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Dec 29, 2004 4:05 pm


How open is Europe?



Die Welt asks that question in reviewing the "year in Europe": how inclusive is Europe, either as a civilization or as a political entity? The Union had its largest expansion; a semi-Asian nation just reformed itself (and revoted) in the name of becoming more European; and the centrality of Christianity has come under scrutiny. As the definition of Europeanness is becoming more diffuse, resting on a constellation of political institutions, social relations, culture and religion, it must also deal with its own exceptionalism--and whether or not its exceptionalism allows for the proliferation and replication of its own example.

The most obvious focal point is religion. The ascension of Turkey into the EU is finally being taken seriously (even if it is not universally popular). The Turkish prime minister asserts that the specifics of history, culture and faith are less important than the acceptance of political values that are currently valid in European countries:
The EU is neither a union of coal and steel, nor of geography, nor of only economies. It is a community of political values. It has to be an address where civilizations meet and harmonize.

Is part of the process learning to bridge differences rather than fortify them into divisions? Islam is not sufficiently un-Europe in order to exclude Turkey--or Muslims. However, this may be a Jabèsian impasse: the inclusion of Turks, and Muslims, may be nothing more than an accommodation with a people who have assimilated, and not inherited, European civilization.

But is the question about religion in particular or about faith and secularism? The place of the Church in the creation of European civilization has been controversial. The Papacy has argued (and I would agree) that Christianity, even Catholicism in specific, has been central to the emergence of European institutions as they are taking shape within the EU. The beatifications of Karl I and Robert Schuman are evidence of how willing the Papacy is to prove this point. And although secularism and suspicion of faith are not limited to Christianity (hence the war on the veil), the drive to dissociate modern society from religion impoverishes its inheritance of civilization:
Et là est bien le problème : à trop vouloir refuser de parler de Dieu - ou de le voir, même dans les représentations d'une imagerie populaire -, au nom d'une prétendue laïcité, on en oublie notre histoire culturelle et les fondements de notre mémoire collective ... Etre laïque, c'est être indépendant de toute confession religieuse : indépendant, et non intolérant.


On a related note, I want to draw attention to Daniel Riot's piece at Europeus. He argues that anti-globalization movements, environmentalists in particular, that would oppose the creation of a constitution should consider that they would benefit from a unified European position on Kyoto and other matters of industrial emissions.
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Nathanael D. Robinson - 12/30/2004

So many powers were behind the effort to beatify Schuman that I assumed it was a done deal, regardless of any supernatural deficiencies.


Jeff Vanke - 12/30/2004

We have to keep in mind that when we speak of "Europe," we are talking about a place immeasurably more diverse, and more divided, than the United States. So when we talk about what "Europe" will do (and I think this is what Nathanael means), we're talking about the lowest common denominator potential.

Cultural affinities certainly have played a role in the construction of European integration, but much more is involved. Turkey would face a large obstacle to joining, even if its population numbered only 10 million (instead of 70 million), and if its per capita GDP were more like half the European average (instead of 27%), and if it didn't do things like blockade Armenia. The completely free movement of people in the current EU make the implications of Turkish membership mind-boggling. The United States has pushed the EU to unite labor markets with Turkey (by accepting Turkish membership), but there is no imaginable way that the U.S. itself would make such an offer to Turkey, even pre-9/11.

The debates about whether the EU should be more or less religious, more or less environmentalist, more liberal or more socialist, have been around (most of them) since the beginning in the 1950s. Sometimes, when treaties have been vague enough, both sides of a given debate have championed European integration in order to advance mutually opposing agendas.

We can expect some of this with the Turkish question, as Britain in particular uses the question to halt or even reverse some integration (especially the movement of labor, which is already being violated with fig-cover laws to keep East European Roma out).


Bengt O. Karlsson - 12/29/2004

Robert Schuman was not beatified - he was found lacking on the miracle side: Karl I, on the other hand, who authorized the use of poison gas during WWI, posthumously healed a nun from varicose veins and thus qualified. On the occasion of his beatification a distant relative presented the pope with one of Karl's ribs which subsequently was divided up in 300 small pieces and distributed to the believers around the world. The lucky recipents, however, had to travel to Rome to pick up the pieces, as it were, because as a spokesman of the Vatican said: "You couldn't well send them by mail."

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