What Does Europe Stand For?

Twelve golden stars on a deep blue field. Soon to fly alongside the national emblems in twenty-five states, with more than a dozen more conceivable in the medium term. Why should hundreds of millions of citizens want to join their futures to this project?

Are Europe, and its Union, just shorthand for peace and prosperity? Normality? Is that enough? What did the dissidents of the East want, when they wrote that they yearned for the return to Europe? High taxes and state day care? Is that all?

What hopes and dreams are bound up in that simple band of stars?

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Political issues and tagged by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

15 thoughts on “What Does Europe Stand For?

  1. Europe stands for:
    1. The recognition that a sovereign, independent Germany is an environmental hazard, and should therefore be put in a foreign-policy straightjacket.
    2. The recognition that France cannot be a great power on its own. It needs to build a team.
    3. East Europeans’ desire to be rich and free of Communist oppression.
    4. Poorer countries’ desire for pork.
    5. The desire of everyone else not be isolated.
    6. Politicians’ desire to pursue policies without the people getting in the way.

  2. I can’t see it that harsh than Danny does. I’m sure points of what he mentiones come in there at some points, but not as a main reason. I like to see it in a practical way – it’s maybe one way to make sure that inner-European war won’t be an economical win-situation.
    You simply can’t afford to go to war with your neighbours because they also are your biggest export customers and so on.
    I’m sure there must be dozens of possibilities to look at this topic, but this is one I like really much.

  3. @Lilly Marleen:
    Are you sure, your own position is any less harsh/cynical than Danny’s perspective?

    Anyway, I believe you are both right in looking more at the pratcical value of the arrangement than at some obscure “European vision”.

    Lilly, you surprised me, though. From your earlier posts I had pictured you as a member of the “loony left” (excuse my bluntness). Well, as it turns out: left maybe – but sure not loony.

  4. Very few institutions are founded, or persist, because of the aspirations people have for them. The EU was founded, in substantial part, as a way of integrating Europe in such a way that the wars and abuses of the past would be difficult to reproduce. To enslave nations to fear of their neighbours is hardly better than ruling them by force. Tight interdependency makes war harder to conduct. Freedom of movement makes dehumanising other people harder. Knowing that there is a standard for human and political rights that transcends your own state makes it harder to swallow political abuse. That is what eastern Europe lacked under the communists.

    The main insight into the founding of the EU was, and still is, the degree to which American prosperity derives from economic integration, and not some unique American value system. As far back as the 19th century, Europeans marvelled at market relations that could bring Minnesota iron and West Virgina coal together to make Pennsylvania steel. This was, explicitly, the thinking behind the European Coal & Steel union.

    There is also some truth to the idea that after 1945, the nations of Europe realised that they were all to small to be individually powerful in a world of two superpowers. This is no less true in a world with one superpower. It is also motivated by the realisation that Europe’s nations are too small to be culturally and intellectually separate in an age of global culture,

    However, none of these practical and cyncial points have any impact on people’s aspirations. My aspiration is for a Europe where people coexist and recognise each other’s human dignity, equality and political and social rights without respect to geography, cultural heritage, nominal citizenship, or ethno-linguistic identity and to do this **without losing those distinctions**. I want this for Europe because I want it for the world and I want it for me, and because it has to start somewhere. All those more mundane reasons are why it makes sense to start here.

  5. “too small be individually powerful in a world of two superpowers”

    Of course if this is the reasoning Scott, it does rather beg the question of who the US will team up with when China and India really step on stage. I mean it is too small…………in a world of…………?

    Incidentally, Canada was never a super power. Does that make the people less happy?

  6. “where people coexist and recognise each other’s human dignity, equality and political and social rights without respect to geography, cultural heritage, nominal citizenship, or ethno-linguistic identity and to do this **without losing those distinctions**”

    Without being any the less European, this is my aspiration for the planet. Meantime, and in the here and now, we could think of asking the Spanish government how all this applies to the Basques.

  7. Well, I did say aspirations don’t necessarily have anything to do with what keeps stuff working. They may not always correspond to what actually happens either.

    As far as I can tell, integrating the Basques into the Spanish identity isn’t on anybody’s political agenda anymore. At least that’s progress.

