Europe: Ringing in the New, Remembering the Old: Paul Dukes Examines the Historical Roots of This Month's Enlargement of the European Union

By Dukes, Paul | History Today, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Europe: Ringing in the New, Remembering the Old: Paul Dukes Examines the Historical Roots of This Month's Enlargement of the European Union


Dukes, Paul, History Today


'WE EUROPEAN are the children of Hellas', declared H. A. L. Fisher at the beginning of his History of Europe (1935). We undoubtedly share a huge heritage from Greece. Plato and Aristotle provide the basis tot much of our theory, for example. However; a democracy based on slave-holding was ill fact less of a model than we previously thought. Indeed, much of the image of Athenian society and culture built up since the 1820s was a nineteenth-century construct born of idealisation and wishful thinking. And it is worth noting that most of the words in Fisher's opening sentence stem from the 'barbaric' North rather than the 'cradle of civilisation' to the South.

We shall have many reminders of the influence of Hellas during the Olympic Games to be held in Greece in August. Before then, however, there is another event of significance for Europe and the would: on May 1st, ten additional states join the European Union. And by no means all the citizens of the ten would recognise themselves as children of Hellas. Only two, Malta and Cyprus, have a Mediterranean civilisation. the other eight constitute powerful reminders that there are non-classical roots to the culture of the continent. Four of them--Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia--are of Slavonic origin, while two more, Latvia and Lithuania, have Slavonic elements in their make-up. Hungary and Estonia share their provenance with the Finns.

Whatever their relation to Hellas, the non-Mediterranean eight share the dubious distinction of having felt the influence of Stalin. Slovenia escaped first as part of the heretic Tito's Yugoslavia, but the others were subject to Soviet control for over forty years. Arguably, this experience was just as important as membership of earlier empires, Austrian, German and Russian.

To record the events of the period from the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and of the USSR itself in 1991 is certainly part of the historian's task. However, to separate what may appear significant in the long run from what will seem unimportant is virtually impossible. Without the perspective given by the passage of time, historians can find no certain sense of direction. Yet this does not mean that there is no 'master narrative', as post-modernists argyle. We can see clearly enough thai the decline, fall and resurgence of Europe formed an important part of the basic story of the last century. Moreover, we can be fairly certain that the attacks of '9/11' will continue to influence the course of world events for many years to come, accelerating the process of globalisation. Even so, Europe retains identity and significance within such a framework, however much it has fallen from its zenith. We must not forget the old while recognising what is new.

At the beginning of the 1990s, 'Europe', an economic association within a cultural tradition, debated how far to go towards political union. In 1992, the European Community redesigned itself, becoming the European Union in 1993. In the same year, the European Council met up the Copenhagen criteria, which all countries wishing to join the EU would have to fulfil before their applications could be successful. They would have to possess a functioning market economy and to transpose all EU laws into their national legislation. gilt that was not enough. They would require also stable political institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. This was all assertion of distinctive elements within the cultural tradition as well as having possible implications for a political ration.

A number of programmes were launched to help candidates meet the criteria. Cyprus and Malta had already submitted their applications in 1990. They were followed in 1994 by Hungary and Poland, in 1995 by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, in 1996 by the Czech Republic and Slovenia, and in 1999 by Turkey. In 2000, the Nice Treaty charted the course for accession negotiations by determining numbers of votes in the European Council, of seats in the European Parliament and of commissioners in the European Commission. …

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Europe: Ringing in the New, Remembering the Old: Paul Dukes Examines the Historical Roots of This Month's Enlargement of the European Union
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