Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Europe: “inward-looking and self-absorbed”?

Well, yep. That sounds fair enough… Thanks to Alun (a lovely chappie like wot gave me an email heads-up on this one) for pointing out BBC Radio 4’s Analysis: Eyes Wide Shut, which was broadcast last night. (I think you should be able to listen to it here, assuming you’ve got RealPlayer). I missed it due to excessive workloads, but will certainly try and have a listen in a spare moment later today. The basic argument seems to be the relatively obvious one that Europe is no longer the centre of world power, with economic and political strength increasingly shifting towards the US and Far East, but it will be in the details that the programme no doubt makes its most interesting points.

Coming the same day that Jaques Chirac gave a speech in London on his favourite topic of a “multi-polar world” and the need for a strong Europe to provide an alternative to the hyperpower that is the United States – and the same day that the new Commissioners were finally approved by the European Parliament (despite some typical bitching from the UKIP which led to UKIP MEP Nigel Farage being likened to a football hooligan) – could such a multilateral worldview be a useful model for any future shift in direction for the EU?

Chirac, to be fair on the guy, made some good points: “we must avoid any confusion between democratisation and Westernisation” and that, post-Iraq, “If you observe the way things are developing in the world in terms of security and the expansion of terrorism, not just in the Middle East but throughout the world, you cannot say, credibly, that the situation has significantly improved.” He also made much of the shared thousand-year histories of Britain and France, and the bizarre yet unique love-hate relationship the two nations (especially England and France) still maintain.

He has, predictably, been attacked for his pains, with the Times seeming particularly annoyed: “[it] is not acceptable… is to insist in one breath that he wants to see a strengthened transatlantic relationship and a Nato in which Europe and America pool their efforts for peace, and then ridicule US domination of the world ‘based on a logic of power’ and qualify support for Nato by saying that its actions must have United Nations legitimacy. It is not simply the hypocrisy of juxtaposing his insistence that France would never forget what it owed America with his remark that the Bush Administration did not repay favours; it is his use of a visit to Britain to sneer at America and, by implication, Mr Blair�s trust in the US, that makes his behaviour so chiraquien.”

Yet at the same time Chirac made a few nods towards the perceived “special relationship” between Britain and the US, and the UK’s unique place within Europe as a result of this:

“Obviously for historical reasons, and for cultural reasons and linguistic reasons, it is obvious that the relationship between the UK and the US has a sort of a family (nature), an exceptional link. It is history that has given us that.

�Consequently, the fact that the UK can be a friendly partner between the EU and US is an advantage to Europe.

�The US and Europe have a natural vocation to work together in the face of the issues in the world of tomorrow.�

This is an almost Churchillian take on the UK/US/EU partnership, reminiscent of his famous “Zurich Speech” of September 1946. In that speech Churchill called for a “United States of Europe” – it was he who popularised the phrase. Of course, he didn’t mean for Britain to actually be part of that superpower because he thought that the Empire would survive the post-war chaos and retain its position as a world power. But times have changed, and even the most rabid British nationalists have realised we lack the strength to go it alone – hence the constant binary choice those on the Right seem to offer – Europe or America? (Quite why it can’t be both, I have yet to work out…)

Is Chiraq’s revision of Churchill’s hopes for a European future the right one? Well, as he said about Iraq yesterday, time will tell. One thing that is certain, however, is that Europe needs a new ideal to unite itself now that most of the groundwork of the union is done, the continent is finally united (if only in name), and the threat of war between nations in Europe has all but vanished.

With the accession of many of the countries of the old Eastern European Soviet bloc in May this year, the first stage of the European project as envisaged by Churchill is almost complete. The ratification of the European Constitution could be the next step, or it could be time for a shift in direction. Either way, the current global situation is far, far different to that of 1946 when the project was suggested, and from 1957, when the Six signed the Treaty of Rome and kicked the whole thing off.

