United States of Europe


It is startling to see that Hugo has a rather singular view on the European issue when compared with great authors and intellectuals of the 19th century. It is not until the next century and primarily not until the great catastrophe of the 1914/18 war that one could hear in France important figures giving their opinion on the European idea. Whether we should regret it or not, the perspectives on this are very dissimilar.

Romain Rolland, a pacifist traumatised by the First World War, considered it a crime to Europe, that indeed it was, a veritable collective suicide of the continent. Europe should first of all be an intellectual and moral homeland, founded on the reconciliation between France and Germany.

At the other extreme of the political spectrum, someone like Drieu la Rochelle, who had been hesitating for a long time between communism and fascism, sees the national-socialism and the new European order, promoted by the invader as the one and only hope for the continent. We know, however, that he lost this illusion and sank in cold despair before killing himself in 1943, thus escaping the execution that would have awaited him, as it did Robert Brasillach.

Georges Bernanos considers that Europe existed already in the Middle Ages, through Christianity, and that it had been forged in the spiritual and intellectual atmosphere of universities such as those of Bologny, Paris, Tubingen, Krakow, Salamanca, and others. For the great French catholic writer, Europe had nothing more to do than to regain its soul that could only be a Christian one.

For Paul Valéry, whose Mediterranean lucidity almost clarifies all issues that he deals with, Europe can be defined as a land that has received three combined heritages of history. A political and judicial heritage obtained from the Romans, the moral history of Christianity and an intellectual history from the Greeks. This is still one of the most frequently used criteria for defining the frontiers of what we call Europe.

However, these authors have reflected on a Europe that they had not dreamt of, unlike Hugo the romantic magus. What has remained in the French consciousness now, 120 years after the death of Hugo, of his European dream? We could be amazed that certain predictions of the poet, totally utopic at that time, have become real, such as the single currency or the almost complete disappearance of borders within the Schengen space. It is also remarkable to notice that he was a visionary when it comes to the historical reconciliation of France and Germany that has been, thanks to Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, the engine of the European construction for a very long time.

On the other hand, we have to admit that Hugo’s European vision bears in it the contradiction that is about to re-enliven, at least for some time, the debate over the possibility of an authentic political unification of the continent. Indeed, even if it is sometimes pretentious for the French to want to be the one and only model of civilisation for Europe, is is quite just to say that we have nowadays two models of Europe confronting each other, that is the French and the Anglo-Saxon one. It is precisely this fracture, that Hugo pretended to escape through an utopian synthesis, that endangers the dream of Schumann and Monnet.

The French want a Europe that would be sufficiently enough integrated on a political level that it would allow its existence in the world of the 21 century as a monolith or a block, facing other giants of the planet, such as the USA or China. There are, of course nuances between those French who embrace the united Europe; starting from the convinced federalists who are ready to give up an important part of their sovereignty to a European government based on democratically reinforced institutions, to those who think, along with De Gaulle, that nations are the only historical realities and that the only vectors of identity that are needed in Europe is the reinforced cooperation between member states, that is a Europe with a variable geometry.

The former category is represented by the forces of the center of the political spectrum : Christian-democrat centrists and the right wing of the socialist party ; the latter, by the neo-gaulliens that are more motivated by realpolitik than profound conviction in the European construction. But they are all convinced that this one has no meaning and no use if it doesn’t allow the continent to maintain its civilization model in front of the world, and especially in front of the American model.

On the other side, we have countries, and especially governments, that admire the power and energy of the USA so much that they want to make Europe a simple space of economic free exchange and free circulation of people, a space open for all the winds of the globalized economy, accepting as natural the laws of the global market, and supporting, more or less, the external policy of the USA. This is the English model, reproduced by a certain model of new member states from South-East Europe. We remember that this division has been caricatured by the American defence secretary as the one between the Old Europe and the New Europe. Obviously, in this neoconservative language, one can distinguish the pejorative meaning of old.

This Old Europe, paradoxically, is more ambitious and more courageous than the New one, as, from the beginning, it all came down to recognizing the basis of what had made its past strength that it had lost after the First World War. As some historians have already underlined it, it is not by chance that the original nucleus of Europe, which is still at its core in the from of the European 6 (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg), covers almost exactly the territory of the former empire of Charles the Great. Moreover, the reconciliation and the close alliance between France and Germany was maybe also, in the historical unconscious of its craftsmen, a reminder of the time when the two countries formed a single one, Francia orientalis in the East and Francia occidentalis in the West. Charles the Great had almost managed to remake the unity of the Western Roman Empire that was the first historical incarnation of Europe.

In their historical imaginary, the French saw themselves happily as the distant inheritors of the Latin world, that had ensured the unity of the continent by the means of centralised administration and written law. The other great historical incarnation of Europe is the medieval Christianity, united by a common faith, but fractured by the schism in 1054. With the recent enlargement of the EU that accepted 10 more members in 2004, and plans to accept two more in 2007 (Romania and Bulgaria), the European Union has amazingly succeeded in dressing this open wound caused by the recent Cold War, but also by the former polarity between the Roman Empire and the Byzantine one. If we were to use Fernand Braudel’s concepts, the former division dates back to our recent history, but the latter has its roots in the old history of the continent.

The reunification of the continent raises two major problems that are linked one to the other: that of borders and that of secularity. For the former one, there are two countries that seem to do the land marking : Russia and Turkey. The first does not want to enter the EU, and the idea of a Great Europe, that would spread, as De Gaulle said, from the Atlantic to the Urals, is for the moment totally neglected in the European debate. Russia, too specific, too large, forming an Euro-Asian block by itself, still too haunted by its imperial past, is unanimously seen as foreign to Europe, if not culturally, at least to a politically and economically.

As for Turkey, that wanted for the first time to be accepted by Europe 40 years ago, raises again issues of territory and secularity. The opposition to Turkey’s entering the EU is holding a majority in France. Indeed, France is so attached to the idea of secularity, constitutive for its modern identity, that it comes to oppose the introduction, in the prologue of the constitutional treaty of a single mention of the Christian heritage of Europe, thus frustrating not only the Vatican, but also many member states such as Italy, Spain, Poland, and others.

It is this argument of secularity that it is used by those who oppose Turkey’s accession, playing on the fear the Islam has been causing for some years until now. But we know that secularity is also fundamental for the modern Turkey, forged by Ataturk, as it is for the republican France. In reality, all those in France, fearing Turkey’s accession and the forces of the NO at the referendum massively exploited this fear. Yet it is implicitly admitted that even if Europe is not a Christian club, humanism and all the values linked to it, make it the basis for the common European identity that is itself a heritage of the Judao-Christian tradition. And from here stems the difficulty to admit in their house a culture with other historical and religious roots, may it be secular or not.

One response to “United States of Europe

  1. Pingback: Victor Hugo, Europe United, “Mais Non” | Aasof’s Reflections

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Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

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