By Gaither Stewart
The European system, pretty soon spanning a continent inching closer in size to the US.
In a disturbing cartoon, security inspectors at a US entry point welcome a neatly dressed, probably European foreign passenger. Expeditiously they isolate him, efficiently fingerprint him and record his eyes, then medically they pore into his every orifice before photographing and x-raying him, after which, the dazed and confused tourist or businessman is pushed toward the exit under a sign reading: “Welcome to the USA.”
The cartoon reminded me of arrival controls at the Soviet Sheremetovo Airport in Moscow during the dark night of Brezhnevism.
While to justify the existence of the KGB/Stasi-like Homeland Security 21st century America erects new barriers against foreigners, across Europe old frontiers are falling. From December 21, peoples of 24 nations of the European Union (EU) will be able to travel over the continent without showing passports or identity cards, from the island of Malta in the Mediterranean to Riga on the Baltic, from Greece to Finland.
It’s as if a second Berlin Wall were falling.
The “Fall” of the Berlin Wall is a topic laden with propaganda overtones, mostly complimentary to the West. But the story is not so simple, nor is the “Fall of Communism” an undiluted victory for humanity.
The crumbling of the old frontiers once defended by barbed wire and armed guards marks the entrance into the European Union of nine new countries—Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, the first five once in the USSR area of influence, the last three part of the USSR, plus the island state of Malta. The new EU members plus non-EU Norway and Iceland have also signed the Schengen Accords, which guarantee the free movement of the European Union’s peoples. Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania will soon follow.
What is modern Europe all about? And where is it going? Is it simply retracing old paths trodden by Charlemagne and Napoleon to unify the un-unifiable? Can one even speak of a plural them on a continent of numerous peoples speaking different languages and believing in different gods and ideologies?
The concept of the European Union today seems like the end of a closed process, for the urge toward unity has been underway since the Roman Empire. Often one is tempted to think of only the western part of the European Union, forgetting the East that until recently was “unified” under the hammer and sickle. In a way just speaking of “Europe” is an attempt to reconstitute a civilization lost somewhere in the past, or perhaps something yet to be born following some catastrophic calamity. In that respect a united Europe appears to some as a symbol of what perhaps mankind has always dreamed: return to a perfect Eden of harmony.
The Schengen Accord opens wider the frontiers of all member nations. Here a sign indicating entrance into the formal space of the German Republic.
When last week in my neighborhood of north Rome a supermarket was held up by hooded bandits, the first question people on the post-crime scene asked the frightened cashier was whether the robbers spoke with East European accents. The answer that, no, they spoke in thick Roman accents satisfied no one. For only a few days before a Romanian had robbed, raped and murdered a woman near an urban train stop and Romanians are blamed for robberies up and down the peninsula.
In EU Italy, Italians tend to blame rising crime and violence on foreigners. In all of Europe, geographic expansion and the free movement of peoples are a challenge. The balance of freedom of movement and security is a delicate mechanism. Not by a long shot is free movement all roses and flowers. Massive immigration is a headache for all.
An African “illegal” worker. The US has its own “illegals” headache, mostly from Mexico, which has given rise to a racistoid nativist movement being exploited by the Republican Party, in particular. But Europe has its own problem, with people from all over the place, born at one time of the need of European capital for “guest workers” to supply labor in some hard to fill categories.
With an ageing population, Europe needs immigrant labor but at the same time it fears immigrants because of the real or imagined threats they pose. Experts in the EU capital in Brussels now foresee a flood of nurses and household servants from Poland to West Europe, while Germany and Holland have not yet come to terms with their millions of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants. Italy is uncertain of what to do with its some 500,000 Romanians and an unclear number of illegal Albanians. Now, also the arrival in Europe of extra-EU nationals will be facilitated since a visa issued by one of the 24 EU nations is valid in all the rest.