    No, Canada has never been a superpower. However, back in the 40’s Canada had its moment in the sun when we could punch well above our weight. Much of the world was in ruins after the war, but Canada was intact, and for a brief moment that mattered a great deal. You do still hear Canadians lamenting their decline in international power since then and muttering about Lester Pearson and “soft power.”

    As for what the Americans will do when US population and wealth aren’t enough make them more than a second tier state… Well, heck, if I could predict the future I’d be rich. I suppose when the time comes, we’ll start hearing all about the importance of the Atlantic Alliance from the White House again.

  8. “integrating the Basques into the Spanish identity”

    I think we need to be careful about this Scott. I don’t agree with some of the more alarmist criticisms of the PP here in Spain, but I would certainly say that respect for the Basque identity in Madrid has gone backwards in recent years. The sitaution vis-a-vis the Catalans is very different.

    Since ‘the war on (internal) terrorism’ is still just about the number one item here – leaving things like pension or labour market reforms way way out in the cold – the political dynamics have become rather preoccupying. There seems to be no real dialogue any more between Basque nationalist politicians and their Spanish equivalents. No one, on either side, seems to be interested in finding a constructive way out. The Basque government seem to be trying to achieve a truce with ETA through the holding of a referendum about ‘self determination’. In this they obviously get no help from Madrid, who have no ‘political dimension’ to their approach. It’s a bit like the UK Northern Ireland policy in the Thatcher years, with the difference that PP politicians regularly raise the temperature with a ‘you’re a fascist’ jibe or two thrown in the direction of mainstream Basque politicians in a way the ‘good lady’ would never have done to the middle of the road NI catholic ones.

    It seems no-one is interested-in or cares-about a real solution. Short term electoral interests are better served by maintaining the conflict. Meantime Spanish society continues to be obsessed by it. One anecdote as an example. A couple of weeks back I went to the cinema with my wife to see the excellent (plug, plug) Michael Winterbottom’s ‘In This World’. When we arrived there was an enormous queue and my heart sank. They’ve all had the same idea, I thought. Disillusionment didn’t take long in arriving, I was easily able to buy tickets, and when they opened the doors, most of the ‘punters’ disappeared into the main venue to watch Julio Medem’s ‘La Pelota Basca’: two hours of interviews with every conceivable interested party about the conflict, saying the same things, giving vent to the same incomprehension, and the same disinterest in really finding a way out, that we’ve been witnessing for the last 30 years. (Of course, to add to the theatrical side, the film has been denounced by the Minister of Culture as an ‘incitement to violence’). Meantime at least we were able to watch a good and innovative film in the relative comfort of a half empty cinema.

    The sad thing is that I’m sure all this indulgence will have a price which goes even beyond the various dead and mutilated every year. Spain needs to think about it’s future, not it’s past. And if you follow what I am saying, you can read between the lines and see why I’m not very optimistic about a real democratic Iraq anytime soon.

  9. “The main insight into the founding of the EU was, and still is, the degree to which American prosperity derives from economic integration, and not some unique American value system. . This was, explicitly, the thinking behind the European Coal & Steel union.”

    The thought was also there that integration of coal and steel would make war between W European countries thoroughly impracticable but remember too that European countries had each emerged from WW2 with a ramshackle legacy of national trade barriers and, in mainland Europe, huge farming sectors in terms of employment by the standards of America or Britain. It was evident the legacy trade barriers would hinder economic growth and that the farming sectors would have to contract as manufacturing sectors grew. In the event, the labour surplus in farming provided an initial flexibility in job markets that was lacking in Britain at the time of the Rome Treaty (1957).

    The American or Anglo-Saxon value system cannot be so quickly dismissed and we should look at the actualities. As Martin Wolf comments in Friday’s FT: From 1992Q2 through 2003 “Australia’s economy grew by 50%, Canada’s by 44%, that of the US by 41% and the UK’s by 36%. Over the same period, the French economy grew by just 22%, the Eurozone’s by 21%, Italy’s by 17%, Japan’s by 15% and Germany’s by 14%.”

