Home inFocus Europe: Whole and Free? (Fall 2014) Seeking the Soul of Europe

Seeking the Soul of Europe

View from the Continent

Fiamma Nirenstein Fall 2014

I’m upset with Europe because it is mine. Mine are Dante Alighieri, Giotto, Michelangelo; mine are Cosimo de’ Medici who scoured the art markets of the Netherlands and brought their magnificent paintings to Florence; mine are Shakespeare and Chaucer’s England; mine are The Charterhouse of Parma and even Baudelaire; and mine are, of course, Russian novels, wars, peace treaties, and revolutions fundamental to the history of mankind. Mine, and of all Europe’s. I don’t understand how a civilization as resounding as that of the ancient continent has become so trampled by bureaucracy as to become non-existent before its problems.

My father was Polish, my mother is Florentine. I grew up between Florence and Rome and, while working as a special correspondent, I covered anti-Communist revolutions and discovered the anti-Semitic background of Kurt Waldheim. Between the Shoah and Communism, I witnessed Europe trying to free itself from the worst totalitarianism. My Florentine grandmother raised us with the idea that the monsters had been vanquished. We had lost half our family in the Holocaust, but Europe had learned its lesson: “Never Again.” The Europe of my dreams—open, integrated, multi-lingual—would be able to fend off anti-Semitic hatred. But instead, like a weed, anti-Semitism has taken root everywhere. Who would have thought that in this day and age we would witness demonstrations in Berlin that scream, “Death to Jews”?

In addition to anti-Semitic perversion, I have seen the overthrow of the very idea of Human Rights, which now includes polygamy in Paris and the prohibition of alcohol in areas of London and Brussels defined as “Sharia neighborhoods.” Human Rights now mean support by EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton for a hunger strike in an Israeli jail while hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis are dying. I have seen European judges releasing terrorists who conspire to carry out attacks under the rubric of “fighting for freedom.” I have seen TV that invites an ISIS terrorist to debate a famous Jewish left-wing Italian conductor. Over the years I have witnessed the subtle strengthening of an anti-Israeli point of view, both persistent and persecutory, that hides under a false pretense of peace.

I long for my Europe, I miss it.

The European Construct

There are 754 EU parliamentarians and 14-15,000 people who move through the plenary four days a month. The European Commission has 29 Commissioners and approximately 25,000 employees; the system costs about 140 billion Euro annually, increased by the autonomous European diplomatic service. Salaries range from 2,300-16,000 Euro a month, plus travel compensation. The Daily Telegraph reports that more than 1,000 officials earn more than their Prime Ministers. In highly regime-structured meetings we talk a few minutes each and hear dissonant and clashing opinions of Member States. All States are equal—but we know Germany always wins in the end, if it manages to get a word in.

The EU debated the “Arab Spring” when I was head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Parliament. We each had to explain in three minutes how confident we were—or were not—in the development of democracy in Egypt, and give reasons to provide substantial economic aid to Cairo—or not. I chose the path of cross-compliance: if they start wars, if they veil their women, if they cut off your hand, etc., Europe must restrict aid. But the debate was irrelevant. A benevolent and well-known host of officials shot down each objection: you won’t want to question their marriage institutions, their traditions must be respected, and you won’t want to debate Middle East peace with President Morsi. If Egypt’s President threatens Israel, it’s tradition.

The aid was the only subject, not the idea of a common foreign policy or European morality.

In 2010, in Paris during a meeting of the Council of Europe, when the Mavi Marmara, a ship of the Turkish flotilla, tried to dock on the coast of Gaza, I found myself being assassinated by the Turkish representative, whose definitive opinions about the cruelty of Israel were heard in religious silence. One last memory: an article had just come out in Sweden’s Aftonbladet claiming Israeli soldiers killed Palestinians to steal their organs. Carl Bildt, also Swedish, was then EU Foreign Minister. Asked how he was going to combat anti-Semitism, he replied that he had no knowledge of the existence of any. Bildt is the man who compared Netanyahu to Hamas. How could anti-Semitism exist in such a perfect, hopeful European creation, an accumulation of all its assets?

Europe is essentially an ideological creature. Its troubles begin with the lack of an economic, foreign, and social policy. In his book A Lost Europe?, Ernesto Galli della Loggia ventures into the core of the founding documents of Europeanism when it was a “matter of intellectuals of various extraction and some isolated politicians.” The primary requirement in an environment destroyed by the Second World War was to respond to Soviet pressure, which led to the beginning of what would become a Common Market to avoid economic rivalries. Political union was far off, the idea of a combined army failed because France refused, but the inspiration, the need to live with Russian and American power, was great.