The world remembers the uprisings in France two years ago of African immigrants, first in the Paris banlieues, then throughout the nation. Spain and Italy face hordes of illegals arriving each day and night on precarious dinghies that have made of the Mediterranean a graveyard and the two countries the entranceway to Europe.
Political parties like the National Front in France, the Northern League and extreme right parties in Italy, the Freedom Party in Holland and groups of neo-Nazis in Germany have grown rapidly based on anti-immigration and anti-Islamic programs. Slogans of “A tsunami of Moslems will overrun Holland” or “Ban the Koran” or “Mohammad is a pervert” echo through The Netherlands. A recent poll in the Lowlands claimed that 33% of the population relates to the Freedom Party.
Turn Back the Clock?
As a rule, Europeans hold to traditions more than Americans. These are the quaint things American tourists note and photograph and take back home as treasures to be preserved. Each country has its traditional folk music and dances, dress and ways of celebrating its holidays.
A Paris businessman acquaintance notes that although French—except for extreme rightwingers—do not feel they have lost their freedoms nor have strong desires to return to the good old times, they feel nostalgia for the era when French prestige was great. Older generations speak of “moral decay” of modern times. In this respect new generations of French are “cool” and are proud of their Europeanness.
The modern EU has its beginnings in the 1950 Coal & Steel Community accord, later to become the “common market.”
Contemporary life in The Netherlands presents a whole gamut of new social problems: European integration, increased use of drugs and alcohol by minors, over-sexualization of society, the distance between immigrants (20% of population is non-Dutch) and the old population, problems between freedom of choice and religion and ethical issues such as euthanasia. A banker friend in Amsterdam notes that such questions inevitably awaken nostalgia for “the good old days” and stir nationalistic sentiments, foreign to Dutch character marked by tolerance and openness.
Holland is by no means a nationalistic country; the multi-lingual, world-traveling Dutch are Europe’s great internationalists. But faced with globalization and integration in the EU, people feel lost in the crowd, that they have lost control. Rita Verdonk recently broke away from Dutch Liberal Party and founded the Proud of Holland Movement (Trots op Nederland). Polls showed that even without a political program the movement could win 29 seats in parliament out of 150. Though Dutch people aren’t happy with many EU decisions taken in meetings in elegant locations in Brussels or in one European capital or the other, more and more frequently they don’t bother to react anymore.
The banker says that Brussels and The Hague less than two hours distance by high-speed train are at the moment a world apart.
Europeans seem to be living a double morality, a new market morality and a partially false morality of a globalized game of which they do not understand the rules. As French philosopher Jean Baudrillard notes, you must be totally implicated in order to be able to play the game. I personally don’t believe Europeans are yet at the point for total commitment to the game, neither to the game of “Europe”, nor to globalization. The evocation of a glorious past is too great, the past of ideas and discovery and invention, of the Renaissance and Enlightenment and individualism, of Nationalism, Socialism and Communism, and above all the social state.
The current EU (in light blue). [NOTE: This is an animated map.]
How could thinking Europeans, the descendants of peoples wrapped in secret and the mysteries of Cabala and alchemy, be duped by promises of imperialist parvenu economists and storytellers of wealth for all peoples on the basis of something called the market? These are peoples whose ancestors were stargazers, whose artists depicted people with their eyes lifted upwards toward untold secrets and interpreted life’s mysteries in the numbers and the stars.
Europeans and the European Union
The French attitude toward the European Union appears less hostile than skeptical; they are uncertain about the advantages it offers them. Educated upper middle classes are open to Europe and see advantages in free trade and monetary and political stability; those lower on the economic scale identify the EU with the dislocation of industry, the loss of jobs and growth of immigration. Moreover the increased cost of living is blamed on the EU and its Euro currency. In general French people today are less Europhile than ten years ago.
