‘A free Health Service is a triumphant example of the superiority of
collective action and public initiative applied to a segment of society where
commercial principles are seen at their worst’.
‘We want the people at Nokia to feel we all are partners, not bosses and
employees. Perhaps that is a European way of working, but for us, it
Jorma Ollila (CEO, Nokia)390
‘Europeans want to be sure that there is no adventure in the future. They
have had too much of that’.
Alfons Verplaetse (Governor, Belgian National Bank) 1996
‘America is the place to come when you are young and single. But if it is
time to grow up, you should return to Europe’.
(Hungarian businessman in public opinion survey, 2004)
‘Modern society . . . is a democratic society to be observed without
transports of enthusiasm or indignation’.
The burgeoning multiplicity of Europe at the end of the twentieth century: the variable geometry of its regions, countries and Union; the contrasting prospects and moods of Christianity and Islam, the continent’s two major religions; the unprecedented speed of communications and exchange within Europe’s borders and beyond them; the multiplicity of fault lines that blur what had once been clear-cut national or social divisions; uncertainties about past and future alike; all these make it harder to discern a shape to the collective experience. The end of the twentieth century in Europe lacks the homogeneity implicit in confident descriptions of the previous fin-de-siècle.
All the same, there was emerging a distinctively European identity, discernible in many walks of life. In high culture—the performing arts in particular—the state had retained its subventionary role, at least in Western Europe. Museums, art galleries, opera companies, orchestras and ballet troupes all depended heavily, in many countries exclusively, on generous annual grants from public funds. The egregious exception of post-Thatcherite Great Britain, where the national lottery had relieved the Treasury of some of the burden of cultural support, was misleading. Lotteries are merely another device for raising public revenue: they are just more socially regressive than the conventional collection agencies.391
The high cost of such public funding had raised doubts about the possibility of sustaining lavish grants indefinitely, particularly in Germany, where during the Nineties some of the Länder governments began to question the generous scale of their outlays. Public subsidies in Germany typically defrayed over 80 percent of the cost of running a theatre or opera house. But culture at this level was closely bound up with status and with regional identity. The City of Berlin, despite growing deficits and stagnant receipts, supported three full-time houses: the Deutsche Oper (the former West Berlin opera); the Staatsoper (the former East Berlin opera); and the Komische Oper, to which should be added the Berlin Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonic. All drew on considerable public assistance. Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Dresden, Freiburg, Würzburg and many other German cities continued to support first-rate international ballet or opera companies, paying annual salaries with full benefits and state pensions to performers, musicians and stage hands. By 2003 there were 615,000 people in Germany officially classified as full-time ‘artistic workers’.
In France, too, the arts (theatre especially) flourished in far-flung provincial towns—thanks in the French case to direct aid distributed from central funds by a single Culture Ministry. In addition to building his eponymous library and other monuments, President Mitterrand spent sums unprecedented since the reign of Louis XIV not just on the Louvre, the Opéra de Paris and the Comédie Française but also on regional museums, regional arts centres, provincial theatre companies, as well as a nationwide network ofcinématheques to store and show classic and modern films.
Whereas in Germany the high arts were proudly cosmopolitan (Vladimir Derevianko, the Russian director of Dresden’s Opera-Ballet, commissioned works from William Forsythe, an American choreographer, for enthusiastic German audiences), much of the point of artistic subsidies in France was to preserve and display the riches of the nation’s own heritage—France’s exception culturelle. High culture in France retained a broadly acknowledged pedagogical function, and the canon of French theatre in particular was still rigorously inculcated in the national curriculum. Jane Brown, the London headmistress who in 1993 forbade a school visit to a performance of Romeo and Juliet—on the grounds that the play was politically incorrect (‘blatantly heterosexual’ in her words)—would not have made a career across the Channel.
The scale of public funding was perhaps most striking in France and Germany, but the state was the main—and in most cases the only—source of funding for the arts all across Europe. Indeed ‘culture’ was the last important area of public life in which the national state, rather than the European Union or else private enterprise, could play a distinctive role as a near-monopoly provider. Even in Eastern Europe, where the older generation had good reason to recall with trepidation the implications of allowing government a controlling say in cultural life, the impoverished public treasury was the only alternative to the baleful impact of market forces.
Under Communism the performing arts had been worthy rather than exciting: usually technically competent, almost always cautious and conservative—anyone who saw Die Zauberflöte performed in, say, Vienna and Budapest could hardly fail to note the contrast. But after Communism, while there was considerable low-budget experimentation—Sofia in particular became a hotbed of recherché post-modern experiments in choreography and staging—there were almost no resources and many of the best musicians, dancers and even actors headed west. Joining Europe could also mean becoming provincial.
Another reason for this was that the audience for Europe’s high arts was now itself European: national companies in major cities performed in front of increasingly international audiences. The new caste of transnational clercs who communicated readily across frontiers and languages had the means and the time to travel freely in pursuit of entertainment and edification no less than clothing or careers. Reviews of an exhibition, a play or an opera would appear in the press of many different countries. A successful show in one city—London, say, or Amsterdam—could hope to attract audiences and visitors from as far afield as Paris, or Zurich or Milan.
Whether the newly cosmopolitan audiences were genuinely sophisticated—as distinct from merely well-heeled—was a point of some contention. Long-established events such as the annual Salzburg Festival or the periodic Ring cycle performances at Bayreuth still attracted an older audience, familiar with not just the material being performed but also the attendant social rituals. But the trend was towards energetic efforts to popularize traditional material for younger audiences, whose acquaintance with the classics (and the original language) could not be taken for granted—or else to commission novel, accessible works for a new generation.
For those who looked with favour upon them, the updated opera productions, ‘cutting-edge’ dance troupes and ‘post-modern’ art shows illustrated the transformation of the European cultural scene: youthful, innovative, disrespectful and above all popular—as befitted an industry that depended so much on public largesse and thus had an obligation to seek out and please a broad constituency. To their critics, however, the new art scene in London (‘Brit Art’), like William Forsythe’s controversial ballets in Frankfurt or the quirky operatic ‘adaptations’ occasionally mounted in Paris, confirmed their dyspeptic prediction that more would only mean worse.
Seen thus, European ‘high’ culture—which had once played to its patrons’ inherited familiarity with a common canon—was now exploiting the cultural insecurities of a neophyte audience who could not confidently distinguish between good and bad (but who could be counted upon to respond enthusiastically to the dictates of fashion). This was not as unprecedented a situation as cultural pessimists were wont to assert—the exploitable anxieties of under-cultivated nouveaux riches had been a theme of literary and theatrical mockery at least since Molière. What was new, however, was the continental scale of the cultural shift. The composition of audiences from Barcelona to Budapest was now strikingly uniform, and so, too, was the material on offer. To critics this merely confirmed the obvious, that the arts and their clientele were caught in a reciprocally detrimental embrace: EuroCult for Eurotrash.
