There is no such thing as Europe

One of the difficulties of discussing the future (if any) of European countries is the insistence by people who are supposedly sceptical of the European Union of talking about “Europe”. This is true about numerous American publications and websites and the worst perpetrators are the think-tanks on both sides

When the British think-tank Centre for European Reform, which is wholly sympathetic to the “European project” (it used to take a perestroika view of a need to reform and readjust but no longer does so) talks of a “European social policy” or a “European farm policy”, the terminology is understandable. But when a website like Brussels Journal, which boasts of its opposition to European integration, or a think-tank like Open Europe produce postings or, in the case of the latter, papers and discussions about the best way forward for “Europe” one needs to call a halt.

Let us return to our muttons. To all political intents and economic purposes, there is no such thing as Europe. To argue, for instance, as one well-known American Republican politician did some years ago in London that the European Right must have the same crucial debate that the American Right had had some time before, in order to recreate itself and face the new century is fatuous. The European Right does not exist in any coherent sense. The Right in Central Europe is completely different from the Anglospheric British or American one, though there is the occasional overlap. France divides politically along fault-lines that are not repeated anywhere else. And the Right in Scandinavia tends to be somewhere around the moderate Left everywhere else.

Europe is a geographical expression, though there is some debate about its boundaries. It is, to a great extent, a cultural expression but mostly as opposed to certain other cultural entities. Even in this we can see the almost unbridgeable differences when we look at the spread of “European cultures” to the New World. The massive difference between the Anglospheric and Hispanic colonization and the countries that have grown out of them has been well documented.

Historically, the European experience is very varied. In the west it was largely defined by various wars between Catholics and Protestants and the ongoing struggle between England (later Britain) and France, the east’s experiences centred first on the split between the Latin and the Orthodox Churches, then, for centuries, on the fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Even such supposedly unifying historical events as the Second World War left very different marks on the many different countries. It is not just a question of whether you were on the winning or the losing side. There is the matter of whether there had been an occupation and if so, how many, how popular and how long did they last. Which parts of the population or the political elite supported which occupation? Where does treason lie? One can go on asking these questions for a very long time.

There is, of course, the European Union, a political construct of massive complexity, which has reached the point of non-reformability. One assumes that the muddle-headed calls for European reform often mean the reform of the EU. They usually come from people who have no understanding of the organization or its structure. In order to hand social policy back to the member states, as suggested by a recent Open Europe paper, there needs to be an amendment to the consolidated treaties. To achieve this, there needs to be an Inter-Governmental Conference and an agreement by all 25 member states; the amended treaty has to be ratified by all of the latter. An unlikely sequence of events.

It is true that the EU frequently prevents the member states from developing their own changes and reforms. On the other hand, if the various governments were really determined to carry them through they could do so, without monumental EU reforms. (This does not apply to anything that has become EU competence like external trade.)

But to talk of reforming the European economy or agriculture or social model is to accept the whole European integration project, which is nonsensical in most ways. There is no such thing as a European economy, as the tensions within the eurozone prove quite conclusively.

There is no such thing as a common European interest, which means there can be no common European foreign policy.

The differences in the agriculture of the various states are so great that the straitjacket of any common policy, however reformed is unlikely to help anyone. How can countries like Greece, Finland, France and Britain all be part of a common agricultural policy? It is pointless even to talk about its reform that would somehow push European agriculture into the world. Individual countries might be able to open up to the world (or might decide not to do so) and might compete. Europe can do no such thing.

The creation of the European concept in economy, agriculture, environment etc is merely a method to enhance political integration. Those who talk of European reforms, European opening up, European development in the twenty-first century have accepted the integration project and cannot see its inherent senselessness.

Cross-posted from Albion’s Seedlings

12 thoughts on “There is no such thing as Europe”

  1. The Right in Central Europe is completely different from the Anglospheric British or American one, though there is the occasional overlap. France divides politically along fault-lines that are not repeated anywhere else.

    Helen, this is an important post, and its point needs to be understood in America.

    As I wrote during the Chirac-Le Pen election battle (aka the “crook vs. fascist” contest) “we have no frog in this fight.”

  2. Jim Bennett,

    As I wrote during the Chirac-Le Pen election battle (aka the “crook vs. fascist” contest) “we have no frog in this fight.

    No frog in this fight! There is no internet acronym for how funny I find that.

  3. Helen,

    I think this might be one of those definitions highly dependent on how closely one looks at the subject. It’s something like having an infinite zoom on a camera. Zoom up close and you see the myriad differences between parts of larger picture but as you zoom out they all blur together and only the larger similarities stand out. At some level of zoom, the idea of “Europe” has some validity but as to whether it is at a level that is meaningful to the current political structures is an entirely different matter.

    I think many of the people of geographical Europe exhibit a certain desperation to define themselves as one people due to their history of bloody conflict. They believe that if they can get everyone to think of themselves as belonging to one extended family they won’t go nuts and knife each other. They ignore a lot of economic, military and cultural realities in this desperation to create a sense collective identity.