Italians are more ambivalent. Like Germans, Italians have been among the most fervid “Europeans.” They pay lip service to the EU and are proud to be called Europeans. Italian traditions do not stand between them and Europe as in Holland. Even Italian rightwingers, who detest rules limiting their opportunities to gain, especially the stringent EU economic-finance regulations, pay lip service to Europe. Since price hikes across the board have been more dramatic in Italy than elsewhere, people gripe that life would be better outside the Euro zone and cite the example of Great Britain, prospering without the Euro.
My Parisian friend finds that if Europeans are less Europhile today they are more Eurocentric than ten years ago. The EU is an ongoing process, affecting peoples’ day-to-day lives. People tend to believe that the EU and its strong currency are protection against the rise of the China superpower and against dependence on Russia for Europe’s energy requirements.
Europeans have not learned that centrism is a dangerous and slippery devil as exemplified in the USA. They hold onto the center of European mainstream life; the edge, the perimeter, is for travel and vacation and study but the real center of life is here. The wild unknown beyond the edge is only for kicks while the magnetic center is the assurance for continuing life. Because of their 2500 years of history, Europeans ignore that the earth’s center keeps moving, shifting, changing. Ancient China became a center, then Egypt, then Greece and Rome and Old Europe. At last arrived the Americas. Each believed it was the center. But the center of civilization has turned out to be elusive, a point which modern man in his short life can no longer pinpoint.
The Treaty of Rome (1957) formally created the direct precursor of the European Union, the European Economic Community.
The negative image the USA projects today confirms the traditional mistrust of the European Left of America—imperialist, warlike, savagely capitalistic and anti-social. Those policies and qualities alienate also the nationalistic Right. My Amsterdam banker acquaintance, a man of moderate though internationalist and social views, as are the majority of Dutch, reflects new sentiments spreading across the continent:
“The Dutch are less pro-American than before. Today’s American President and the war in Iraq are the basic reasons—the conduct[ion] of the war, the bogus case for the World Trade Center, Abu Ghraib, the secret CIA night flights and torture and US military bases in Europe. Dutch have lost faith in America as a world moral leader and shun American cultural outlets in Holland. No longer role models as in the 50s and 60s, Americans are now seen as fat, loud, arrogant, stupid and oblivious to the rest of the world.”
My businessman friend in Paris draws similar conclusion: “Most certainly [the] French are more anti-American today (despite rightwing President Sarkozy’s new-found link with Bushian America!), the effect of Bush and the Iraq War. Though there is no a visceral antipathy to the American way of life, people are simply convinced that the French way is better.”
The Spanish too perceive European life as superior. Ditto Italians, except that academics and scientists recognize the greater professional opportunities in the USA. Though insular Brits with their special relationship with America remain in some respects the mavericks of Europe, they are perceived as Europeans. A half million Brits live in France and the same number of French in Great Britain, while parts of Tuscany host legions of English exiles.
UK’s Prime Minister Brown follows essentially Blairite policies of close collaboration with the US reflecting Britain’s status as a willing associated subimperialist power. Meanwhile, the British, for all their posturings and long-held snobbish attitudes toward “the Continent”, cannot forget they are first and foremost Europeans.
Most anti-American feelings have to do with the US warlike stance in the world today. The fact is, the European love affair with the USA is over. At the same time, the emergence of the EU as a potential counterweight to the US on a global scale is a matter of pride and hope for the future.
What Kind of Europe?
Fifty years old last March 25, the European Union is the partial realization of the dream of Charlemagne, Napoleon and the Hapsburgs. Since Italy, France, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxemburg signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the Union of Europe has grown to form the world’s biggest economic market of 500 million peoples.
On its birthday last March the notes of the EU anthem, The Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth, sounded over European TV while leaders from the corners of the continent gathered in Rome’s Quirinal Palace to mark the historic occasion. Once the palace of the Roman popes, now Italy’s presidential palace, the Quirinal was graced with the symbols of Europe, from Greek antiquity to the famous Rodin sculpture, The Thinker, as if pondering the future of the continent.