Whether the ever-closer Union of Europeans rendered its beneficiaries more cosmopolitan or simply blended their separate parochialisms was not just a question for the high-arts pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) or the Financial Times. TheFAZ, the FT, Le Monde and to a lesser extent Italy’s La Repubblica were now genuinely European papers, universally available and read all across the continent. The mass-circulation tabloid press, however, remained firmly circumscribed by national languages and frontiers. But their readership was down everywhere—highest in Great Britain, lowest in Spain—so distinctive national traditions in popular journalism mattered less than they used to: except, once again, in England, where the popular press fanned and exploited Europhobic prejudice. In eastern Europe and Iberia, the long absence of a free press meant that many people, especially outside of the large cities, had missed out altogether on the newspaper era—transiting directly from pre-literacy to the electronic media.
The latter—television above all—were now the main source of information, ideas and culture (high and low) for most Europeans. As with newspapers, so with television: it was the British who were most attached to the medium, regularly topping European viewing figures, followed closely by Portugal, Spain, Italy and—though still with some lag—eastern Europeans. The traditional state-owned television stations faced competition from both terrestrial commercial companies and satellite channels; but they had retained a surprisingly large audience share. They had also for the most part followed the lead of the daily press and sharply reduced their foreign news coverage.
As a consequence, European television at the close of the twentieth century presented a curious paradox. The entertainment on offer varied little from one country to the next: imported films and sit-coms, ‘reality shows’, game shows and other staples could be seen from one end of the continent to the other, the only difference being whether imported programmes were dubbed (as in Italy), sub-titled or left in their original language (increasingly the case in small or multi-lingual states). The presentational style—in news broadcasts, for example—was remarkably similar, borrowing in many cases from the model of American local news.392
On the other hand, television remained a distinctly national and even insular medium. Thus Italian television was unmistakably Italian—from its curiously dated variety shows and stilted interviews to the celebrated good looks of its presenters and the distinctive camera angles deployed when filming scantily clad younger women. In neighbouring Austria an earnest moral seriousness informed locally produced talk shows, contrasting with Germany’s near-monopoly of the rest of the programming. In Switzerland (as in Belgium) each region of the country had its own television channels, employing different languages, reporting different events and operating in sharply contrasting styles.
The BBC, as its critics bitterly observed, had abandoned the aesthetics and ideals of its earlier days as the nation’s moral arbiter and benevolent pedagogue in the drive to compete with its commercial rivals. But in spite of being dumbed-down (or perhaps for that reason) it was even more unmistakably British than ever. Anyone in doubt had only to compare a report, a debate or a performance on the BBC with similar programmes on France’s Antenne 2, or TF1: what had changed, on both sides of the water, was far less striking than how much had remained the same. The intellectual or political concerns, the contrasting attitudes to authority and power, were as distinctive and different as they had been half a century before. In an age when most other collective activities and communal organizations were in decline, television was what the mass of the population of every country had in common. And it served very effectively to reinforce national distinctions and a high level of mutual ignorance.
For except during major crises, television channels showed remarkably little interest in events in neighbouring countries—rather less, if anything, than in television’s early years, when fascination with technology and curiosity about the near-abroad led to numerous documentaries and ‘outside broadcasts’ from exotic towns and seascapes. But because Europe was now taken for granted, and—with the exception of its troubled and impoverished south-east—was decidedly un-exotic for most viewers, travel and other programmes on European television had long since ‘globalized’ themselves, turning their attention to farther horizons while leaving the rest of Europe to languish: presumptively familiar territory but in practice largely unknown.
Major public spectacles—imperial-style public funerals in France; royal marriages and deaths in Britain, Belgium, Spain or Norway; reburials, commemorations and presidential apologies in various post-Communist lands—were strictly local affairs, copiously broadcast to a domestic audience but watched only by unrepresentative minorities in other lands.393 Election results elsewhere in Europe were reported by national mass media only if they had shock value or trans-continental implications. For the most part, Europeans had very little idea what was going on in neighbouring countries. Their singular lack of interest in European elections did not derive just from suspicion or boredom in the face of the elucubrations emanating from Brussels; it was a natural by-product of the largely un-European mental universe of most Europeans.
There was, however, one ubiquitous exception: sport. A satellite television channel—‘Eurosport’—was devoted to broadcasting a wide-range of sports events in various European languages. Every national television station from Estonia to Portugal devoted considerable blocks of airtime to sporting competitions, many of them inter-European and frequently not even involving the local or national team. The appetite for spectator sports had grown dramatically in the last decades of the century even as the number of people attending them in person had mostly fallen, and in three Mediterranean countries there was sufficient demand to support a highly regarded, mass-market daily paper entirely devoted to sport (L’Equipe in France, Marca in Spain, Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy).
Although many countries still boasted distinctive national sports and sporting events—ice hockey in the Czech Republic, basketball in (curiously) Lithuania and Croatia, the Tour de France and the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament—in continental terms these were minority events, though capable on occasion of attracting millions of spectators (the Tour was the only sporting event whose live spectator turnout had actually increased over the decades). Bull-fighting in Spain held little appeal for young Spaniards, though it had been revived in the Nineties as a sort of revenue-chasing ‘heritage industry’. Even cricket, the iconic summer game of the English, had slipped to a niche position in entertainment terms, in spite of efforts to render it more colourful, more eventful—and to put an end to leisurely but commercially disastrous five-day games. What really united Europe was football.
This had not always been true. The game was played in every European country, but in the initial post-war decades players stayed close to home. Spectators watched domestic league football; the relatively infrequent international games were treated in some places as vicarious, emotionally charged re-runs of military history. No-one who attended football matches in those years between England and Germany, for example, or Germany and the Netherlands (much less Poland and Russia) would have been under any illusion about the Treaty of Rome and ‘ever-closer union’. The relevant historical reference was quite explicitly World War Two.