The Manifesto

The famous “Ventotene Manifesto” increasingly is the leitmotif of every pro-European speech. Written by three prisoners confined by the fascists (a Socialist, a radical liberal, and a former Communist), this Manifesto is a sacred text to which everyone refers without ever having actually read it. But della Loggia makes us understand its message: European aspiration is apocalyptic. The Nation State is a monster intended to eliminate the Nazi degeneration saturated with the stench of “home ground.” It is necessary to imagine a European Federal State that makes sense, the Manifesto states, a State that seeks “the reform of society…against inequalities and privileges.” Galli quotes the Manifesto, “The European revolution must be Socialist,” and “democratic political methodology will be a dead weight in the revolutionary crisis.” It is not a dated document, a piece of forgotten history. It is cited by Ministers and deputies, and its signatories are memorialized by the EU.

Perhaps the basic text at the time could have been sidelined if Europe had adopted a Constitution giving itself a suitable political sense, but that issue was settled in numerous “no” votes by Dutch and French voters in 2005. It can be said that instead of developing a philosophy, Europe developed a replacement law made of many rules and injunctions with no boundaries, culminating in the Lisbon agreements: a gigantic text—150,000 rules weighing close to a ton—covering everything and promoting “global governance.” The minute prescriptive of the laws, ranging from lamps to dairy products, are above all, sick, but they bind all Member States.

If this reflected a political choice it wouldn’t be too startling; Europe is large and complex. But although there is case law, there is no “soul of Europe.” Europe’s soul has marched robotically without attaching enough importance to why integration between disparate nations is so difficult, and how it makes sense to have a single currency when it applies to such unequal economies. An attempt was undertaken to define an economic identity for each Member, but that didn’t work, in part because the number of countries grew to 29.

Only a few fans see the EU as a support, a crutch, a source of identity, as a mother to these united states that want her as their central power. But Europe has continued to speak different languages, and to dream in different languages, and although it has a song all children learn together, in what language do they sing it?

Transforming Hope into Hostility

Most Europeans have developed a kind of impatience, and the people often see the EU as a clash between institutions, laws, and papers that has resulted in a failed economy. To be more precise, they see it as the failure of their own national economy. The distribution of sacrifices in a time of crisis between unequal nations has transformed hope into hostility. Over the past 25 years, Europe has tried to pave the road to integration while its Member Countries try to defend their language, food, culture, and economy so as to deflect integration. Beethoven’s European Anthem is, of course, wonderful, but it’s absurd for a Polish or Italian to have to sing the Ode to Joy in German. In the absence of a common idea, the march for economic unity has paradoxically strengthened national identity.

The early 1980s marked the enlargement of the EEC southward with the transition from 9 to 12 Member Countries taking place while Margaret Thatcher was fiercely defending the principle of national sovereignty in Britain. In 1992, the internal market was completed through the removal of tariff barriers. After the detachment of England, behind France’s lead, and with the push of Francois Mitterrand and the strengthening of the Commission chaired by Jacques Delors, there was a return to the idea of economic and monetary union. It is here that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany became a central issue, and the relationship between Helmut Kohl and Mitterrand turned into an urge to rearrange Europe in its entirety. In Rome in 1990, Monetary Union was established through the planned adoption of a single currency. It didn’t work, hence its steady weakening. In 1995, the Schengen Area gradually abolished Europe’s frontiers, but England did not adhere.

Thatcher would accept neither the border arrangement nor the single currency, which is probably when Europe’s decline became substantial. The power that had founded democracy and capitalism, had crossed the seas, and had the most forward-looking foreign policy, stayed home. Missing in Europe was England’s “magic touch,” its class and its elegant and practical historical blessing.

The Maastricht Treaty, adopted in 1992 and entered into force the following year, was an unbalanced building. On the one hand it rested on a solid base for economic integration and on a number of Community policies, and on the other imposed limitations on national sovereignty with the aim of eventually becoming a single nation. Great confusion, halted by the present economic crisis, aggravated the economic instability of the poorest countries.

Maastricht tried to broaden the powers of the European Parliament to initiate a common foreign and security policy, as well as to initiate social inclusion. But everything, especially the prospect of Monetary Union and the confusion between Parliament (representing the citizens) and the Council (representing the States), increased its difficulties.

Foreign policy was delegated to the Council, which instead of looking out for the interests of Europe as a whole, had the task of making sure the States came into agreement. The creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS), born to ensure that the European diplomatic corps served to consolidate a European foreign policy, turned into yet another bureaucratic body. There is all the baggage necessary for politicians abroad, but there are no politics.

Anti-Americanism and Condemnation of Israel

In the end, the agreement between the EU Member States is limited to certain circumstances, to express concerns and exhortations—especially when they need to condemn Israel. For the rest, Europe has always expected the United States to solve its problems even as anti-American sentiment has been growing. Anti-Americanism, interwoven with ignorance, envy, and anti-Semitism, became one of the main drivers of the European mindset.