The European Union has chalked up many accomplishments: the reconciliation of World War II enemies Italy and Germany with France and the Benelux nations as the basis of a new Europe. It brought down trade barriers and created the world’s biggest common market. It introduced a common currency, the Euro, now threatening the supremacy of the US dollar. It abolished capital punishment as unworthy of ethical society. Except for the Balkans war in the 1990s it succeeded in avoiding war on the continent. It has spawned a pacifist mentality, held to the social state and given birth to a sense of “being European.”
The new pan-European currency. Source of both pride and anxiety.
Yet, progressives charge that the new Europe has become a union of multinationals, and not a social union of its peoples. Though Europe is an economic giant, it is still marked by an underlying social state mentality, which progressives consider its major accomplishment after one hundred years of struggle for social justice.
Nonetheless, on the international scene Europe is a political midget, nor was it originally designed to be a political union. The Netherlands and France voted “NO” to the European Constitution in 2005 because of that feeling of loss of control of their own destinies. Though it has not yet forged a Constitution acceptable to all, it is more than an artificial alliance as some critics charge.
Yet the EU has no political clout because it lacks political unity or a common foreign policy, which in turn creates a psychological sense of uncertainty. Instead of collectively, European nations still react individually to questions of war and peace and to tensions with the USA. Some nations sent troops to Iraq, some refused, others like Spain and Italy withdrew their troops later.
While polls show that European are more confident about their future than Americans, the polls also show that nearly half of Europeans are less than enthusiastic about the EU, weighed down by a heavy bureaucracy that some compare to that of the old USSR. Yet it is untrue people are outraged at suggestions of merger into the EU.
The USA has backed and promoted the European Union but is also suspicious and jealous. One wonders if America is truly desirous of a united Europe. For the USA, economic union of Europe is one thing, political union another. In its foreign affairs and imperialistic wars Washington relies on traditional ties with individual nations like Great Britain and the servility of countries like Italy.
NATO, the military treaty between the USA and European nations allegedly to defend Europe, has been a divisive factor in the West since its creation. Years back nationalistic France evicted American-dominated NATO from its territory. Since the USA controls NATO, West European Communist and post-Communist parties long favored withdrawal from NATO. NATO in faraway Afghanistan and American-NATO military bases throughout Europe have re-ignited mistrust of it.
Europe From The Atlantic To The Urals
Europe is changing fast. Many Americans, accustomed to thinking of their nation as “the best” would be shocked to recognize that in many aspects Europe now easily surpasses the US, including, more and more, in its growing network of superhighways designed to make integration and movement of peoples and goods faster and safer.
One wonders where Europe ends? In the Ural Mountains of Russia? On the plains of Asia? On the deserts of North Africa? There are proposals for including Israel and Palestine in the EU as associate members. Dissension is particularly rife about Turkey’s membership. Part of Turkey lies in Europe and it is a historic bridge between Europe and Asia. While for many, Islamic Turkey in the EU would be a Trojan horse in Christian Europe, predictions are that barriers against Islam will eventually fall and Turkey will one day be admitted into the European Union. The major problem again is religion, as always and everywhere an obstacle.
Mistrust of Turkey again leads back to American imperialism and the resulting clash between civilizations. It is clear that without America’s wars Europe’s relationship with Islam would look quite different. Southern Europe is very unenthusiastic about war with Islam, while Italy has long been marked by favoritism for Palestine and is a major trading partner with Iran.
While West Europeans worry about American imperialism, as well as about maintaining their social states, new East European union members that emerged from the former USSR such as Poland are ready to accept American-style savage capitalism and take shortcuts in order to [they assume] arrive quickly at West European living standards.
The European Idea
Political leaders concerned with the role of Europe in the globalized world are aware that political union is necessary in order to move ably and quickly in the name of their half billion citizens. Coupled with the emerging European mentality, one notes also a growing sameness, the conformity that marks Americans. EU leaders warily welcome that mentality as a basis for the future political union. Not many years ago Europeans noted that only foreigners spoke of “Europe,” like American tourists off to visit Europe hardly distinguished between one country and the other.