In the first post-war decades, players from different European countries were quite unfamiliar with one another and had typically never met off the field: when, in 1957, the Welsh forward John Charles made history by leaving Leeds United to join Juventus of Turin for the unheard-of sum of £67,000, it was headline news in both countries. Well into the late 1960s it would have been highly unusual for a club player to find a foreigner on his team, except in Italy where innovative managers were just starting to poach talented outsiders. The glorious Real Madrid team of the 1950s did indeed boast the peerless Hungarian Ferenc Puskás, but Puskás was hardly a representative case. The captain of Hungary’s national team, he had fled Budapest following the Soviet invasion and taken Spanish citizenship. Until then, like every other Hungarian footballer, he was virtually unknown outside his country—to the point that when Puskás led Hungary onto the pitch at London’s Wembley Stadium in November 1953, one of the opposing England players was heard to remark of him: ‘Look at that little fat chap. We’ll murder this lot’. (Hungary went on to win 6-3, the first time England had ever been beaten at home.)
A generation later, Juventus, Leeds, Real Madrid and just about every major European football club had a cosmopolitan roster of players drawn from many different countries. A talented youngster from Slovakia or Norway, once doomed to slog out his career in Košice or Trondheim with occasional appearances on his national team, could now hope to play in the big leagues: gaining visibility, experience and a very good salary in Newcastle, Amsterdam or Barcelona. The manager of the England team in 2005 was from Sweden. Arsenal, the leading British football team at the start of the twenty-first century, was managed by a Frenchman. The north London club’s first-team squad comprised players from France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, Ivory Coast and the USA—as well as a few from England. Football was a game without frontiers, for players, managers and spectators alike. Fashionable clubs like Manchester United parlayed their competitive success into an ‘image’ that could be (and was) marketed with equal success from Lancashire to Latvia.
A handful of individual football stars—not necessarily the most talented, but those boasting good looks, beautiful wives and an animated private life—assumed a role in European public life and popular newspapers hitherto reserved for movie starlets or minor royalty. When David Beckham (an English player of moderate technical gifts but an unsurpassed talent for self-promotion) moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2003, it made headline television news in every member-state of the European Union. Beckham’s embarrassing performance at the European Football Championships in Portugal the following year—the England captain missed two penalties, hastening his country’s ignominious early departure—did little to dampen the enthusiasm of his fans.
More revealingly, the England team’s departure from the competition had no discernible impact upon the UK television audience for the remaining games between teams from small countries (Portugal, the Netherlands, Greece and the Czech Republic) in which British fans had no stake. Despite the heightened fervor of international games, with colours flying, lions rampant and competitive anthem-singing, the common obsession with watching the game—any game—outweighed most partisan loyalties.394 At peak, the BBC broadcasts of the matches played in Portugal that summer attracted twenty five million viewers in the UK alone. The official ‘Euro.com’ website for the competition registered forty million visits and half a billion page views over the course of the games.
Football was well adapted to its new-found popularity. It was an unmistakably egalitarian pastime. Requiring no equipment beyond a ball of some sort, football could be played anywhere by anyone—unlike tennis or swimming or athletics, which required a certain level of income or else the sort of public facilities not widely available in many European countries. There was no advantage to being unusually tall or burly—quite the contrary—and the game was not especially dangerous. As a job, football had long been a low-paid alternative for working-class boys in industrial towns; now it was a path into the upper reaches of suburban prosperity and more besides.
Moreover, however talented and popular they might be, individual footballers were of necessity part of their team. They could not readily be transubstantiated, like the ever-unsuccessful French cyclist Raymond Poulidor, into symbols of unrequited national endeavour. Football was also far too straightforward to be turned to the metaphorical and quasi-metaphysical uses to which baseball in America was sometimes put. And the game was open to Everyman (and, increasingly, Everywoman) in a way that was no longer true of the professional team sports played in North America, for example. Football, in short, was a very European sort of game.
As an object of European public attention, football, it was sometimes suggested, now substituted not just for war but also for politics. It certainly occupied far more space in newspapers; and politicians everywhere were careful to pay their respects to sporting heroes and demonstrate due familiarity with their accomplishments. But then politics in Europe had lost its own competitive edge: the disappearance of the old master narratives (Socialism vs Capitalism; proletarians vs owners; imperialists vs revolutionaries) did not mean that particular issues of public policy no longer mobilized or divided public opinion. But it did make it harder to describe political choices and allegiance in traditional party terms.
The old political extremes—far Left, far Right—were now frequently united: typically in their opposition to foreigners and their shared fear of European integration. Anti-capitalism—recast somewhat implausibly as anti-globalization, as though strictly domesticcapitalism were somehow a different and less offensive breed—was attractive to nativist reactionaries and internationalist radicals alike. As for the political mainstream, the old differences between parties of center-Right and center-Left had largely evaporated. On a broad range of contemporary issues, Swedish Social Democrats and French neo-Gaullists, for example, might well have more in common with each other than with their respective ideological forebears. The political topography of Europe had altered dramatically over the previous two decades. Although it remained conventional to think in terms of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, what they distinguished was unclear.
The old-style political party was one victim of these changes, with declining membership and falling turnout at the polls, as we have seen. Another casualty was an almost equally venerable European institution, the public intellectual. The previous fin-de-sièclehad seen the first flowering of politically engaged intellectuals—in Vienna, in Berlin, in Budapest, but above all in Paris: men like Theodor Herzl, Karl Kraus or Léon Blum. On the European scene a century later their would-be successors were, if not entirely absent, then increasingly marginal.
There were various reasons for the demise of the continental intellectual (the species had always been uncommon in Britain, its isolated occurrence usually the by-product of exile, as in the case of Arthur Koestler or Isaiah Berlin). In central and eastern Europe, the issues which had once mobilized the political intelligentsia—Marxism, totalitarianism, human rights or the economics of transition—now elicited a bored and indifferent response from younger generations. Ageing moralists like Havel—or one-time political heroes like Michnik—were irrevocably associated with a past which few cared to revisit. What Czesław Miłosz had once described as the ‘irritation of East European intellectuals’ at the American obsession with purely material products was now increasingly directed at their fellow citizens.
In western Europe, the exhortatory function of the intellectual had not altogether disappeared—readers of the German or French quality press were still periodically subjected to incandescent political sermons from Günter Grass or Régis Debray—but it had lost its object. There were many particular sins against which public moralists might rail, but no general goal or ideal in whose name to mobilize their followers. Fascism, Communism and war had been expunged from the continent, together with censorship and the death penalty. Abortion and contraception were almost universally available, homosexuality freely permitted and openly practiced. The depredations of the unrestricted capitalist market, whether global or local, continued to attract intellectual fire everywhere; but in the absence of a self-confident anti-capitalist counter-project, this was a debate better suited to think tanks than philosophers.