  4. Well, no Shannon, the people of Europe do not think of themselves as being European except in the widest possible sense. We are European, i.e. we are not Asian or, even, American. Beyond that the integration project has always been an elite one, with as little reliance on popular opinion as possible. There is a tendency among politicians and journalist to talk about European problems and European solutions. In fact, the purpose of all that is to promote the integration and any discussion of European solutions does just that.

    As for those bloody conflicts, they are mostly in the past (though Yugoslavia was not so long ago and the EU played a miserable part in it but that’s another story). The idea of a Franco-German war (there were only three, all in the space of 70 years) is unthinkable. West Germany has been a democracy for almost as long as Germany was an autocracy of various kinds. It managed to reunite with East Germany without losing that democratic aspect of its politics. And the younger Germans are rightly wondering why they should not be proud of being German.

    This response is getting to be as long as another posting, so I shall stop there.

  5. Wouldn’t at least one way Europe seems alike from that great distance be something the EU does not acknowldge–Christianity, albeit defined in different ways in different places. And perhaps it is just the Europeans I meet, but many do seem to remember those bloody conflicts. And their propensity for such violence clearly scares them.

  6. When it suits the argument they wish to make or the belief they wish to hold, people living in Europe define themselves as “European” in the sense of the larger whole. When it suits them to be part of their smaller little bit that’s how they think of themselves. When they want their “due” on the world stage they are Europeans. When they want to be excluded from the mess that is Europe they are Danes, or Swedes, or French.

    This somewhat similar to Americans defining themselves, for the purpose at hand, as part of a region (midwest, mid-altlantic, new england) or a state. An New Yorker, for example, may wish to distinguish himself as “not from Texas” or vice-versa. The difference is that Americans, in the main, see the smaller grouping they belong to as a portion of the overall whole. Being “American” is not a coat worn or discarded as one pleases in favor of, or rather than, one’s regional or state coat. Europeans do a complete join or divorce in an instant to suit the needs of the moment.

  7. Do recall that it took us 80 years and the bloodiest war in our history to go from being “these” United States to “the” United States. The transition from the inital mess of the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution was begun by elites exceeding their mandate. Before the Great Crisis there were at least two occassions when different regions seriously threatened secession. For much of the antebellum period the other crisis issue of the nation was the fact that national economic policy could not benefit all regions of the country at once. Nor, in fact, does it probably now. We’re just so used to thinking of a national economy that we don’t seriosuly consider the difference.

    I don’t know if the EU will make it, the current course wouldn’t suggest so, but the same could have been said about our own experiment in multi-national amalgamation. Maybe they’ll muddle through. We should be rooting for them because the alternative is probably Eurabia.

  8. Helen:
    “[Europe] is, to a great extent, a cultural expression but mostly as opposed to certain other cultural entities.” [empahsis mine]

    This is a brilliant line. It captures the reactionary nature of the continent’s transnationalists along with their movement’s intrinsic weakness: it knows that it cannot propose a coherent, global agenda – so it’s just against whatever is in the docket.

    I think “Europe’s” slip is showing. Thanks for pointing it out.

  9. Helen, would the average Brit flinch, or take offense, at being called a European? Does it depend upon class?

  10. The continent of Europe has been the home of a mixed, mutually antagonistic, primally competitive conglomeration of tribal entities since the Cro-Magnons clashed with the Neanderthals. In that, it is no different in many ways from all the other areas of the Earth. Tribal identity seems to be a universal human characteristic.

    It has been camouflaged in Europe because of the shifting allegiances of various groups to religious or imperial entities. When these obscuring issues fade, such as during the extreme nationalism leading up to, and resulting in, WW2, tribal identities are starkly defined.

    At other times, it shows in little squabbles, like French vs. English words, or political fragmentation, like the aforementioned Balkans, or the Czech Rep-Slovakia split, or the constant threat of a divorce in Belgium between the Flemish and the Walloons.

    So, yes, there is no Europe, any more than there is an Africa, or Asia, or South America, as a single, unified cultural or political entity.

    Humanity is fragmented, even as a global culture develops which allows worldwide communication, travel, business activity, and scientific advancement.

    It would be best if the reptilian urge to “out display” the other guys could be superceded by some overall recognition of our common humanity, but that day, unfortunately, is not on the horizon.

  11. I think you have missed the irony of the recent rush to form the EU. For 2000 years various men have shed rivers of blood and sacrificed millions of lives attempting to conquer parts of Europe in order to recreate the Roman Empire. Karl der Grosse, Otto der Grosse, Frederick der Grosse, all the Louis, Napolean, Hitler, Stalin all failed. So now, without a shot being fired, the countries which could not be conquered are asking for admittance! The EU may not be perfect but it is better than even the Romans had and it realizes a 2000 year old bloody dream.

  12. No such thing as Europe? Isn’t it that largish island lying due east of Jersey? I’m sure I saw it on the charts.

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