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Meditations (Politics): Et tu, EU?

Meditations (Politics) - From Martin LeFevre in California

Et tu, EU?

Rather than becoming a ‘counterweight’ to American domination, Europe is reverting to form, and bickering along lines of national identity. Only the Bush Administration is pleased about the “deep crisis” of the European Union, as the outgoing head of the EU, Jean-Claude Junker put it. Et tu, EU?

The Brits have decided that the future belongs to America. At one level, the argument is over how to respond to globalization: make Europe into a free trade zone; or politically integrate and establish “solidarity?” The officious Jack Straw lectures people across the channel that it is “essentially a division between whether you want a European Union that is able to cope with the future or whether you want a European Union that is trapped in the past.” Spot on, Bush would say.

At a deeper level, the crisis reflects the old adage, “without a vision, the people perish.” Only in this case, Europe can’t even decide whom the people are. Is Europe an idea in search of a boundary or a boundary in search of an idea? Twenty-five countries at last count, but will Turkey be allowed to join? To the fair-minded, enlargement appears to be biting off more than the EU can chew, whereas to the bigoted, it’s a matter of raising the ramparts against the Muslim hordes.

One hears a strange question emanating from the Continent after the constitutional defeats and budget collapse—“what is Europe for?” Asking, “what is the United States for?” would strike the vast majority of Americans as ludicrous. “We hold these truths to be self-evident” also applies to America’s place and purpose in the world.

After all, America is supposedly “the indispensable nation.” But yet if that is true of America, it should also be true of a united Europe. A Europe not defined just as a ‘counterweight’ to an economically and militarily overextended USA, but as a vibrant mix of peoples and languages comprising a single body, providing global leadership.

What is necessary for a shared vision of what the EU could be? What will enable Europe to “punch its weight in diplomacy, peacekeeping or in international trade talks,” as the Guardian put it? Two ingredients are required that are woefully missing at present: popular support, and good old-fashioned leadership.

The European leaders have failed to articulate a vision, direction, and purpose for Europe, and utterly failed to persuade their constituencies why it is wiser and better for Europeans to first see themselves as Europeans, rather than as British, French, Dutch, Czechs, etc.

Blair emerges as the nominal winner by standing firm against ending a rebate to help poor Britain in 1984. As Poland’s Rzeczpospolita put it, “Britain torpedoed a summit which would have brought in tens of billions of euros for eastern Europe... London does not want to pay for the expansion of the EU.”

Tony Blair is a smart guy. Why has he never learned that you can’t serve two masters? Is he a European or is he an American? He can’t be both, especially when he is EU president. He has certainly honed a most annoying American trait—having it both ways. His fabled bridge between the United States and Europe reminds me of a major freeway in Silicon Valley which, due to poor planning and insufficient funds, abruptly terminated, frozen at an upward angle to nowhere for years.

Sure, Blair’s ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ for the British economy has brought greater prosperity and dynamism to Britain than the Continent. But whatever short-term gains Blair has achieved for the UK, the fetid mess he and his erstwhile friend George Bush made of the cradle of civilization will forever stain his legacy.

Mr. Junker was right when he said, “people need to realize that we’re being watched [from the outside].” Yes, and if you hold very still, you can feel the breeze from a billion heads shaking in dismay. In going for an impossible budget deal, Junker turned a constitutional crisis into a debacle for the EU in Brussels. Junker seemed intent on giving a lesson in self-fulfilling prophecy. He said after the summit, “I knew the time would come when all of this would come out.”

But what has come out, except the question: where are we going to find leadership in a global society? The large number of Americans, who, like 80% of Europe, can’t stomach Bush, had tempered hopes for the EU. But after witnessing the tempers in Brussels, how can we look to Europe? It looks like this old world has about as much chance for concord as a Maori winning the US Open. Wait a second…

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- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: martinlefevre@sbcglobal.net. The author welcomes comments.

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