The only remaining arena in which European intellectuals could still combine moral earnestness with universal policy prescriptions was in foreign affairs, free of the messy compromises of domestic policy-making and where issues of right and wrong, life and death were still very much in play. During the Yugoslav wars intellectuals from west and east Europe strenuously took up the cudgels. Some, like Alain Finkielkraut in Paris, identified body and soul with the Croat cause. A few— notably in France and Austria—condemned Western intervention as an American-led affront to Serbian autonomy, based (as they asserted) on exaggerated or even falsified reports of non-existent crimes. Most pressed the case for intervention in Bosnia or Kosovo on general principles, extending the rights-based arguments first espoused twenty years before and emphasizing the genocidal practices of the Serbian forces.
But even Yugoslavia, for all its urgency, could not return intellectuals to the centre of public life. Bernard-Henri Lévy in Paris could get invited to the Elysée Palace for consultations with the President, much as Tony Blair would occasionally host retreats with favoured British journalists and other literary courtiers. But these carefully staged exercises in political image-building had no impact on policy: neither France nor Britain nor any of their allies was moved by intellectual pressure to alter their calculations in any way. Nor could publicly engaged intellectuals play their once-crucial role in mobilizing opinion at large, as became clear in the course of the Atlantic rift of 2003.
The European public (as distinct from certain European statesmen) was overwhelmingly opposed both to the American invasion of Iraq in that year and to the broader lines of US foreign policy under President George W. Bush. But the outpouring of anxiety and anger to which this opposition gave rise, though it was shared and expressed by many European intellectuals, did not depend upon them for its articulation or organization. Some French writers—Lévy, again, or Pascal Bruckner—refused to condemn Washington, partly for fear of appearing unreflectively anti-American and partly out of sympathy for its stance against ‘radical Islam’. They passed virtually unheard.
Once-influential figures like Michnik and Glucksmann urged their readers to support Washington’s Iraq policy, arguing by extension from their own earlier writings on Communism that a policy of ‘liberal interventionism’ in defense of human rights everywhere was justified on general principles and that America was now, as before, in the vanguard of the struggle against political evil and moral relativism. Having thus convinced themselves that the American President was conducting his foreign policy for their reasons, they were then genuinely surprised to find themselves isolated and ignored by their traditional audiences.
But the irrelevance of Michnik or Glucksmann had nothing to do with the particular cast of their opinions. The same fate awaited those intellectuals who took the opposite tack. On May 31st 2003, Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida—two of Europe’s best-known writers/philosophers/intellectuals—published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung an article entitled ‘Unsere Erneuerung. Nach dem Krieg: Die Wiedergeburt Europas’ (‘Our Renewal. After the War: The Rebirth of Europe’) in which they argued that America’s new and dangerous path was an urgent wake-up call for Europe: an occasion for Europeans to rethink their common identity, draw upon their shared Enlightenment values and forge a distinctive European stance in world affairs.
Their essay was timed to coincide with the appearance all over Western Europe of similar essays by equally renowned public figures: Umberto Eco in La Repubblica ; his Italian colleague the philosopher Gianni Vattimo in La Stampa; the Swiss President of the German Academy of Arts, Adolf Muschg, in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung; the Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater in El País; and a lone American, the philosopher Richard Rorty, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. At almost any point in the previous century an intellectual initiative on this scale, in such prominent newspapers and by figures of comparable standing, would have been a major public event: a manifesto and call to arms that would have rippled through the political and cultural community.
But the Derrida-Habermas initiative, even though it articulated sentiments shared by many Europeans, passed virtually unnoticed. It was not reported as news, nor was it quoted by sympathizers. No-one implored its authors to take up their pens and lead the way forward. The governments of a significant number of European states, including France, Germany, Belgium and later Spain, undoubtedly sympathized in general terms with the views expressed in these essays; but it did not occur to any of them to invite Professors Derrida or Eco in for consultation. The whole project sputtered out. One hundred years after the Dreyfus Affair, fifty years after the apotheosis of Jean-Paul Sartre, Europe’s leading intellectuals had thrown a petition—and no-one came.
Six decades after the end of the Second World War, the Atlantic Alliance between Europe and the United States was in disarray. In part this was the predictable outcome of the end of the Cold War—while few wished to see NATO dismantled or abandoned, it made little sense in its existing form and its future goals were obscure. The Alliance suffered further in the course of the Yugoslav wars, when US generals resented sharing decision-making with European counterparts who were reluctant to take the initiative and could offer little practical support in the field.
Above all, NATO was placed under unprecedented strain by Washington’s reaction to the assaults of September 11th 2001. President Bush’s uncompromising and tactless unilateralism (‘with us or against us’), the snubbing of his NATO allies’ offer of help, and the US march to war in Iraq despite overwhelming international opposition and the absence of any UN mandate, ensured that America—no less than the ‘terror’ on which it had declared indefinite war—would now be regarded as a leading threat to world peace and security.
The ‘Old Europe-New Europe’ distinction that US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed to have identified in the spring of 2003, in order to drive a wedge between Washington’s European allies, explained little about intra-European divisions and badly misread its object. Only in Poland could America count on solid popular respect and support. Elsewhere in Europe, old and new alike, American policy on Iraq and much else was heartily disliked.395 But the fact that a senior US official could seek to divide the Europeans in this way, just a few years after they had so painfully begun to sew themselves together, led many to conclude that the US itself was now the most serious problem facing Europe.
NATO had come into existence to compensate for Western Europe’s inability to defend itself without American help. The continuing failure of European governments to forge an effective military force of their own was what kept it in business. Beginning with the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, the European Union had at least acknowledged the need for a Common Foreign and Security Policy, though what that was and how it would be determined and implemented remained obscure. But ten years on the EU was close to establishing a 60,000-strong Rapid Response Force for intervention and peace-keeping tasks. Urged on by France and to Washington’s evident annoyance, European governments were also nearing agreement on an autonomous defense establishment capable of acting out of area and independent of NATO.
But the Atlantic gap was not just a disagreement about armies. It was not even about economic conflict, though the European Union was now large enough to bring effective pressure on the US Congress and on individual American manufacturers to conform to its norms and regulations or else risk being squeezed out of its markets: a development that caught many US Congressmen and businesses by surprise. Not only was Europe no longer in America’s shadow, but the relation was if anything reversed. European direct investment in the US in the year 2000 had reached $900 billion (against less than $650 billion of American direct investment in Europe); nearly 70 percent of all foreign investment in the US was from Europe; and European multi-nationals now owned a large number of iconic American products, including Brooks Brothers, Random House, Kent cigarettes, Pennzoil, Bird’s Eye and the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.
