater effort in the fight against terrorism were greeted coldly but there was rapturous applause when he spoke about Darfur, Zimbabwe, global warming and nuclear disarmament. That figures. The sort of people who go to these sorts of rock concerts – think Bono and U-2 – tend to like warm fuzzy causes that they can do nothing about.”

      The United States is the only country in the world with the military assets needed to affect real, honest-to-goodness change in places like Darfur and Zimbabwe.

      It would be more realistic to say that the German crowd liked causes where only the US would have to pay the bill, both in dollars spent and lives lost, making it happen.

      James

    20. Helen Says:

      I have very high regard for the US military but I honestly do not think it is up to fighting in Darfur and Zimbabwe, quite apart from the political fall-out. Actually, nobody is. That is why those are popular issues with crowds.

      Shannon,

      I hadn’t quite realized that Americans fought and died for “Europe”. The British fought and died for Britain first and general ideas of liberty second. That was true for many Europeans of different countries as well. Can’t quite imagine the Americans to have been different.

      America had been attacked by Japan and war had been declared on it by Germany. Good enough reasons for fighting.

      Though, to be fair, there was a great deal of support, political and financial from certain parts of the American government for the whole European integration project back in the fifties and sixties. Even in the seventies the “yes” campaign in Britain had some (not much) financial support from the CIA and the State Department who saw the EEC, as it was then, as a possible bulwark against the Soviet Union. Just goes to show that even then the CIA got it wrong. But that is a separate issue.

    21. Paleohawk Says:

      It always amuses me when someone living in the geographical area of Europe styles himself “European”. The states do have similar features: aging and declining populations, problems with (islamic) immigrants, high levels of atheism, relatively high GDP and large, heavily regulated and distributive welfare states, they are all part of the non-English speaking christian West, they all have unresolved guilt over WWII, they all deplore nationalism as something dangerous and racist/nazi.

      Some of the above goes less for the former Warsaw pact members, and Britain (England), never really “European” of course, will be the first to fully reject the “European way”. I think when someone calls himself “European” it is mostly from the West-European (old Europe) founding members of the EU. I think these self-styled “Europeans” also feel “Eastern Europe” isn’t truly a part of Europe.

      “European nationalism” is absent except in the business elites and politicians and bureaucrat circles for obvious reasons. Both the populist left and right on the ground despise Europe, either for being too capitalistic/pro-business or for being too big government/elitist.

      Nationalism and a looser framework that cherry-picks as different nations see fit seems a much better and more long-term stable way of dealing with upcoming problems. Perhaps under threat of a reconsolidated Russia (again..) and a Middle East that is a bit too close for comfort military spending will go up enough to create an effective combined military unit, but here also language and culture barriers and diverging attitudes and interests probably prohibit that from happening.

      A pullout of all US troops except at strategically important areas seems a good idea regardless.

    22. Rene C. Moya Says:

      Great to see Helen ranting on again!

      Always interesting to see people stumble on important facts. Where to begin?

      Politically speaking, no Europe or Europeans? Well, the European Union has had legal personality for some time, actually. The TEU pretty much did that, otherwise known as Maastricht. And said treaty, along with the Treaty of Amsterdam, codified the concept of EU citizenship…which means, yes, there is some vague notion of a ‘European’ out there.

      Since when is Obama Reagan’s heir? I don’t have much appetite for Obama, but surely his speechifying was more JFK than Reagan. You make the point that Reagan had Gorbachev to taunt…Obama has who, Osama bin Laden? Not quite the same, really. And in his cuddly-warm all-inclusive humanity speech, he was echoing JFK’s ‘we all breathe the same air’ much more than Reagan’s ‘tear down this wall!’ (But of course, righties in the UK and US are in the business of deriving all original thought–and all political cues–to their forefathers, Reagan and Thatcher…then again, to be fair, these two were the most incestuous UK-US leaders since FDR-Winnie…so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise…though I’m sure Abe Lincoln and Pamy would have had a fit at the sight of British and Americans leaders loving it up so obscenely.)

      The trans-Atlantic rift on CERTAIN aspects of the War on Terror surely does exist, and has existed. The wider war against extremism is certainly a unifying principle for the West, generally…how to fight it is the point of contention. Originally making Iraq the centre of that fight was the ridiculous part, and it was rejected by the vast majority of the PEOPLE of the world (including the majority in many of the belligerents) at the time…and the ORIGINAL premise has been rejected by an even larger majority now…especially in Europe (yes, oh my, even in the UK!), but also in the US.

      As for causes one can do nothing about…I find this argument most amusing. Quite paradoxical, in fact, when conservatives in the States say we’re delusional in expecting results in Darfur and Zimbabwe–and then turn around and tout the might of th (that rather large nation of 80+ million folk) is all the rage.

      The Butcher of Baghdad was powerful and a threat to global peace, and yet he was expected to put up nothing remotely resembling a fight. That was the specious logic in 2003. Helen’s laziness on Darfur, Zimbabwe, global warming and nuclear disarmament is yet another fine example of that great line of reasoning…

    23. Rene C. Moya Says:

      Oh, and an interesting tidbit from the polls.

      When asked in 2006 to choose between aligning the UK more closely to America or to the European Union (not Europe, but the EU–it was a clear choice), British respondents in a poll voted–surprisingly–the EU…by 14& to 45%.

      Ringing endorsement for the EU? Hardly. Damning indictment on the special relationship? Very likely.

    24. Obloodyhell Says:

      > Apart from announcing that he was uniting all the people of the world by his speech Obama

      Actually, I believe this was a mistranslation. What he actually meant to say was, “I, too, am a doughnut”.

    25. Obloodyhell Says:

      > Rene C. Moya

      Ummm, Rene, is there a consistent idea anywhere in that rant?

      I can’t even tell for certain if you’re pro-Iraq war or against it… or if you’ve changed your position in the middle, now that it’s pretty much been won (if Obama gets elected, it could still collapse, of course).

      It sorta sounds like you buy the whole liberal line of BS on the war, but you manage to confuse and meld so much together without actually saying anything one would expect you to be vying for Obama’s speechwriter.

      Just curious.