Europe’s impossible dream

By John Lloyd
July 23, 2012

The economic logic of European integration is now directly confronting nationalistic sentiments in the hearts and souls of Europeans. It’s becoming clear that nationalism resonates more deeply. That is the stuff of our patriotic life, fragments from our history that we use to shore up our present and point to our future. To discard them is to discard part of our mental and moral makeup.

For much of the last 60 years the Union has been Good, scattering tangible and intangible blessings upon its growing group of member states. It brought investment to the poorer countries that joined. It broke down physical and psychological barriers between states, so that their citizens now pass casually into and through countries that once required major preparation. It gave the former Communist states of Central Europe an ideal to which to aspire and templates by which aspirations could become routine. And it made inter-European war so unthinkable that its possibility ceased to be thought about at all.

The dream of the founders was an ever-closer union transforming itself into something like a federal state. They thought it could exist in idealistic form while the practical changes were put – with much labor, compromise and argument – into place. One of these founders, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, called up the ideal in a speech in 1948:

We are carrying out a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace.

Two years later, in another speech, he filled in the nuts and bolts:

Europe will not be made all at once or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.

But solidarity is easier in easy times: It is in the hard moments that it is tested. Real solidarity is built up through deeply shared experience and common response in the midst of despair. It is strongest in those who feel part of one community – through place, work, or the result of misfortune or oppression. That kind of solidarity, we Europeans do not have.

We do have, more or less, another kind of solidarity, which we have been taught to respect. We see it in our national days:  France’s July 14, Bastille Day, a commemoration of the storming by the Parisian mob of a grim prison in which enemies of the monarchical state languished and often died, marking the transformation of the absolute monarchy into an absolute republic. Italy celebrates national unity, in 1861; Germany, national reunification, in 1990; Poland, independent statehood, in 1918; the Slovaks, independence from the Czechs, in 1993. The Irish, in celebrating St. Patrick on March 17, conflate the fifth-century saint with the violent struggle for independence from the British, and have created a pageant global in its reach, the largest of its kind. The British, whose national day (if such it is) is the Queen’s birthday, will belt out Land of Hope and Glory again at the Last Night of the Proms in September: Woe to the progressive bureaucrat or politician who cavils that the song’s injunction for the British to rule the waves is jingoistic, or “inappropriate.”

On these days we celebrate independence, freedom and the creation of a nation previously suppressed, fragmented or denied separate existence. Like our anthems they tell us we owe our freedom to our nation, and our nation guards that freedom against the rest. The enemy defied in the song may have long ceased to threaten (the Star Spangled Banner’s invocation of a land of the free was a land to be freed from the British. But the rousing of valor and its identification with national and personal independence, to which most anthems speak, still stirs.

It is this complex of emotions, loyalties and prejudices that politicians have honored and furthered – and which, in Europe, are now being trashed. The cold logic of the economists, that only a central administration can offer the financial, fiscal and political power to draw the Union out of its crisis, is now commonly held. Even those like the British government, which wishes no part of it but gasp for the 17 members of the euro zone to set the zone to rights so that the UK’s biggest market can again show growth, agree. But economic logic, now stands more opposed than ever before against the real solidarity that remains: the solidarity of the national community.

European politicians must now attempt something for which they are wholly unprepared – and thus have never prepared their electorates. They must tell peoples who wave tricolors symbolizing freedom and sing anthems glorying the national spirit that this is all very well, but it is to be brought out with an indulgent wink, signifying very little if anything at all. They must propose solidarity among nations that will approximate that which we muster for our compatriots. They must advocate seeing part of our tax go to support other countries’ citizens in their age, their sickness and their enforced idleness.

When that logic and that emotion are forced to face each other – as if on a dusty main street in an old Western – one must win. The fat years of the past six decades have served both our politicians and us, the populace, badly. They have diverted our gaze from the huge choice built into the foundation of the Union. But the choice is here now, everywhere in Europe. Once the summer is over, it will demand to be made.

PHOTO: People stop to look at a map of Europe, which is part of a marble world planisphere, in Lisbon August 14, 2011. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro

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Comments
22 comments so far

Really, from an American perspective, I’m not sure I see Europe coming together as one state. There are simply too many years of separate nationalities to merge. I think that a return to the EEC form would be best. That way nations could pursue their own paths politically and culturally, but benefit from economic agreements.