Economic competition, however tense, was nonetheless a certain sort of closeness. What was really driving the two continents apart was a growing disagreement about ‘values’. In the words of Le Monde, ‘the transatlantic community of values is crumbling’. Seen from Europe, America—which had become superficially familiar in the course of the Cold War—was starting to look very alien. The earnest religiosity of a growing number of Americans—reflected in their latest, ‘born-again’ president—was incomprehensible to most Christian Europeans (if not to their more devout Muslim neighbours). The American fondness for personal side arms, not excluding fully equipped semi-automatic rifles, made life in the US appear dangerous and anarchic, while for the overwhelming majority of European observers, the frequent and unapologetic resort to the death penalty seemed to place America beyond the pale of modern civilization.396
To these were added Washington’s growing disdain for international treaties, its unique perspective on everything from global warming to international law, and above all its partisan stance in the Israel-Palestine crisis. In none of these instances did American policy completely reverse direction following the election of President George W. Bush in 2000; the Atlantic gap had begun to open up well before. But the new Administration’s harsher tone confirmed for many European commentators what they already suspected: that these were not mere disagreements on discrete policy issues. They were mounting evidence of a fundamental cultural antagonism.
The idea that America was culturally different—or inferior, or threatening—was hardly original. In 1983 the French Culture Minister Jack Lang warned that the widely watched television series Dallas represented a serious threat to French and European identity. Nine years later, when Jurassic Park opened in French cinemas, he was echoed to the letter by one of his conservative successors. When EuroDisney was launched in the spring of 1992, the radical Parisian theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine went a step further and warned that the amusement park would prove ‘a cultural Chernobyl’. But this was the familiar small change of intellectual snobbery and cultural insecurity, mixed—in France as elsewhere—with more than a little chauvinist nostalgia. On the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day, Gianfranco Fini, leader of the ex-Fascist National Alliance Party in Italy, told the Italian daily La Stampa that ‘I hope I won’t be thought to be justifying Fascism if I wonder whether with the American landings Europe didn’t lose a part of her cultural identity’.
What was new about the situation at the beginning of the twenty-first century was that such sentiments were becoming commonplace, and had moved from the intellectual or political fringes deep into the center of European life. The depth and breadth of anti-American feeling in contemporary Europe far exceeded anything seen during the Vietnam War or even at the height of the peace movements of the early 1980s. Although a majority in most countries still believed that the Atlantic relationship could be preserved, three out of five Europeans in 2004 (many more than that in some countries, notably Spain, Slovakia and, strikingly, Turkey) thought strong American leadership in the world to be ‘undesirable’.
Some of this could be attributed to widespread dislike of the policies and personof President George W. Bush, in contrast to the affection in which Bill Clinton, his predecessor, had been held. But many Europeans had been angry at President Lyndon Johnson in the late Sixties; yet their feelings about the war in South-East Asia had not typically mutated into dislike of America or Americans in general. Forty years later there was a widespread feeling, all across the continent (and very much including the British, who angrily objected to their Prime Minister’s enthusiastic identification with his American ally) that there was something wrong with the kind of place that America was becoming—or, as many now insisted, had always been.
Indeed, the presumptively ‘un-American’ qualities of Europe were fast becoming the highest common factor in European self-identification. European values were contrasted with American values. Europe was—or should strive to be—everything that America wasn’t. In November 1998 Jérôme Clément, the President of Arte, a Franco-German television station devoted to culture and the arts, warned that ‘European creativity’ was the only bulwark against the sirens of American materialism and pointed to post-Communist Prague as a case in point, a city in danger of succumbing to ‘une utopie libérale mortelle’ (‘a deadly liberal utopia’): in thrall to deregulated markets and the lure of profit.
In the immediate post-Communist years Prague, like the rest of eastern Europe, would doubtless have pleaded guilty to a longing for all things American, from individual freedom to material abundance. And no-one visiting eastern European capitals, from Tallinn to Ljubljana, could miss the aggressive new élite of snappily dressed young men and women, zipping busily to appointments and shopping expeditions in their expensive new cars, enjoying the deadly liberal utopia of Clément’s nightmares. But even eastern Europeans were taking their distance from the American model: partly in deference to their new association with the European Union; partly because of growing aversion to aspects of American foreign policy; but increasingly because as an economic system and model of society the United States no longer seemed so self-evidently the way of the future.397
Extreme anti-Americanism in eastern Europe remained a minority taste. In countries like Bulgaria or Hungary it was now an indirect, politically acceptable way of expressing nostalgia for national Communism—and, as so often in the past, a serviceable surrogate for anti-Semitism. But even among mainstream commentators and politicians it was no longer commonplace to hold up American institutions or practices as a source of inspiration or an object to be emulated. For a long time America had been another time—Europe’s future. Now it was just another place. Many young people, to be sure, still dreamed of going to America. But as one Hungarian who had worked for some years in California explained to an interviewer:‘America is the place to come when you are young and single. But if it is time to grow up, you should return to Europe’.
The image of America as the perennial land of youth and adventure—with twenty-first-century Europe cast as an indulgent paradise for the middle-aged and risk-averse—had wide currency, especially in America itself. And indeed Europe was growing older. Of the twenty countries in the world in 2004 with the highest share of people over sixty, all but one were in Europe (the exception was Japan). The birth rate in many European countries was well below replacement levels. In Spain, Greece, Poland, Germany and Sweden, fertility rates were below 1.4 children per woman. In parts of Eastern Europe (Bulgaria and Latvia, for example, or Slovenia) they were closer to 1.1, the lowest in the world. Projected forward through 2040 these data suggested that many European countries could expect population to fall by one fifth or more.
None of the traditional explanations for fertility decline seemed to account for Europe’s incipient demographic crisis. Poor countries like Moldova and rich ones like Denmark faced the same challenge. In Catholic countries like Italy or Spain, young people (married and unmarried alike) often lived in their parents’ homes well into their thirties, whereas in Lutheran Sweden they had their own homes and access to generous levels of state-funded child-support and maternity leave. But although Scandinavians were having slightly more children than Mediterranean Europeans, the differences in fertility were less striking than the similarities. And the figures everywhere would have been lower still but for immigrants from outside Europe, who boosted the overall population numbers and had a much greater propensity to procreate. In Germany in 1960 the number of children born with one foreign parent was just 1.3 percent of the total for the year. Forty years later that figure had risen to one child in five.
The demographic scene in Europe was not actually so very different from that across the Atlantic—by the start of the new millennium the indigenous American birth-rate had also fallen below replacement levels. The difference was that the number of immigrants entering the US was so much larger—and they were disproportionately young adults—that overall fertility in the US looked set comfortably to outdistance that of Europe for the foreseeable future. And although the demographic troughs meant that both America and Europe might have trouble meeting public pension and other commitments in the decades ahead, the welfare systems of Europe were incomparably more generous and thus faced the greater threat.