Perhaps Europe really does need to take stock of itself, and take a realistic view of its chances in the current world. Should we look to a closer union, or go our separate ways, look to America, or look to the potential new economic powerhouses of the Far East, India, Latin America, or wherever else will be the next big thing?


  1. The documentary was just Martin Jacques rehashing the same old argument he's been serially publishing in various outlets. He's got a point, but he's staring to become something of a bore. It was also let down by the entirely uncritical acceptance of John Gray (who, along with Dawkins, is the most over-rated and overexposed thinker in Britain) and the presence of the ubiquitous (and plain wrong) Niall Ferguson.

  2. God… Not Ferguson… I've had the dubious pleasure of reading some of his stuff, and he does indeed always seem to get the wrong end of the stick. Even his Empire thing (which may also have been a TV series, although if it was I didn't see it), while initially seeming to be aiming at some good points about the upsides of the Britain's glory days, was so mind-numbingly basic and ill thought out to make the few sensible arguments he was making seem utterly stupid.

    Why oh why hasn't this boom in interest in history of the last few years produced any genuinely good new popular accounts? Everything I've come across, from Starkey and Schama to Tristram Hunt and all the rest has been lowest-common-denominator trash, full of unsupported assertions and what seems to be a very simplistic understanding of the past. Then again, as my day job involves fostering this populist approach, I suppose I'm just as much to blame… And the trouble is, people seem to eat it up.

    Still, I might have a listen to the documentary over the weekend, in between sleep and booze, just in case…

  3. Ah that Niall Ferguson, another one of those "Isn't America great !" people.

  4. Sorry to be a hopeless bore, but I beg to differ with the characterization of Niall Ferguson. Prof Ferguson is an enthusiast of the project of global hegemony, which–for the moment–means favoring Washington's role as global arbiter. Speaking for a large cohort of Yanks, I would argue that this is a terrible thing for the United States and has already been the ruination of our well-being. If I may be snarky, "He compliments us, yes–but don't take it personally." In other essays he laments the fact that Americans are far too self-indulgent and consumeristic to give imperialism the resources and resolve it deserves.

    I am a vain and weak human, full of insecurities, and naturally I glow with pleasure when my country is praised (OK, sometimes I flush with shame when it's silly and counterfactual). However, Prof Ferguson's praise is for imperialism of a peculiar character, not for anything particularly Usonian* about it. Sometimes it is patriotic to condemn the folly of one's own leaders (now is an excellent time) and praise the wisdom of other leaders (like those of Europe). So let me insist that the Europeans, far from being "inward-looking and self-absorbed", have got their priorities straight and have done a superior job of attending to the needs of their citizens. Public discussion of international affairs is much better informed than in the USA and there is far more realism.

    It is my firmly held conviction that US nationals motivated by patriotism–rather than cupidity–will spurn imperialism and demand their government rejoin the human race.

    * Usonian–of, or related to, the United States of America

  5. Fire up the cohort James.

    "Sometimes it is patriotic to condemn the folly of one's own leaders (now is an excellent time) and praise the wisdom of other leaders (like those of Europe)."

    That's true James but it's only your opinion that now is the time. In my equally valid opinion you, and your cohort, are dead wrong.

    And also James, the question should be what have you done to make your heart swell with pride for your country, not what vicarious thrill is gleaned from some specious compliment on video or in print.

    "Public discussion of international affairs is much better informed than in the USA and there is far more realism."

    If the first part of your post qualifies for as informed I would agree that it is an example of unrealistic US discussion. I'm sorry if I get confused when folks start mixing terms like hegemony, empire, and imperialism into some sort of amorphous blob, kind of like a tyrannical smoothie. They are apples and oranges and can't be used interchangeably.

    "It is my firmly held conviction that US nationals motivated by patriotism–rather than cupidity–will spurn imperialism and demand their government rejoin the human race."

    It's enlightening to find that I am either too dumb to recognize imperialism (or is it hegemony or is it empire or….) or too full of cupidity to become a patriot like yourself and demand a return of America to the human race.

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