European Identity; the Old Country Aspires to a New Today

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 13, 2006 | Go to article overview

European Identity; the Old Country Aspires to a New Today


Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

VIENNA - The failure of the European Constitutional Treaty in referenda in the Netherlands and France last year led to a determination among European leaders that the time had come for a "moment of reflection." That moment is with us still and forms the backdrop for German Marshall Fund's conference here.

As an American in Europe, it struck me that the best contribution I could make would be to try to offer a candid assessment of where the project of European integration stands as of now. What, then, is Europe in 2006 as distinct from its component parts, the member-states? In what senses can we say that "Europe" exists? We begin with the relatively simple matter of geography Europe's place on the map. This sense of Europe is old and steeped in history. But even in the case of geography, we quickly arrive at matters that remain subjects of contention. Specifically, what are the boundaries of Europe? During the Cold War, "Europe" was largely a term for Western Europe. That's no longer so. Europeans have settled the question of whether Central and Eastern Europe are also included. They are. So too, the Balkans scene of the most murderous post-communist action are now surprisingly far along the path of integration.

We now face such exotic questions as how "European" we should construe Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus to be. There is no consensus on these questions. But the record is clear that Europeans have come to think of the question of the geography of Europe as inclusive rather than exclusive, which has been a huge benefit for the people included.

There is a European economy as well. There can be no doubt that European integration from the time of the coal and steel community forward has been a huge benefit to the material prosperity of Europeans. The common market, regulatory harmonization, the creation of the euro, though none singly without precedent, cumulatively have created a truly continental economy.

Notwithstanding integration, though, national governments still matter hugely to economic performance on their territories. It is but a consequence of policy choices that Ireland has boomed and France and Germany haven't. Many of the EU newcomers from the East have adopted policies substantially more market-friendly than those in Western Europe and are reaping higher rates of economic growth. Perhaps their example will serve as a stimulus to economic reform in Western Europe.

Europe is also a zone of peace and common identity. But we need to be careful here. The peace is real, but some of the more enthusiastic supporters of European integration imagined or hoped for the emergence of a post-national European identity, which would entail a sense of "Europeanness" supplanting that one's sense of self as a Frenchman, a German or an Italian.

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