Europeans were confronted with an apparently straightforward dilemma: what would happen if (when?) there weren’t enough young people working to cover the costs of a burgeoning community of retired citizens, now living much longer than in the past, paying no taxes and placing growing strain on medical services into the bargain?398 One answer was to reduce retirement benefits. Another was to raise the threshold at which those benefits were paid—i.e. make people work longer before retirement. A third alternative was to extract more taxes from the pay packets of those still in work. A fourth option, only really considered in Britain (and then half-heartedly), was to imitate the US and encourage or even oblige people to turn to the private sector for social insurance. All of these choices were potentially politically explosive.
For many free-market critics of Europe’s welfare states, the core problem facing Europe was not demographic shortfall but economic rigidity. It wasn’t that there weren’t, or wouldn’t be, enough workers—it was that there were too many laws protecting their salaries and their jobs, or else guaranteeing such elevated unemployment and pension payments that they lacked all incentive to work in the first place. If this ‘lab our -market inflexibility’ were addressed and costly social provisions reduced or privatized, then more people could enter the workforce, the burden on employers and taxpayers would be alleviated, and ‘Eurosclerosis’ could be overcome.
As a diagnosis this was both true and false. There was no question that some of the rewards of the welfare state, negotiated and locked into place at the peak of the post-war boom, were now a serious burden. Any German worker who lost his or her job was entitled to 60 percent of their last wage packet for the next thirty-two months (67 percent if they had a child). After that the monthly payments fell to 53 percent (or 57 percent) of their last wage packet—indefinitely. Whether this safety net discouraged people from seeking paid work was unclear. But it came at a price. A penumbra of regulations designed to protect the interests of employed workers made it hard for employers in most EU countries (notoriously France) to sack full-time workers: their consequent reluctance to hire contributed to stubbornly high rates of youth unemployment.
On the other hand, the fact that they were highly regulated and inflexible by American standards did not mean that Europe’s economies were necessarily inefficient or unproductive. In 2003, when measured in terms of productivity per hour worked, the economies of Switzerland, Denmark, Austria and Italy were all comparable to the US. By the same criterion Ireland, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands and France (sic) all out-produced the US. If America was nevertheless more productive overall—if Americans made more goods, services and money—it was because a higher percentage of them were in paid jobs; they worked longer hours than Europeans (three hundred more hours per year on average in 2000); and they had far fewer and shorter holidays.
Whereas the British were legally entitled to 23 paid vacation days annually, the French to 25 and the Swedes to 30 or more, many Americans had to settle for less than half as much paid vacation, depending where they lived. Europeans had made a deliberate choice to work less, earn less—and live better lives. In return for their uniquely high taxes (another impediment to growth and innovation, in the eyes of Anglo-American critics) Europeans received free or nearly free medical services, early retirement and a prodigious range of social and public services. Through secondary school they were better educated than Americans. They lived safer and—partly for that reason—longer lives, enjoyed better health (despite spending far less399) and had many fewer people in poverty.
This, then, was the ‘European Social Model’. It was without question very expensive. But for most Europeans its promise of job security, progressive tax rates and large social transfer payments represented an implicit contract between government and citizens, as well as between one citizen and another. According to the annual ‘Eurobarometer’ polls, an overwhelming majority of Europeans took the view that poverty was caused by social circumstances and not individual inadequacy. They also showed a willingness to pay higher taxes if these were directed to alleviating poverty.
Such sentiments were predictably widespread in Scandinavia. But they were almost as prevalent in Britain, or in Italy and Spain. There was a broad international, cross-class consensus about the duty of the state to shield citizens from the hazards of misfortune or the market: neither the firm nor the state should treat employees as dispensable units of production. Social responsibility and economic advantage should not be mutually exclusive—‘growth’ was laudable, but not at all costs.
This European model came in more than one style: the ‘Nordic’, the ‘Rhineland’, the ‘Catholic’, and variations within each. What they had in common was not a discrete set of services or economic practices, or a particular level of state involvement. It was, rather, a sense—sometimes spelled out in documents and laws, sometimes not—of the balance of social rights, civic solidarity and collective responsibility that was appropriate and possible for the modern state. The aggregate outcomes might look very different in, say, Italy and Sweden. But the social consensus they incorporated was regarded by many citizens as formally binding—when, in 2004, the Social Democratic Chancellor of Germany introduced changes in the country’s welfare payments, he ran into a firestorm of social protest, just as a Gaullist government had done ten years earlier when proposing similar reforms in France.
Ever since the 1980s there had been various attempts to resolve the choice between European social solidarity and American-style economic flexibility. A younger generation of economists and entrepreneurs, some of whom had spent time in US business schools or firms and were frustrated at what they saw as the inflexibility of the European business environment, had impressed upon politicians the need to ‘streamline’ procedures and encourage competition. The aptly named ‘Gauche Américaine’ in France set out to release the Left from its anti-capitalist complex while retaining its social conscience; in Scandinavia, the inhibiting effect of high taxation was discussed (if not always conceded) even in Social Democratic circles. The Right had been brought to acknowledge the case for welfare; the Left would now recognize the virtues of profit.
The effort to combine the best of both sides overlapped, not coincidentally, with the search for a project to replace the defunct debate between capitalism and socialism that had formed the core of Western politics for over a century. The result, for a brief moment at the end of the 1990s, was the so-called ‘Third Way’: ostensibly blending enthusiasm for unconstrained capitalist production with due consideration for social outcomes and the collective interest. This was hardly new: it added little of substance to Ludwig Erhard’s ‘Social Market economy’ of the 1950s. But politics, especially post-ideological politics, is about form; and it was the form of the Third Way, modeled on Bill Clinton’s successful ‘triangulation’ of Left and Right and articulated above all by New Labour’s Tony Blair, which seduced observers.
Blair, of course, had certain advantages unique to his time and place. In the UK, Margaret Thatcher had moved the political goalposts far to the Right, while Blair’s predecessors in the Labour leadership had done the hard work of destroying the Party’s old Left. In a post-Thatcher environment, Blair could thus sound plausibly progressive and ‘European’ merely by saying positive things about the desirability of well-distributed public services; meanwhile his much-advertised admiration for the private sector, and the business-friendly economic environment his policies sought to favour, placed him firmly in the ‘American’ camp. He spoke warmly of bringing Britain into the European fold; but insisted nonetheless on keeping his country exempt from the social protections of European legislation and the fiscal harmonization implicit in the Union’s ‘single market’.