Italians and Germans, Dutch and Belgians, young and old, are proud of their European passports. It is a curious sensation for everyone traveling from Italy to Germany or Holland without passing customs and passport controls and then spending the same currency in each country. Study exchange programs such as Erasmus abound. Internet and low cost air travel facilitate contacts. Most young people today speak foreign languages. English is the common language, the true lingua franca.
Though the new generation feels European, nationalism survives. Most Italians still hasten to add, “first Italian, then European”. The European motto of In varietate Concordia is quite apt.
Jeremy Rifkin’s The European Dream painted a rosy picture for the future of Europe, with a mentality based on social security instead of unfettered hyperindividualism. But critics have pointed out that he glossed over many important problematic political realities of the new Europe, including the fact that the European Union is also debilitating the rights of labor throughout the entire system. Although the EU presents a more civilized version of capitalism than America, the situation is once again in flux, and currently capital is on the move to roll back the social security net built during the postwar period. In the EU the conflict between the world plutocracy and the working masses is once again picking up momentum.
Sociologists note Europe’s capacity for auto-criticism, to question what doesn’t work within the system. Europe is now at the maximum of progress; its new destiny is based on its inexhaustible capacity to create great dreams, a capacity that once made America the dream of Europeans. I find from day to day that the old American dream has vanished for most Europeans.
EU and the G-8
G8 leaders at a recent conclave. The maneuvers of the G8 represent the more naked (but still camouflaged) faced of coordinated imperialist power. The EU’s top political leaders have lent this entity full support, while the masses have been told a completely different story. Sounds familiar?
When the G-8 gatherings began in 1975 there were six members, the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Canada joined the informal group in 1976. The European Community as it was then called, began attending in 1977, Russia in 1997. Today the European Union is represented at G-8 meetings by the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council.
The G-8 is about economics. It is no secret that this congress system is an imperialist affair despite its upright façade of battling world poverty. Its annual summits culminate the constant top-level coordination among member governments in fundamental policy areas. Quarterly meetings by the Sherpas prepare for the summits on the basis of information from ministries of finance, foreign affairs, interior, justice, health and environment. G-8 governments and central banks coordinate policies with top financial houses and monopolistic transnationals. And now we know that the over-lapping Bilderberger Group plays an important role across the board.
Thus the G-8 stands at the acme of imperialism and the New World Order.
Irish singer Bono is one of those celbrity naifs who still believe you can influence a ruthless global plutocracy by simply upbraiding them publicly.
International economic relations thus have come to reflect a fundamental state gangsterism rendering irrelevant established international humanitarian and human rights laws that impede the imperialist globalizing project.
EU governments have collaborated in violations of the UN Convention Against Torture by facilitating transfer of prisoners for torture either to third countries or to US clandestine prisons. G-8 counter-terrorism is pure charade. G-8 insincerity is self-evident from the way its governments use anti-terrorism legislation to suppress dissent. The declaration on terrorism issuing from this year’s summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, exemplifies G-8 cant from countries who collude in the very worst violations of human rights in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Somalia and support repressive regimes around the world.
Good and Evil
Private good, public evil/ Private evil, public good.
Which of the these social variants predominates is a moot point. However, tendencies toward good or evil do count. As a rule what is secret ultimately becomes the evil. Europeans more than Americans consider the “market” as a secret and mysterious affair and most probably evil, as evidenced in the market aspects of America’s wars in the Middle East.
We know that defense of the market and reliance on war are only a hair’s breadth apart. Though seduced by modern technology, Europeans do not accept a priori the supremacy of the market though they are often as deceived by it as are their—in their opinion—more gullible American cousins.
