17 June 2003

Europe's loss of homelands

In general I count myself a qualified supporter of the movement towards European integration. In principle, the creation of a European Union is not essentially different from the earlier efforts to create federations in the United States, Canada and Australia. I am pleased that Cyprus, Malta, Poland and a number of other countries will shortly be admitted to the EU. In fact, the EU stands possibly the best chance of bringing an end to the protracted division of Cyprus.

At the same time, I cannot help wondering whether a united Europe will produce the sort of rootlessness and excessive mobility characteristic of North America. It is difficult to imagine a continental patriotism taking hold in Europe. Europeans are unlikely to become dewey eyed when they hear Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" (the EU anthem) or see the 12-star EU flag raised on the staff. Europe is too much of an abstraction to command this sort of loyalty.

Yet the process of European integration is inevitably eroding the more local loyalties that have characterized Europeans for generations, without providing an adequate substitute. Elections for the European Parliament usually garner considerably lower voter turnout than do national elections. Much of this may have to do with the relative powerlessness of that body, but it may also have to do with a lack of feeling towards this nebulous entity called Europe.

Europeans may now be able to move from country to country as the job market beckons. They will be surrounded by the cultural artefacts of a rich heritage, for example, Chartres Cathedral, the Colosseum, and the Parthenon. But they may no longer identify with any particular local manifestation of this heritage. The dechristianization of Europe had already produced something of a deracinated culture in the post-war era. The EU may only hasten the process.

On the other hand, it is also true that, despite the movement for integration, there is a plethora of autonomist and separatist movements dotting the old continent. Scottish nationalism, Corsican separatism, Basque and Catalonian regionalisms are all part of this counter tendency. Perhaps the assertion of these local loyalties is indicative of the tendency of the human spirit to identify with those loyalties that are more proximate and less abstract. And it may offer hope that European integration will not lead inexorably towards what Alexandre Kojève once called the universal and homogeneous state.

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