The Third Way was marketed as both a pragmatic solution to economic and social dilemmas and a significant conceptual breakthrough after decades of theoretical stagnation. Its continental admirers, heedless of the aborted ‘third ways’ in their own national pasts—notably the popular Fascist ‘third way’ of the 1930s—were keen to sign on. Under Jacques Delors (1985-1995) the European Commission had appeared a trifle preoccupied with devising and imposing norms and rules—substituting ‘Europe’ for the lost inheritance of Fabian-style bureaucratic socialism. Brussels, too, seemed in need of a Third Way: an uplifting story of its own that could situate the Union between institutional invisibility and regulatory excess.400
Blair’s new-look politics would not long survive the disastrous decision to embroil his country and his reputation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq—a move which merely reminded foreign observers that New Labour’s Third Way was inseparably intertwined with the UK’s reluctance to choose between Europe and the United States. And the evidence that Britain, like the US, was seeing a dramatic rise in the numbers of the poor—in contrast to the rest of the EU where poverty was increasing modestly, if at all—severely diminished the appeal of the British model. But the Third Way was always going to have a short shelf life. Its very name implied the presence of two extremes—ultra free-market capitalism and state socialism—both of which no longer existed (and in the case of the former had always been a figment of doctrinal imaginations). The need for a dramatic theoretical (or rhetorical) breakthrough had passed.
Thus privatization in the early 1980s had been controversial, provoking widespread discussion of the reach and legitimacy of the public sector and calling into question the attainability of social-democratic objectives and the moral legitimacy of the profit motive in the delivery of public goods. By 2004, however, privatization was a strictly pragmatic business. In eastern Europe, it was a necessary condition for membership of the EU, in conformity with Brussels’ strictures against market-distorting public subsidies. In France or Italy, the sale of publicly owned assets was now undertaken as a short-term book-keeping device to reduce the annual deficit and stay within euro-zone rules.
Even Tony Blair’s own Third Way projects—for the semi-privatization of London’s Underground, for example, or the introduction of ‘competition’ into hospital services—were embarked upon as cost-efficiency calculations with side-benefits to the national budget. To the extent that they were tied to an argument of social principle, this was tacked on as an unconvincing afterthought. And Blair’s appeal was diminishing with time (as the sharply reduced scale of his third electoral victory, in May 2005, was to show). Despite cutting government expenditure, opting out of the European social charter, reducing company taxation and welcoming inward investment with all manner of sweeteners, the UK remained stubbornly unproductive. When measured by output-per-hour it consistently underperformed its ‘sclerotic’, regulation-bound EU partners.
Moreover, a New Labour plan to avoid the coming crisis of Europe’s under-funded public pension schemes—by passing the liability on to the private sector—was already doomed to failure within less than a decade of its proud inauguration. In the UK, like the US, companies that invested their pension funds in a skittish stock market had little hope of meeting long-term commitments to their employees, especially as those employees—no less than pensioners dependent upon public funding—would now be living much longer than before. Most of them, it was becoming clear, would never see a full company pension . . . unless the state was forced back into the pensions business to make up the shortfall. The Third Way was beginning to look an awful lot like a game of Three-Card Monte.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the dilemma facing Europeans was not Socialism or Capitalism, Left versus Right, or the Third Way. It was not even ‘Europe’ versus ‘America’, since that choice had now been effectively resolved in most people’s minds in favour of Europe. It was, rather, a question—the question—which history had placed upon the agenda in 1945 and which had quietly but insistently dislodged or outlived all other claims upon Europeans’ attention. What future was there for the separate European nation-states? Did they have a future?
There could be no going back to the world of the autonomous, free-standing nation-state, sharing nothing with its neighbour but a common border. Poles, Italians, Slovenes, Danes—even the British—were now Europeans. So, too, were millions of Sikhs, Bengalis, Turks, Arabs, Indians, Senegalese and others besides. In their economic lives, everyone whose country was in the European Union—or wanted to be—was now irrevocably European. The EU was the world’s largest internal single market, the world’s biggest trader in services, and its member-states’ unique source of authority in all matters of economic regulation and legal codes.
In a world where comparative advantage in fixed-factor endowments—energy, minerals, farmland, even location—counted for less than policies facilitating education, research and investment, it mattered hugely that the Union exercised increasing initiative in these areas. Just as states had always been vital in the constituting of markets—making rules governing exchange, employment and movement—so it was now the EU that made those rules; thanks to its own currency it also exercised a near monopoly on the markets in money itself. The only vital economic activity left to national rather than European initiative was taxation rates—and only because the UK insisted upon it.
But men live not in markets but in communities. For the past few hundred years those communities have been grouped, voluntarily or (more often) coercively, in states. After the experiences of 1914-45, Europeans everywhere felt an urgent need for the state: the politics and social agendas of the 1940s reflect this anxiety above anything else. With economic prosperity, social peace and international stability, however, that need slowly evaporated. In its place came suspicion of intrusive public authority and a desire for individual autonomy and the removal of constraints on private initiative. Moreover, in the era of the superpowers, the fate of Europe seemed largely to have been taken out of its hands. The European nation-states thus appeared increasingly supererogatory. However: since 1990—and a fortiori since 2001—those states appear, once again, to matter quite a lot.
The early modern state had two, intimately related functions: raising taxes and making war. Europe—the European Union—is not a state. It does not raise taxes and it has no capacity for making war. As we have seen, it took a very long time indeed for it to acquire even the rudiments of a military capacity, much less a foreign policy. For most of the first half century following the end of World War Two this was not a handicap: the prospect of undertaking another European war was abhorrent to almost all Europeans, and their defense against the only likely enemy had been sub-contracted across the Atlantic.
But in the aftermath of September 11th 2001 the limitations of a post-national prescription for a better European future became clear. The traditional European state, after all, not only made war abroad but enforced the peace at home. This, as Hobbes long ago realized, is what gives the state its distinctive and irreplaceable legitimacy. In countries where violent political warfare against unarmed civilians had been endemic in recent years (Spain, the UK, Italy and Germany) the importance of the state—its policemen, its army, its intelligence services and its judicial apparatus—was never forgotten. In an age of ‘terrorism’, the state’s monopoly of armed power is an attractive reassurance to most of its citizens.
