Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Troubles of Europe

The troubles of Europe are just beginning. The most visible recent event was rejection of the EU Constitution by large majorities of French and Dutch voters. The British government followed by canceling, or at least postponing, their referendum. A number of other countries have ratified the Constitution through votes in national parliaments, effectively bypassing the people they supposedly represent.

It's obvious that the leaders of some European Union member countries, most notably some leaders in Old Europe, aren't singing from the same sheet of music as their people. Internationalist EU supporters may praise the benefits of union, but large numbers of their people are more concerned with the fundamental issues surrounding borders, language, and culture.

Americans may often criticize the short working hours, long holidays, expensive benefits, and powerful unions that characterize some European countries. While it's true that these policies have contributed to lower productivity and higher unemployment, the key point is that the people of these countries want the societies they've designed for themselves. And they understand, even if their leaders don't, that the EU concept they've rejected would seriously erode the borders, language, and culture that make them who they are.

The potential membership of Turkey in the EU is the last, and biggest, straw for many Europeans. The fabled "Polish plumber" who can freely travel to their countries and provide needed services through harder work at much less pay is a minor concern in comparison.

Claire Berlinski, a writer who lives in Paris and Istanbul, had an unusually insightful article in the Washington Post recently. Comparing life in Turkey and France and the possibility of Turkish membership in the EU, she wrote:

Move from austere Paris to this anarchic city as I have done this summer, and it's hard to escape the conclusion that the idea of integrating Turkey into the European Union is and always has been ludicrous. Turkey is not Europe, and it is certainly not France.

I do not say this merely because the phones, electricity, hot water and front door lock have failed on me, serially, since my arrival, along with the Internet, refrigerator and stove. I say this because every Turk to whom I've spoken wants nothing more than the chance to become part of the predicted flood of cheap, unskilled labor that would almost certainly destabilize the economies and social orders of the Northern European welfare states if Europe and its periphery were to be glued together and all the borders thrown open.

The French understood that when they voted non last weekend to the European Union constitution, as did the Dutch when they followed suit with their nee on Wednesday. Contrary to the assurances of many of their politicians, people in those countries recognized that their core national values were under threat by the prospect of an expanded and unified Europe. ...

The one thing the vote surely expressed is the unwillingness of the French to cede any more of their national identity to the fantasy of a unified Europe. ... No effort to unify Europe has ever succeeded. Most have ended in blood.

That's because the treaties that established the E.U. work at cross purposes with the essential character of the nation-state system that has been evolving in Europe since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The modern nation-state is predicated, precisely as the term suggests, on this idea: one nation, one state. The nation includes those who share a particular historical, linguistic and cultural heritage. Unsurprisingly, it is difficult to cobble nation-states together into a grand transnational entity. Unsurprisingly, they do not take well to the prospect of large-scale immigration.

All of European history -- all of world history -- argues against a federation with no force to back it up and no way to impose its will on member states. The French voters recognized this even as the French elite failed to. The E. U. is in effect an empty empire. The only national identities up for grabs are the old national identities of the chief nation-states of Europe. And no matter how hard the E.U. bureaucrats try to turn the French identity into a European one, the people just aren't buying it.

The U.S. supports eventual Turkish membership in the EU. We do it because Turkey is an important strategic partner, and it probably has no negative consequences for the U.S. in the short term. However, a Europe suffering the impact of huge numbers of Turkish Muslims migrating across borders that mean little wouldn't be able to withstand the economic and social disruptions that would surely result. A de-stabilized, radicalized, chaotic Europe would be a serious long-term problem for the U.S. and the world.


Blogger Amal said...

I was not sure that it was really you who wrote that last part of the blog. I find it interesting that you said "Turkish Muslims" instead of just cheap labour as the writer did. You also discuss radicalization and social disruption. I don't agree with you there. For the most part, Turkey, like Lebanon has a few crazy fanatics but it is actually quite westernized. I do completely agree with the comments on economic destabilization though...

11:55 AM, June 11, 2005  
Blogger Rachel Croucher said...

I think one can say Turkey is quite westernised in urban centres, but as for the outer urban areas and eastern and southeastern Anatolia it's quite the opposite. It tends to frustrate me monumentally that when I am critical of Turkey joining the EU my opposition boils that argument down to me being xenophobic or anti Islamic, whereas my arguments have absolutely nothing to do with those two issues. Turkey is without doubt an important strategic partner, but there are a few things we need to remember...

For starters, in the preamble to the Maastricht Treaty it says that anyone with an "European identity" is eligible to join the union, and I would suggest that a majority of Turkey's 70 million population do not regard themselves as European. Secondly, to join the union a country must display adherence to various "Copenhagen criterion", which, among other things, includes a respect for the rule of law and respect for human rights - principles that remain rather tenuous in today's Turkey

I am not saying that Turkey should never be able to join the EU, but I don't think discussion should be open until myriad important issues are resolved such as that which I just mentioned

9:10 PM, June 11, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

You are making a string of excellent points here. The EU as it was proposed in the Constitution seemed to me to be either destined for collapse or for tyranny, because the executive powers were extremely removed from popular control.

As to Turkey, I think there is another reason why the US pushed admission, and that is that the US still, through NATO, has a huge responsibility for the defense of Europe. That would be easier if Turkey were a member.

But I don't think the US properly understands the social implications. Immigration in our country proceeds more smoothly, because we don't have the vast social apparatus set up that Europe does. Without a comprehensive, lifelong welfare system, our immigrants are absorbed into our economic and social fabric to a degree that has not happened in most of Europe. So Turkey does represent a unique problem for them.

Finally, I agree that we don't need a weak and chaotic Europe. However I think that is exactly what we already have. Political flaunts and posturing can't disguise a Europe that has ignored its fundamental problems and has become effectively isolationist.

There has to be a way for them to set up an EU that is flexible and allows their member states to innovate within the fabric. But whatever that may be, I think it was clear to the voters of The Netherlands and France that the proposed system wasn't going to work out that way. They were wise to say no.

12:57 AM, June 12, 2005  
Blogger RomanWanderer said...

Great post, it voiced a lot of the concerns I had in my late teens/early 20's when we transferred from the Lira to the (expensive) Euro. Economy or not, each country is so fundamentally different, how do they expect to get a proud Italian to agree with the stuck up German?

7:04 AM, June 12, 2005  

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