Europe as we know it

Byline: | Category: Culture, Economy, Foreign Policy, Government, Military | Posted at: Friday, 10 February 2012


I’ve spent most of the last two years in Germany, and in fact, am going back there again this weekend.  So I’ve been exposed to a great deal of press and thought about the European economic situation as it relates to Germany.  If you want to understand the complexity of the problem, this article by Christopher Caldwell is probably the best summary you could read.

I have come of the belief that the EU is a union of intractable problems held together for the time being by the glue of German guilt.  That glue, however, is decaying with the loss of the older generation.  Ultimately the EU must either subordinate centuries of different cultures, languages, and customs to itself, or it must fail. 

This may be hard for Americans to understand, as our perception of regional and cultural differences is colored by our own, which are, by comparison, not that different.  When Americans travel Europe they see it as akin to traveling through New England.  Moving between European nations today is seemingly no different than driving through four or five very similar states on the way from Connecticut to Maine.  The money is the same.  The language is the same. (English is virtually every European’s second language).  And so long as you confine yourself to the usual tourist haunts, even the experience is often the same:  castles, old churches, and gelato.

But European nations are not the same as states.  I was in a multi-national planning meeting a few months back when the discussion turned to the subject of one NATO nation training with its forces in another NATO nation.  Sheepish looks overcame several faces.  Finally, one foreign officer said, “We are all military professionals here, so we understand the necessity of this, but our people might have difficulty . . . ”  Another officer interjected more succinctly, “This is Europe; we have history.  Europe is not North America.”

History in Europe has a way of reasserting itself.  As the older German generation goes away, those historical differences will again come to the fore.  Germany is very different from Italy, and as Caldwell correctly points out, even Italy is very different from itself.  Sicilians and the citizens of Sudtirol might as well be on different planets, and yet they’re are ostensibly both Italian.  One doesn’t even have to travel far from Europe’s capital, Brussels, to see such differences in action.  Belgium, itself a nation cobbled together from three cultures who quarrel with each other, is an ungovernable mess.  And that’s just in one European country not much larger than Massachusetts.

Europe has all the trappings of union: a common currency, a central government, a de facto language.  But its trappings are just that:  traps.  Europeans are confined.  And confinement breeds resentment. 

Last year on a transatlantic trip I watched Life As We Know It.  It is the story of two incompatible people thrown together into the same house to raise the orphaned daughter of their mutual friends who died in a car wreck.  The two had all the trappings of a couple:  house, child, common friends.  Hollywood gave the unlikely plot a happy ending.  But Hollywood is half a world away from Europe.  And in the real world, the European marital union of 27 incompatible countries is confronting increasing resentment.  Ultimately there will be a messy divorce.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Glenn for the link.  While you’re here, please take a look around.  Would love to get your thoughts on the constitutionality of conscientious objection.

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8 Responses to “Europe as we know it”

  1. Rich K Says:

    Maybe they could hire Woody Allen or better yet Roman Polanski to write a happy ending for the EU. Ya,thats it, More fiction for the present fiction that “all is well”.

  2. Tom Says:

    Both the European countries and the Arabian countries originate in a tribal society. It is against their origin blood principles to willingly mix with other tribes. Logic means nothing to them.Fortunately, they allowed those who were willing to compromise to escape to the USA and Canada. In my opinion,the EU will come to an end in the near future. I only hope we will recognize this as their weakness and are patient enough to let them resolve these problems on their own. We are not responsible.

  3. Andy Says:

    Continuing European Integration is Bitter-Sweet. Bitter in that its contribution to the study of foreign policy is unmatched (and the end of world as we know it). And Sweet in that it will most likely end European wars.

    Else we will be there another 100 years.

  4. Mike K Says:

    Fortunately, the European wars of history have an analogy in pheasant hunting. Anybody who hunts pheasants knows that the flyers have all been shot and did not reproduce. What is left are the runners. The same Darwinian forces have been at work on war-like Europeans. They were all shot in 1914-1918. Those that were left got it in 1939-1945. What is left are the runners.

  5. Athena Says:

    America is as tribal as Europe because it’s a deep-seated human instinct to want to belong to a group. Outliers from the herd get killed.

  6. Pat Says:

    There may well be a messy divorce- mainly because politicians are trying to foster too close a union too quickly- and persist in kicking problems down the road without solving them.
    However, the fact that in one small town in England (where I live, and I can only assume is typical) There are Czechs, Poles, French, Germans and others who are known and liked, and that on my travels through Europe everyone I meet has previously met an Englishman that they liked, Gives me hope that things can be settled amicably- once the politicians are dished.

  7. Kjackman Says:

    Ironically, it was European unionization itself that brought about its own demise. Had the various nations retained their separate currencies, the PIIGS could never have dragged their sister nations down the rat hole with them.

  8. Jeff Fulmer Says:

    I enjoyed my trip to Europe last year…and was struck with how independent and proud each country is…Almost with a little chip on their respective shoulders. (I wrote about it, “What I Learned on my European Vacation”

    Whether or not the EU or the Euro will survive, I have no idea. It will be challenging, but it makes them a stronger economic power and an easier place to visit.