Keeping citizens safe is what states do. And there was no sign that Brussels (the European Union) would or could take on this responsibility in the foreseeable future. In this vital respect the state remained the core legitimate representative of its citizens, in a way that the transnational union of Europeans, for all its passports and parliaments, could not hope to match. Europeans might enjoy the freedom to appeal over the heads of their own governments to European judges, and it remained a source of wonder to many that national courts in Germany or Britain complied so readily with judgments emanating from Strasbourg or Luxembourg. But when it came to keeping the gunman and the bomber away, responsibility and thus power remained firmly in Berlin or London. What, after all, should a citizen of Europe do if her house were fire-bombed? Call a bureaucrat?
Legitimacy is a function of capacity: it is in part because the disarticulated, ultra-federal state of Belgium, e.g. has sometimes appeared unable to keep its citizens safe that its legitimacy has been called into question. And although the capacity of the state begins with arms it does not end there, even today. So long as it is the state—rather than a trans-state entity—which pays pensions, insures the unemployed and educates children, then that state’s monopoly of a certain sort of political legitimacy will continue unchallenged. Over the course of the twentieth century the European nation-state took on considerable responsibilities for its citizens’ welfare, security and well-being. In recent years it has shed its intrusive oversight of private morality and some—but not all—of its economic initiative. The rest remains intact.
Legitimacy is also a function of territory. The European Union, as many observers have noted, is an utterly original animal: it is territorially defined without being a consistent territorial entity. Its laws and its regulations are territory-wide, but its citizens cannot vote in each other’s national elections (while being free to cast their vote in local and European ballots). The geographical reach of the Union is quite belied by its relative unimportance in Europeans’ daily affairs when compared to the country of their birth or residence. To be sure, the Union is a major provider of economic and other services. But this defines its citizens as consumers rather than participants—‘a community of passive citizens . . . governed by strangers’—and thus risks provoking unflattering comparisons with pre-democratic Spain or Poland, or the quiescent political culture of Adenauer’s West Germany: unpromising precedents for such an ambitious undertaking.
Citizenship, democracy, rights and duty are intimately bound up with the state—particularly in countries with a living tradition of active citizen participation in public affairs. Physical proximity matters: to participate in the state you need to feel part of it. Even in an age of super-fast trains and real-time electronic communication it is not clear how someone in Poimbra, say, or Rzeszow, can be an active citizen of Europe. For the concept to retain any meaning—and for Europeans to remain political in any useful sense—their reference for the foreseeable future will remain Lisbon, or Warsaw: not Brussels. It is not by chance that in the modern age giant states—China, Russia, the US—have either been governed by authoritarian rule or else have remained resolutely centrifugal, their citizens more than a little suspicious of the federal capital and all its works.
Appearances, then, were misleading. The European Union in 2005 had not superceded conventional territorial units and would not be doing so for the foreseeable future. Six decades after Hitler’s defeat, the multiple identities, sovereignties and territories that together defined Europe and its history certainly overlapped and inter-communicated more than at any time in the past. What was new, and thus rather harder for outside observers to catch, was the possibility of being French and European, or Catalan and European—or Arab and European.
Distinctive nations and states had not vanished. Just as the world was not converging on a single ‘American’ norm—the developed capitalist societies exhibited a wide range of social forms and very different attitudes toward both the market and the state—so Europe too contained a distinctive palate of peoples and traditions. The illusion that we live in a post-national or post-state world comes from paying altogether too much attention to ‘globalized’ economic processes . . . and assuming that similarly transnational developments must be at work in every other sphere of human life. Seen uniquely through the lens of production and exchange, Europe had indeed become a seamless flow chart of transnational waves. But viewed as a site of power or political legitimacy or cultural affinities Europe remained what it had long been: a familiar accumulation of discrete state-particles. Nationalism had largely come and gone401; but nations and states remained.
Considering what Europeans had done to one another in the first half of the twentieth century, this was rather remarkable. It certainly could not have been predicted from the rubble of 1945. Indeed, the re-emergence of Europe’s battered peoples and their distinctive national cultures and institutions from the wreckage of the continent’s thirty years’ war might well be thought an even greater achievement than their collective success in forging a transnational Union. The latter, after all, had been on various European agendas well before the Second World War and was if anything facilitated by the devastation wrought by that conflict. But the resurrection of Germany, or Poland, or France, not to speak of Hungary or Lithuania, had seemed altogether less likely.
Even less predictable—indeed quite unthinkable just a few short decades before—was Europe’s emergence in the dawn of the twenty-first century as a paragon of the international virtues: a community of values and a system of inter-state relations held up by Europeans and non-Europeans alike as an exemplar for all to emulate. In part this was the backwash of growing disillusion with the American alternative; but the reputation was well earned. And it presented an unprecedented opportunity. Whether Europe’s burnished new image, scrubbed clean of past sins and vicissitudes, would survive the challenges of the coming century, however, would depend a lot on how Europeans responded to the non-Europeans in their midst and at their borders. In the troubled early years of the twenty-first century that remained an open question.
One hundred and seventy years earlier, at the dawn of the nationalist era, the German poet Heinrich Heine drew a revealing distinction between two sorts of collective sentiment: ‘We [Germans]’, he wrote,
were ordered to be patriots and we became patriots, for we do everything our rulers order us to do. One must not think of this patriotism, however, as the same emotion which bears this name here in France. A Frenchman’s patriotism means that his heart is warmed, and with this warmth it stretches and expands so that his love no longer embraces merely his closest relative, but all of France, the whole of the civilized world. A German’s patriotism means that his heart contracts and shrinks like leather in the cold, and a German then hates everything foreign, no longer wants to become a citizen of the world, a European, but only a provincial German.
France and Germany, of course, were no longer the critical references. But the choice posed by Heine’s two kinds of patriotism speaks quite directly to the contemporary European condition. If the emerging Europe were to take a ‘Germanic’ turn, contracting ‘like leather in the cold’ to a defensive provincialism—an eventuality suggested by the referendums in France and the Netherlands in the spring of 2005, when clear majorities rejected the proposed European ‘Constitution’—then the opportunity would be missed and the European Union would never transcend its functional origins. It would remain no more than the sum and highest common factor of its members’ separate self-interests.
But if patriotism for Europe could find a way to reach beyond itself, to capture the spirit of Heine’s idealized France, ‘stretching and expanding to embrace the whole of the civilized world’, then something more was now possible. The twentieth century—America’s Century—had seen Europe plunge into the abyss. The old continent’s recovery had been a slow and uncertain process. In some ways it would never be complete: America would have the biggest army and China would make more, and cheaper, goods. But neither America nor China had a serviceable model to propose for universal emulation. In spite of the horrors of their recent past—and in large measure because of them—it was Europeans who were now uniquely placed to offer the world some modest advice on how to avoid repeating their own mistakes. Few would have predicted it sixty years before, but the twenty-first century might yet belong to Europe.