The slogan “America, gendarme of the world” was the consolidated vicious legacy of the Cold War, leading Europe to refuse to do its full share after September 11, 2001. In 2003 when the then-15 (now 29) members of the EU met in a special meeting to discuss the Iraq War, Europe split in two, France on one side and Tony Blair on the other. Atoning for its prior colonialism with multiculturalism, the anti-war left showed anti-imperialist hatred for America. Pro-American politicians such as Berlusconi and Aznar, and even Sarkozy to some extent, were accused of “Islamophobia” and racism against Muslims.

Even more remarkable was the ineffectiveness of joint action in the Yugoslav crisis that has been before the EED since mid-1991. Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia and Slovenia, while others were more cautious and thought diplomatic and military intervention by the United States was divisive.

The history of European foreign policy is non-existent: it is a supranational posturing that has no ideas and no army—and no common army has ever been nor will ever be. England and France will continue to make autonomous policy in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

Anti-Americanism is associated with anti-Zionism that grew up during the Second Intifada. Europe (according to this desperate working witness) is populated by groups of officials and politicians responsible only for obtaining convictions of Israel, and who as a practical matter are only able to produce periodic documents that establish essential parameters—the need to achieve peace; sanctioning “settlements”; and prohibiting dealing with Israeli institutions, public or private, in the territories beyond the Green Line (i.e. the 1949 armistice lines).

The “territories” are the only point on which all Member States agree. Since 2006 about 100 Palestinian and Israeli NGOs with an anti-Israel agenda have received more than 30 million Euro—to which the funding of European States, regions, and municipalities must be added. This is an EU characteristic: to export their “principles” through “civil society” organizations—NGOs that pursue their own anti-Israel ends, which can be combined with those of terrorists. In December 2013, the European Court of Auditors published a series of reports that criticize the EU’s PEGASE program of support to the PA for its lack of transparency, risk of corruption, embezzlement, and lack of conditionality. So although it is known that the money is not put to good use, nothing is being done to stop it.

Immigration and Muslim Growth

Maastricht laid the foundations of the great immigration problem. France, Holland, and England paved the road to the creation of a continent based on the principles of the free movement of persons, goods, and capital, which then became subject to the migratory wave of a ravenous world that was offended by colonialism and affected by murderous jihadism. Multicultural policy was a “fix” for past colonialism. Sweden, Denmark, and—to a lesser extent—Italy promoted the dispensing of refugee work permits with lax asylum conditions. A well-intentioned policy to extend welfare to non-citizens made way for uncontrolled cultural autonomy. Contrast and discomfort are what principally result from an immigration policy based on ideology instead of familiar practicality. The Muslim presence has become ominous:

  • In Sweden, there is political campaigning in Arabic.
  • In Oslo, Mohammed is the most popular name among newborns.
  • In England there are Islamic courts judging Muslims.
  • In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower there is infibulation, polygamy, and child marriage.

Hatred of Jews has led to heinous crimes such as the kidnapping to a banlieue, then torture and killing of Ilan Halimi, a young man from Paris. Cultural discomfort has become a clash, with the new focal point being European Muslims fighting in Syria and Iraq. They are returning to Europe with jihadist intentions that will be a tremendous problem in the future.

The Euro and Economic Policy

Different countries have different interests, and not even the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997, which pointed to a policy of European expertise and recognized Human Rights as a fundamental part of the European legal system, was able to form a common ground on which Europe could build its essence. The single currency remains the main accomplishment, but cost the European people’s blood, sweat, tears, and confusion.

When the Lira was converted to the Euro, Italy found itself with prices having doubled; a pair of shoes that had cost 100,000 Lire cost 100 Euros, the equivalent of 200,000 Lire. It was a slip of the tongue that was remedied, but the single currency led to further differences between countries that were at different economic levels, and aggravated the economic instability of the poorest and weakest. It broke the public market between Germany and Greece.

After a moment of brilliance, the dust settled. Spain and Ireland experienced considerable economic growth between 2005 and 2008 after entry into the Eurozone provided an artificial boost. Then came the letdown. From 2004 to 2008, Ireland had a youth unemployment rate of 4.5% that tripled to 14.7% in 2012. Spain’s 11% unemployment rate was reduced by one third over the years of growth, and then skyrocketed to 26% in 2013. Greece was bankrupted, and its unemployment rate doubled to 27% with the imposition of austerity measures. Germany, on the other hand, registered a decrease of unemployment because its economy had been growing steadily, and some others—Sweden, Austria, and France—can be expected to remain stable.

If European economies could—and they cannot—recover, Europe would be left only with the Euro and a bureaucracy that the last elections contested. The main problem of the European Community is that it is still looking for an anthem, a memory, a meaning that puts its citizens in the game for an idea, for a purpose. Most important, it lacks a foreign policy, reflected by its confusion over a Russia that with no fear pursues a policy of territorial expansion in the heart of Europe.

The myth that the new Europe has prevented internal conflicts is now buried.

Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist and author, former member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and deputy-president of its Foreign Affairs Committee (2008-2013).