America had it easier, since the states had actually formed their own cultures, basically similar in ideology, just prior to the formation of the United States. Even at that, the union we formed was based on the states retaining any rights not specifically give to the Federal government.

To expect nations that have 1000 year old cultures to merge into a single political unity is a bit too much.

Posted by stevedebi | Report as abusive

“The cold logic of the economists, that only a central administration can offer the financial, fiscal and political power to draw the Union out of its crisis, is now commonly held.” Well, there ARE economic realities even a collective Europe cannot ignore!

“…economic logic, now stands more opposed than ever before against the real solidarity that remains: the solidarity of the national community.” Let’s get rid of the euphemism and be specific here. Europe “now stands more opposed than ever before” to giving up expectations of ever-fewer working years, working hours and ever-more vacation days even though European productivity is ever less able to sustains same.

Europe needs to grow up, to move from denial to acceptance if they are to have a sustainable future.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The most immediate political obstacle to greater European integration, and to ceding fiscal sovereignty to a central authority, is not nationalist sentiment per se, but the fact that extant Pan-European institutions lack democratic legitimacy. Neo-liberal “economic logic” is the self-serving propaganda of a self-appointed technocrat elite. Europeans reject it on the merits, and not, as its’ proponents like to claim, merely out of atavistic or xenophobic cultural prejudice – though such currents do exist in Europe as well.

Posted by begtodiffer | Report as abusive

This problem was obvious quite a while ago and was a large part of the reason why some argued against a common currency in the first place.

It’s probably not impossible, though, to retain national separation but maintain monetary unity. The boffins and bright sparks just haven’t yet figured out how to do it without some nationals getting their economies in a twist and others getting their knickers in a twist when asked to help out.

But, never underestimate human creativity!

Posted by GarethInOz | Report as abusive

European-ism is a concept…

A failed one!

No Common Language, No Common Belief and No Common Will.

Even worse, what was once recognisable European Culture has been diluted by a mish-mash of Multiculturalism.

Nobody knows what a European is now, other than perhaps an emulation (a poor one at that) of the United States of America.

Posted by Raymond.Vermont | Report as abusive

The Europeans have been given a bad choice:
Solidarity with the banksters or solidarity with the “nation” (if they happen to be part of one), that is nationalism, or, as the Americans like to call it, patriotism.

Posted by nossnevs | Report as abusive

It was corruption emanating from American financial markets and not nationalism that injured the European economy, forcing the members to balance Union and national sovereignty. Obviously, they weren’t expecting or prepared to do so within a tight time window and probably prefer to take a systematic approach instead of merely capitulating to the screams of Wall Street.

Posted by Greenspan2 | Report as abusive

@Greenspan2,

It has long been said that when the United States sneezes, Europe catches a cold.

So the “European Union” wasn’t “expecting or prepared” for a “test” of their new arrangement by an unexpected American economic “correction” brought on by American stupidity and greed? Bwaaaa….! Blame America for their fat being in the fire? I don’t think so.

That’s NOT “corruption”. Corruption is when our government decides to divert taxpayer money to bail out incompetent greedy lenders and/or “borrowers” that KNEW, or SHOULD HAVE KNOWN, that 4000 sq. ft. McMansions couldn’t be paid off EVER by a “middle class” family with two incomes if the American economy EVER hiccups in the thirty-year mortgage period. Probably stupid, too!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The Euro would work just fine if governments did not intertwine special deals and kickbacks for loans to countries.

Look at the US dollar – it is a world dollar – recognized all over the world. It’s a false dollar mind you with no real backing to it other than military might.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

You don’t really want a United Europe, you only think you do. The larger the state the more the oppression of the minority, because a very large majority in say Denmark will often be a minority in a United Europe. Now how desirable is that? This is the situation in the United States. The Southern and middle States have little in common with the coastal States New York and California and yet in a general election we are often overwhelmed by people and ideas far away from us. Likely most of us in non-Coastal States find our current situation an anathema. This wouldn’t be the case if we kicked New York and California out of the Union, but once a State is in, this is very difficult to do. Find another way to avoid inter-European wars and drop a dumb idea before it is too late.

Posted by Truth_Teller | Report as abusive

Land of Hope and Glory’s injunction for the British to rule the waves?? Mr Lloyd, you don’t know your Arne from your Elgar.

