Opinion

John Lloyd

The beautiful folly of the European experiment

John Lloyd
Nov 18, 2011 16:15 UTC

We Europeans are in the mud of agony, but our hearts are among the stars of bliss. Our anthem is Beethoven’s setting – in the last movement of his 9th Symphony – of Schiller’s Ode to Joy, a work of transcendent romantic idealism, above all in its central claim – “All men will be brothers!” (“Alle menschen werden bruder”: in the fashion of the time, Schiller meant all humanity).

Adopted as Europe’s official anthem 40 years ago, it is supposed to be played rather than sung – one wouldn’t want to give the impression that Germans dominated the continent!  But it is sometimes voiced, as in 2004, when an orchestra was playing it on the German-Polish border on the occasion of Poland’s accession to the European Union, and the crowd sang Schiller’s words. Given Polish-German history, to sing that humanity will be united in love was a moving event.

The union of Europe was conceived and furthered in much that same vaulting romantic spirit. To be sure, it had its feet on the ground: a coal and steel community was the foundation of the Union. Among its most solid – and perhaps most lasting – achievements are in furthering common rules for trade, for investment and for services: the common market.

But the ideal behind it, the moving spirit of its founders, was to create structures which would make war impossible – to so bind the economies and the societies of the continent together that attempts at conquest of one over the other would be unthinkable. Thus it would work to bring Europeans together in amity, and have them explore their common European, rather than national, identity.

Later, from the seventies on, it became a democratic home for countries coming out of dictatorship – Greece, Portugal and Spain first, then the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe. The explicit promise was that a European framework would be a protection against domestic dictators and foreign tyrants – the shades of the Soviet Union/Russia lay darkly across the invocation of the latter.

What Berlusconi leaves behind

John Lloyd
Nov 9, 2011 19:02 UTC

He called himself the best leader in Europe, even in the world: but he was, by quite a way, the worst (in Europe at least: the rest of the world offers more competition). In part, this was due to the sheer force of his personality: if, to adapt his favored slogan, he gave little Forza to Italia, there was much Forza in Silvio.

Prime Minister (still) Berlusconi was the Boss, in every sense. He commanded his party, his coalition of the right and his governments through the power of his money and his media – but also because he had the strength of will to project himself, unceasingly, on his country and the theatrical chutzpah to make of his private life a fascinating public spectacle. He refused to bow to the customary rules of protocol, decorum or correctness of any kind. He was a man in full in the sense the novelist Tom Wolfe used it in his novel of that name: having achieved great success, he gloried in it, and wished others to see his glory.

Let us not say that the woes of Italy are due only to him, for that would be to believe that his promised resignation would end the crisis – in Italy, in Europe and the world. The productive base of the country had been, unusually for a West European economy, too long bound up in textiles, furniture, footwear and other medium technology goods which the Eastern powerhouses often do as well and more cheaply.

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