    It seems the Anglo-Saxon economies have been doing rather well over the last decade compared with the Eurozone – and the Belgian finance minister did say in 1995 that monetary union was about “preventing the encroachment of Anglo-Saxon values” in Europe as the preface to Bernard Connolly: The Rotten Heart of Europe (1996) reminds its readers. We need perhaps to consider the respective competitive advantages of the differences in institutions, such as stronger creditor protection in the Common Law systems of the Anglo-Saxon traditions or whether the corporate disciplines imposed by finance based capital markets create more powerful incentives for improving economic performance than those of bank based capital markets.

    Arguably, the reduction of trade barriers through successive international trade rounds – like the Uruguay Round completed in the early 1990s – have reduced the economic incentives for forming regional trading blocs, which may help explain growth in secessionist tendencies within the EU, such as the Basque region in Spain, Corsica in France or the platform of the Northern League in Italy. Those who give due weight to Adam Smith’s insight: “the division of labour is limited by the extent of the market”, will doubtless observe that European markets continue to be differentiated by differences in languages, cultures and social security systems. The evidence is that the introduction of the Euro seems to have had only a limited impact so far on reducing cross-border price differentials in the Eurozone.

    What’s I’m especially sceptical about is the value of some over-arching European aspirational goal, possibly rather like creating the “virtuous society” envisaged by Roberspierre in 1789.

  10. Bob:
    “The American or Anglo-Saxon value system cannot be so quickly dismissed and we should look at the actualities. ”

    Quite right to look at the actualities, Bob, but you should not do so by cherry-picking. The UK’s performance in the Eurozone was better than France’s or Germany’s, but on a par with Austria, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Belgium and Greece, and well below the Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, and Ireland. It also behooves a closer look at countries such as Nigeria that inherited the “Anglo-Saxon value system” part and parcel, from governmental system down to legislature, and fail to be stunning successes.

    (This is not an attempt to deflate criticism of the mediocre economic policies of France and Germany – criticize away, I’m all ears – but an attempt to avoid hoary old debates over the Japanese/Asian Tiger/Irish and now, it seems, Anglo Saxon “miracles” and attendant worship of the “value systems” that enabled such miracles.)

  11. Bob:
    “which may help explain growth in secessionist tendencies within the EU, such as the Basque region in Spain, Corsica in France or the platform of the Northern League in Italy.”

    These secessionist/autonomist tendencies are not growing: they have deep historical roots (Basqueland, Catalonia, Corsica, Sicily) and are actually losing steam: most of these regions are settling (or have already settled) for semi-autonomy instead of independence. Which is not necessarily a good thing: the EU needs a good kick in the arse every now and then to remind it that it isn’t always the cat’s pyjamas when it comes to representing the will of its inhabitants.

  12. Elliott,

    “Bob, but you should not do so by cherry-picking. The UK’s performance in the Eurozone was better than France’s or Germany’s, but on a par with Austria, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Belgium and Greece, and well below the Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, and Ireland.”

    I was just quoting from Martin Wolf, a lead economics columnist in the FT, but you have revived an important insight. Small country economies can behave very differently to large national economies because, among other factors, it is usually much easier to enforce a corporatist consensus in a small economy than a large one.

    The stellar performance of Ireland’s economy in the EU has been widely commented on. Besides a centralised system of wage bargaining, Ireland has the lowest tax burden among EU countries – defined as tax revenues as a percent of GDP. By some data, Ireland also has the greatest inequality of income distribution in the EU and there could be a lesson from that, however disagreeable it might be.

    “The gap between rich and poor in Britain is at its largest in 13 years and poverty levels under Tony Blair exceed those under Margaret Thatcher, government statistics reveal. Figures from the Office for National Statistics for income inequality show that differences in disposable, post-tax income at the top and bottom of society have returned to levels last seen in 1990. The report shows that the ‘Gini coefficient’, an international measure of inequality, has increased from an average of 29 points under Baroness Thatcher to 35 points under Mr Blair. The figure for 2001-02 was 36 points. The gap between rich and poor, which was relatively static in the early Tory years, soared in the late 1980s and then declined slightly through the early 1990s. It began an upward trend in 1995 and continued to rise under Labour, which came to power in 1997. . .” – from (subscription): http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=405436

    The corporatism of Austria’s broadly-based centrist coalition governments is also familiar territory for those who follow European news. Perhaps rather less familiar is the astute observation of a Belgian academic on the BBC commenting a couple of years back on the success of the Vlaams Blok in the last elections for the Antwerp city council. The trouble with virtually permanent broadly-based coalitions in government is that electors who want to register a protest vote have no other alternative but to vote for extremist parties in elections. There is much to be said for a tradition of Parliamentary government with a dedicated opposition party capable of forming a credible, alternative government.

