Monday, October 25, 2004

Europe from Right to Left (Part 2)

Joschka Fischer is in favour of Turkey joining the EU (BBC 20 Oct). Before the 11 September 2001 attacks he had been sceptical about integrating a country of that size and taking the EU to the borders Syria, Iraq and Iran. In a striking phrase he said, "To modernise an Islamic country based on the shared values of Europe would be almost a D-Day for Europe in the war against terror." And this would be all the more reason for the constitution to be approved, to make an even more enlarged EU workable. Martine Aubry spoke along similar lines (France Inter 20 Oct). Denis MacShane, a British Minister, has also argued for both, not only in The Guardian, but also, in his more than passable French, on  France Inter.

There may be some tactical disagreements, but it seems likely, then, that the Left will get behind these propositions : the constitution and EU membership for Turkey. And the debate on the latter is due to go on for the next 15 years.

It is strange that the Right's position now is strikingly similar to the Left's 20 years ago, when the British Labour Party came close to a position of advocating withdrawal from Europe and NATO, or in the 1970's when the hard left argued for a 'siege economy'. At the time when British entry into the EEC was under discussion, so about 1971, the 'pro' argument ran along the lines that European unity was a good thing, better than France and Germany fighting each other which was an all too recent memory. One of the points made, from the left, was that this union was only of half of Europe, the Western half.

Incidentally, Orwell argued, remarkably in a life that ended in 1950, for a (western) European union of democratic Socialism (*).

What changed obviously was the end of the 'cold war'. Poland, the Czechs, Slovaks and even former parts of the Soviet Union have now joined the EU (**).  Even Russia itself, at least in part thought of as 'European', could conceivably join one day and in 60 or 100 years we might have a common border with China ( L’Europe et ses frontières,  6 Oct 2004 ).

If the Urals to the east do not provide a 'natural' frontier to the East, neither to the south does the Mediterranean, the 'mare nostrum', for the Romans, like the Carthaginians and the Greeks before them, not a barrier at all, but the centre of their empire.

It has been said that the eastern border of the EU now corresponds almost exactly with the old boundary of Catholic Europe. I don't know about that. What about Croatia ? It is part of the next wave of EU candidates and in a much better position to join than Serbia, but then so is Romania. Much more significant is that the southern border of the EU corresponds to that of 'Catholic Europe' around 1500.

That then is the major cultural divide, a result of the Arab/ Islamic expansion across North Africa in the 7th / 8th centuries. Admitting Turkey breaches one part at least of that divide. As for Morocco, Algeria and  Tunisia, I can't see their rich neighbours to the north of the Mediterranean welcoming them with open arms. Too many potential migrants, too much poverty.

Notes :

(*) It took me ages to find this one : it's definitely worth reading : TOWARD EUROPEAN UNITY, George Orwell

(**) Remember the sneering, when the new countries entered in May, about newspapers running stories of hordes of migrants swamping the country. Another anecdote : people down the pub still talk about seeing the town centre full of foreigners.

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