That the violence of war is contagious is reflected in the growing “private” violence within European families from Finland to Sicily. Nevertheless European multi-party parliamentary systems and the world of ideas create a more defensive atmosphere and public responsibility absent in America’s presidential system where the two parties meld into one, elect a leader and allow the Power sect to act in their name.
Each transparency, Baudrillard recalls, poses its opposite, the secret. The same equation belongs to the political world of power. We know little of what goes on in the secret chambers of power in Washington because of their inaccessibility. Some things will never be known in full detail: who assassinated John Kennedy or who shot down the Italian passenger plane over the Tyrrhenian Sea over 20 years ago? What is secret is part of the world of evil. Europe’s fear that as a result of the nebulous, top-heavy Brussels bureaucracy the people have less and less control is fundamental to the Euroskepticism of those unconvinced that the EU is good for Europeans.
How could the descendants of peoples wrapped in secret and mystery of Cabala and alchemy be duped by promises of wealth based on free trade by imperialist parvenu market economists? How could the sons and daughters of Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Kafka and Joyce and also of Marx and Lenin believe neocon storytellers of the sacredness of the exportation of democracy? These are peoples whose ancestors were stargazers, whose artists depicted peoples with their eyes lifted toward untold secrets in the stars and interpreted life’s mysteries in numbers.
People don’t understand how the EU bureaucracy works. What are the many thousands of highly paid functionaries doing? Though for 100 years a majority of Europeans have believed in the role of the social state, the EU government seems emblematic of a new kind of secrecy infecting mankind. They created the euro without the consent of the public. They lay down the rules that the individual governments try to get around. People who feel the price rises in their wallet have become pessimistic, suspicious and resentful. Gasoline at over $7.50 a gallon today is enough for revolution. The popular verdict is that the EU is to blame.
The infamous G-8 conference in Genoa in 2001 exemplifies the abyss between European peoples and G-8 of which Europe is twice a member: several individual countries and the EU itself. Genoa, Italy and Europe were humiliated that fall weekend. The city was a battlefield of barricades and fortifications between European people and G-8 political leaders, 20,000 police troops and 200,000 demonstrators from 50 countries, four times the number in Seattle two years earlier, shouting in ten languages “a different world is possible.”
It was like Chile. Police dragged kids to secret places and beat and tortured them for days. G-8 Genoa was pure violence. It is still a mystery how the Black Block vandals got into the tightly controlled country with all their arms. How they operated so freely in the city is a mystery too. In retaliation the Special Forces then attacked peaceful demonstrators. One young man died. It was tension strategy at work! Create the terror then blame anyone you want.
The outcome of parliamentary investigations was acquittal of the police and convictions of peaceful demonstrators.
In an interview at his regular table in the Caffé San Marco in Trieste, the former border city between East and West Europe, the Italian prize-winning writer and Germanist, Claudio Magris, ruminated about his favorite subject, Mitteleuropa, or Central Europe, the eastern half of Europe. The Berlin wall had just come down. The Soviet attempt to unify East Europe had failed. The future was uncertain. The nations of former Mitteleuropa had broken from their Russian masters and were electing national governments, wondering whether the national states would return or were destined to pass from Russian domination into the hands of expansive Germany.
“Napoleon’s victory of over the Austrians at Ulm,” Magris said, starting far back in time, “was the victory of modern Europe of unification over the old Hapsburg-Danubian Europe of separate states, of the totalizer over the particular. Napoleon signified the modern fever for action, for everything new, like Napoleon’s ejaculation praecox; Austrian civilization instead defended the marginal, the secondary.”
Napoleon’s victory continues to condition Europe today. The dilemma is the same: unification and sameness or national states and the particular. The former border city between East and West, Trieste is again a crossroads, standing at the center of unified Europe, under the aegis of the Brussels bureaucracy.
People to the East want the material wealth of the West, they want it now, but just as Dutch or French or Italians they are cautious about surrendering their separateness, the particular.
That is Europe’s quandary: a super-state of multinationals or the particular and separateness.