    On the Netherlands, we have this: “Real wages increased only very slowly, at less than 1 per cent a year on average between 1979 and 1990. Wage differentiation between various sectors remained very low compared with other countries.” – from Bart van Ark et al in Nicholas Crafts and Gianni Toniolo (eds): Economic Growth in Europe Since 1945 (CUP, 1996), p. 331.

    It was unthinkable in Britain during the 1980s to enforce such an effective incomes policy as would have constrained growth of real wages to less than 1 per cent a year however much that could have facilitated the reduction in unemployment rates in the early 1980s, which were then much higher than in most other EU countries. But since end 1995, Britain’s standardised unemployment rate has been lower than in France, Germany or Italy and the employment rate higher. Just in the news today, the inflation rate in the Eurozone is running above the ECB’s adopted ceiling of 2 per cent. Perhaps there are lessons from that too.

  13. Bob, as a test of a value system, just using recent years is also a questionable sample. If I recall correctly, the western European continental economies grew a good deal faster than the UK’s and USA’s from 1948 to the early 80’s and the Japanese and Korean economies performed very well between the war and the early 90’s. Current performance is not an indicator of future performance.

    Edward, I’m not particularly on top of Spanish politics, but I do know language politics, and Basque is doing pretty well on that front. It is increasingly seen as a success in the language policy business. I should also add though that just because those are my aspirations for Europe, that certainly doesn’t mean that they are everybody else’s. Belgium certainly has its fair share of people who would disagree with my goals, so it would hardly surprise me to find that people think differently in Spain too.

  14. Scott,

    “If I recall correctly, the western European continental economies grew a good deal faster than the UK’s and USA’s from 1948 to the early 80’s.”

    Absolutely right – and why that happened is challenging but there is no particular reason for believing the same factors and influences applied in the USA as applied in Britain. What most can perhaps agree on is that for better or worse the election of the Conservatives to government in 1979, with Mrs Thatcher as prime minister, did make a difference.

    Up to 1979, the Conservatives and Labour had almost equally shared out the time in government since the end of WW2 while Britain – and the US – regularly featured around the bottom of the international growth league tables for the affluent market economies. For much of the period there was a broad consensus between the two parties on the main thrust of government policies with differences for the most part more often matters of detail and nuance than fundamentals.

    Both parties went along with top marginal tax rates on income in the 80 to 90 per cent range, both went along with a substantial part of the business sector of the economy remaining in state ownership, both accepted various combinations of controls on currency movements across the exchanges. A Conservative government in the early 1960s created the National Economic Development Office and Council, corporatist institutions if ever there were and introduced in emulation of what the government took then to be the essence of the French planning system. In the 1960s, both Conservative and Labour governments made applications to sign up to the Treaty of Rome but without success because De Gaulle vetoed the successive applications on the grounds that Britain’s perspectives and international attachments were overly Atlanticist. After De Gaulle’s death in 1970, Heath’s Conservative government in the early 1970s succeeded in negotiating accession to the EEC.

    The election of Mrs T as prime minister in 1979 fractured the post-war consensus. Tax rates on income were dramatically cut down, controls on currency movements were abolished and her governments famously pioneered a programme for privatizing state owned business. Legislation was brought in for curbing trade union bargaining power which still largely remains in force today. For all that is said now about Mrs T, she and her governments were enthusiastic proponents of the European Single Market.

    In the course of the 1980s, Britain’s economy moved to somewhere near the top of those same league tables for GDP and productivity growth in which it had previously languished near the bottom. As readers can easily discover, if they have not already learned, Mrs T still excites strong political passions in Britain even though her term of office as prime minister ended in 1990 at the instance of her political colleagues.

    Reversion to Anglo-Saxon attitudes in government in Britain dates from her time in office. When her first industry minister, Sir Keith Joseph, a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, moved into his department in 1979 he circulated a reading list for his senior civil servants. Somewhere near the top was Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations (1776). The thing is that the industrial revolution was pioneered in Britain without state direction or control but that reading list was still the topic of animated discussion in the late 1990s.

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