OPINION
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Another Europe?

The economic crisis threatens to liquidate the best political idea we Europeans have ever had

It's a fact: for some time now, euro-skepticism has been gaining ground. In Britain, Cameron is promising for 2017 a referendum on his country's membership of the EU; in Italy, Grillo is proposing that the country leave the euro; in France, Le Pen is also calling for a referendum on leaving the euro and the EU. Even in Spain, until now solidly pro-European, the faith in the desirability of a united Europe is beginning to crack. It may be questioned whether this general disaffection has to do with the very idea of a united Europe, or only with the way in which Europe is being united; but it cannot be questioned that the phenomenon exists, and is growing.

Only about a decade ago, when the euro started up and the economic crisis was not even in sight, it was an almost unquestioned truth that the EU was going to be the great power of the 21st century, and that everyone wanted to belong to it. No more. The economic crisis threatens to liquidate the best political idea the Europeans have ever had. True, the crisis is not only economic, but also political. But the key problem is that ever more Europeans are blaming the EU for the bad situation. Nothing is so alleviating as finding someone else to blame for your own troubles, as the Catalans blame their troubles on Spain.

Not only is it unreasonable to expect a Greek or an Italian to live like a German; even if this were possible, it would mean the loss of a cultural heritage built on ways of life"

In view of this panorama, some of our brighter minds have been trying to contrive alternatives to the EU as it is; one of the latest being Giorgio Agamben, who, in a recent article in La Repubblica, bemoans that the EU has been built in disregard of cultural kinships and on a purely economic basis. He claims that this model is now revealing its fragility. The pretended unity only accentuates the differences, imposing on a poor majority the interests of a rich minority, largely concentrated in a single nation (Germany). Agamben seeks an alternative to this supposed error, in an idea that dates back to 1947: that of a French-led Latin union of France, Italy and Spain, united by kinship in culture, religion and way of life. "Not only is it unreasonable to expect a Greek or an Italian to live like a German; even if this were possible, it would mean the loss of a cultural heritage built on ways of life," he writes.

To me Agamben's diagnosis seems sound in part; the remedy, entirely mistaken. True, Germany is imposing a solution in line only with its interests, and finally unjust. But I fail to see what we fix by creating a French-united poor Europe and a German-united rich Europe, especially if we keep in mind that the great recent ills of the continent have proceeded from confrontation between France and Germany. On the other hand, it is absurd to think that the poor, fragile Latin Europe could defend itself against the traditional voracity of the markets and thus protect its democracy, when in fact the rich and strong German Europe is likewise incapable of doing so. It is equally absurd to think that either of the two, alone, could vie with China or India and prevent Europe from being reduced to irrelevance.

Meanwhile, pursuing the logic of cultural kinship, could not the Basques and the Lombards, in this hypothetical Latin Europe, say that it is unreasonable to oblige them to live in the manner of Spaniards and Italians, and thus lose their cultural heritage? Should it not constitute one of the greatest strengths of a united Europe, when it facilitates the achievement of political and economic unity without prejudice to cultural diversity; that is, without obliging anyone to live in a way that he finds uncongenial? Behind Agamben's reasoning, does there not lurk the principal historical enemy of Europe, which is nationalism? Is not Agamben's brave new Europe the same old Europe of parochial jealousy and mutual throat-cutting, under a trendy new name? You are welcome to your own opinion.

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