Posted by NickInNeuch | Report as abusive

Once a Euro always a Euro

Posted by whyknot | Report as abusive

The EU has brought as much bad as good. It means bigger government which is ALWAYS bad.

The same benefits could be achieved by much better means. But the stupid will continue to be stupid, act stupid and believe themselves smart.

The facts no one wants to read.

Learn to think for yourself.

Censorship is evil.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive

One point. “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Doesn’t this come from the War of 1812 rather than the Revolutionary War.

Perhaps something to do with the attack on, and burning of Washington.

Posted by Neill2 | Report as abusive

I like Reuters. I don’t understand why this Euro bashing. The British are Euro-sceptic anyway so why pile-drive the idea that the Continent is doomed to fail in its collaboration. It would be nice if John would tell us why his boss is telling him to write this.

Posted by raduionescu | Report as abusive

The first step has to be Europe wide election of high EU officials. Second is a single European army. Third is a European commercial code of law with courts and most important is bankruptcy law including bankruptcy of local governments. Without a central army and police the courts have no power over local popular political figures or local corruption.

The banks and other things like that should come later. Rule of law in commerce and elections must come first.

The biggest problem will be promoting growth of export industries in the weak nations. The strong ones will call
that export subsidies (even if it just a favorable tax code) or favoritism (if awards of defense contracts are used). The weak nations need that or need leave the EU. They are small and trade is a major portion of their GDP.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive

Invoking the Star Spangled banner in the name of economics in regards to the European dream may not be out of place in Europe. The former communist countries of eastern Europe are now not adverse to American capital in Europe but there is now the Euro, a local currency to conduct transactions between nations.

The Euro traverses both the Maastricht Line and the channel but is yet to cross the Atlantic. It is a world currency and the member nations are the most powerful group in the world. Putting aside grievances and nationalism should be part of the future.

Posted by Deamer | Report as abusive

@Deamer,

“The Euro…member nations are the most powerful group in the world.”

You’re living in some kind of reality distortion shield. Maybe you should be posting under “Dreamer”?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

@raduionescu
I guess I should have included the British along with American financial institutions.

Posted by Greenspan2 | Report as abusive

@OneOfTheSheep
Maybe you should be posting under “OneOfTheLemmings”.

Posted by Greenspan2 | Report as abusive

@Samrch
Does habeas corpus fit it there anywhere? But then within a police state what does it matter anyway?

Posted by Greenspan2 | Report as abusive

DILEMMAS

{JL: The economic logic of European integration is now directly confronting nationalistic sentiments in the hearts and souls of Europeans. It’s becoming clear that nationalism resonates more deeply.}

Journalistic hyperbole.

The Germans were worse off, they are now better off – so many have qualms about going back to worse off. They think (wrongly) that mutualization of debt means that hardworking German must pay for the profligacy of the rest of Europe. The Finns seem to share that same queasiness.

Yes, this is the North-South Dilemma that has always plagued Europe. (Some Italians will say, ever since the barbaric tribes of the north – the huns and vikings – invaded the south in search of its warm sunshine.)

In a more modern context, Europe finds itself at a crossroads. Is the “One Europe” as strong or stronger a pull than the “Many European countries”? It is a question that they undertake to answer reluctantly. Times are bad, sentiments are worse. Time continues, sentiments change …

Most business-people, who are heavily involved in inter-EU commerce, know all too well that the unity of Europe has made for a giant, functional common-market of over 400 million individuals. That is, much larger than the US at 310 million consumers.

Why spoil a “good thing”? As in war, in economics there is safety in numbers. To wit, the larger the market, the higher the demand; the higher the demand, the more work is produced. Which is not an axiom, but a good enough rule of thumbs to think by.

There is much, much doubt that feckless politicians and civil-servant functionaries will bring it to a dead stop with their eternal bickering. But politicians, who make a career of it, must please and have instincts that tend to crowd-sentiments.

The functionaries, dependent upon cronyism, do the bidding of politicians. They have no mind of their own and must bend to the prevailing winds. After all, they are not elected but nominated into their very handsomely paid jobs.

And therein lies the riddle. As we say in America, “Show me da money”. That dictum prevails just as steadfastly in Europe – but Europeans are not so crass as to admit it.

And THAT is the East-West Dilemma. A common language, but different wave-lengths of communication.

Dilemmas, always the same problem … and so the gridlock continues.

Posted by deLafayette | Report as abusive
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