Saturday, June 18, 2005

Since returning to the States two weeks ago I've largely cooled down on the EU debate. Quite frankly, I've aired about as much as I have to say on the subject.

That said, today's quote from EU president Jean-Claude Juncker is too exceptional to ignore:

"People will tell you next that Europe is not in a crisis," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the rotating EU presidency, said after a two-day summit ended in acrimony.

"It is in a profound crisis." [emphasis added]

For those who haven't been following the story, the immediate impetus for Juncker's remarks was the failure of the EU commission to approve its next six-year budget. Britain and Holland effectively killed the 100 billion euro plan; and rightly so, at least for Britain. In my view it makes little sense that the Britain should have to subsidize continental welfare systems because only they have had the wherewithal to liberalize their markets.

Yet the larger impetus, and what Juncker was really talking about, were the failed EU referendums in France and the Netherlands. Those rejections led the EU into what are actually two separate crises. The first is, as perhaps was hinted at above, the legitimacy of continental welfare systems. France wants the amenities and living standards of a post-industrial economy without the attendant risk. At present only Britain and the newer, more Eastern European countries seem to fully recognize the paradoxical nature of that position.

The second crisis is what I would call, if history hadn't already lent it such a bad name, ethnic strife. For all the talk about peace and liberalism, the reality is that Europe has yet to fully supercede the ethnic divides of the last two decades. Their political systems may have evolved beyond ethnic identity, but their popular consciousnesses have not. The result is that in cultural terms the French or Dutch identity still incorporates a remarkable degree of ethnic criteria. When it comes to the EU, then, the all-important ramification is that a French or Dutch citizen has a hard time swallowing, in purely cultural terms, how the hell he or she can share an identity with a Bulgar.

Consequently the challenge for President Juncker and the other EU leaders is now to communicate to their citizenry a) that the welfare states which worked wonders for the last fifty years are no longer viable in a post-Cold War era, and b) that neither are the ethnic and even tribal identities by which they define themselves.

This will no doubt take a long time; it took the U.S. several decades. But as Juncker no doubt is aware, if Europe is to be saved, it needs to be done.


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