Europe's Existential Crisis

By Walker, Martin | The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Europe's Existential Crisis


Walker, Martin, The Wilson Quarterly


After more than 50 years of effort to create a united Europe, the European Union has reached a critical moment. Even as more than a dozen nations clamor for membership, many citizens in the 15 current member-states are growing skeptical of the leaders who have championed the European dream.

Last May, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright handed German foreign minister Joschka Fischer a most confusing diagram. Beneath an array of apparently random scribbles, it depicted a map of Europe that appeared to have been defaced by an unusually energetic infant who had been allowed to run wild with a box of crayons.

After some effort, the eye could discern a number of sharply dissimilar circles drawn upon the map in different hues. There was one circle in blue for the 15 members of the European Union (EU), and another in red for the 19 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and another in green for the seven countries jostling to join NATO in its next round of enlargement. The 11 countries that have adopted the new single currency, the euro, were marked in brown. There was another circle, in yellow, for the six countries of central and eastern Europe that are deemed to be on the fast track for early membership in the EU, and another in orange for the six thought to be on a rather slower course toward entry. There was yet another, in a kind of violet, which marked the 12 EU countries that had signed on to the Schengen Accord. Named after a quaint Luxembourg village where one can stand on the bank of a stream and toss pebbles into either France or Germany, the accord eliminates internal border controls. Having entered any one of the 12 states, a visitor can pass without a passport into the rest.

There were even three circles disappearing far off the map in the direction of Siberia and the Chinese border. One was for those 43 countries (including Russia) that make up the Council of Europe, the body that runs the European Court of Human Rights. A second was the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the former Soviet republics among its 55 members. The third was for those 27 countries, including former Soviet states such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, linked to NATO through the Partnership for Peace.

"The map showed circles intersecting with circles that intersected with still more circles in a rather bamboozling way," commented Andreas Michelis, a German diplomatic spokesman. "The American question was, where do we turn among all these elements?" The European question -- which confronts the 15 nations of the EU with increasing urgency as 13 countries (Malta having since joined the 12 on the Americans' map) hammer on the door for entry -- is, where does Europe stop?

The Europe of the new millennium was supposed to be a fairly simple place. In the happy rhetoric of President George Bush during the Cold War's endgame, the old continent would at last, after the 20th century's wars and revolutions and genocides and gulags, be "whole and free." Whole, that is, after the geographical divide of the Iron Curtain, and free after the collapse of communism. But this begs a larger question. Is "wholeness" fulfilled by the boundaries of Renaissance Europe, which exclude Russia and half the Balkans? Or is Reformation Europe to be the measure, to include the Roman Catholic and Protestant lands but leave out Orthodox Russia and Serbia? Christian Europe might include Russia but exclude Turkey, Albania, and Bosnia. Europeans have grappled with this conundrum since Charles de Gaulle offered his vision of "Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals." That satisfied few. Europeans shrank from the prospect of including half of Russia. But Russians, even today, hate the concept because it leaves ou t half of their country. Americans have tended to take an expansive view, from former secretary of state James Baker's grandiose conception of a new transatlantic community "from Vancouver to Vladivostok," to President Bill Clinton's latest call for both NATO and the EU to clear the path for eventual Russian and Ukrainian membership. …

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