Sunday, January 26, 2003

Europe Groping for an Identity?

Last week's EU enlargement agreement has been hailed as historic by some, and as a lost opportunity by others. Whatever decision is finally passed by history one thing seems sure, this is an important turning point. Among other changes, the Euro zone countries will now be a minority within the EU. In redrawing the map of Europe, the 15 men whose countries represent one of the world's most important and exclusive clubs tore down one border only to build another. The summit formally invited 10 new members, most with dysfunctional economies, to join the European Union by 2004, thereby expanding eastward into territories whose future economic and political development is far from clear. At the same time they rejected Turkey's demand that its candidacy be given more urgency, erecting a wall that is sure to be seen by the mostly Muslim country of 67 million people — and by the rest of the Muslim world — as a division between the Christian West and the Islamic East. The Europeans rejected a plea from Turkey to set a date for starting talks on its eventual admission. The response from within Turkey itself was predictable. The front page of one Turkish newspaper - Hurriyet - was illustrated with da Vinci's "Last Supper". Below figured the question, "Will the E.U., like Christ's last supper, be purely for Christians or will there be a Muslim at the table?"

My feeling on these decisions is that on the one hand the enlargement programme is far more problematic than is normally recognised, while on the other a great opportunity has been missed. But the Europeans are getting old, and old is not normally synonymous with bold. The newly admitted countries are not a re-run of the Spain, Portugal, Greece expansion of an earlier era. The new countries do not have the demographic 'gift' that lay before the mediterranean countries at the time of their entry. They are mainly economies which have barely survived the transition shock from the old centrally-planned type. They are ageing societies whose birth rates have long been among Europe's lowest, where women - of all ages - have long since been out of the home working. If they do not face the negative debt dynamics of the other EU countries, then this is only because they have assumed only minimal responsibility for the welfare of their aged, and thus the anticipated costs of ageing are lower. But this is not exactly good news. It means, among other things, that we are extremely unlikely to see an expansion of internal consumption 'mediterranean-style', but rather an increase in decrepitude, misery and dispair.

Turkey's stuation could not be more different. Turkey is going through a 'demographic transition' and birth rates are steadily falling towards that magic number: 2.1 live births per woman of childbearing age. But they have not got there yet, and Turkey's young population - nearly 30% of the 70 million population are under 15, compared to an average of only 15 % in the new entrants - could give EU consumption growth a much needed boost. But while the economic arguments for an early accession date for Turkey are compelling, the political and cultural ones should be decisive. Turkey has a human rights problem, sure. But there is an internal battle inside Turkey over this, and bringing the Turks into dialogue with the Union would give important aid to the pro-democratic, pro-human rights forces that exist there. In addition, moving Turkey's dossier forward would give the world another, and even more imporant, message about Europe's cultural identity. It would give a message about diversity and openness, a message of hope for that enormous majority among the islamic populations of the world who have no more sympathy for the Bin Laden's of this world than we do.

European politicians wave away talk of a clash of religions or of blocking Turkey to control immigration and insist that their decision was based on standards of democracy and human rights, and on controlling immigration and terrorism. With the decisions here, the European Union has given itself the thankless task of defining Europe, a task that has baffled scholars and politicians for centuries. "Geographical Europe," wrote Norman Davies in "Europe: A History," "has always had to compete with notions of Europe as a cultural community, and in the absence of common political structures, European civilization could only be determined by cultural criteria." Jean Monnet, the visionary advocate not just of economic union but of an eventual United States of Europe, took the extreme position in the immediate years after World War II, writing, "Europe has never existed; one has genuinely to create Europe." His way of doing so was to bring together that part of geographical Europe that was democratic into a common unit by knitting its economies together. The aim was that politics would follow. Now, the European Union is embarked on the task of adapting that vision to a very different political landscape. Even as it struggles to create political, economic, social and even military institutions to serve its current members, it has been challenged by events to enlarge itself — and is faced with the question of what other societies might fit in.
Source: New York Times

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