For centuries, Europe kept tearing itself apart, then putting itself together again, but all the while exploiting, colonising and bossing around other parts of the world. With the European civil war that raged on and off from to , once described by Winston Churchill as a second thirty years war, Europe deposed itself from its global throne. Yet, Europe was at least still the central stage of world politics throughout the cold war that followed.
2.3 Regions of Western Europe
Both Russia and China merrily divide and rule across our continent, using economic power to pick off weaker European states and disinformation to set nation against nation. In the 19th century, European powers engaged in what was called the scramble for Africa; in the 21st, outside powers engage in a scramble for Europe. Of course, Europe means many different things.
It is a continent with ill-defined borders, a shared culture and history, a contested set of values, a complex web of institutions and, not least, hundreds of millions of people, all with their own individual Europes.
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Tell me your Europe and I will tell you who you are. But the central institution of the post project of Europeans working closely together is the European Union , and its future is now in question.
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None of this radicalisation and disintegration is inevitable, but to avert it, we have to understand how we got here, and why this Europe, with all its faults, is still worth defending. I t is In a tram rattling through Nazi-occupied Warsaw sits an emaciated, half-starved year-old boy. His name is Bronek.
Cultural Integration in France
He is wearing four sweaters, yet still he shivers despite the August heat. Everyone looks at him curiously. Everyone, he is sure, sees that he is a Jewish kid who has slipped out of the ghetto through a hole in the wall. And so Bronek survives, while his father is murdered in a Nazi extermination camp and his brother sent to Bergen-Belsen. Sixty years on, I was walking with Bronek down one of the long corridors of the parliament of a now-independent Poland.
Then, at the age of 18, he joined the communist party, believing it would build a better world.
Eighteen years later, stripped of his last illusions by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in , he resigned from that same party in protest and returned to his professional life as a medieval historian. But politics somehow would not let him go. As he puffed away at his professorial pipe, he shared with me his pellucid analysis of the decline of the Soviet empire, even as he and his comrades in Solidarity helped turn that decline into fall.
Ten years on, he was the foreign minister who signed the treaty by which Poland became a member of Nato. In memory of Bronek, I will never drink it. Having been instrumental in steering his beloved country into the European Union, he subsequently became a member of the European parliament, that same parliament to which we are electing new representatives this month.
Tragically, but in a way symbolically, he died in a car accident on the way to Brussels. When you look at how the argument for European integration was advanced in various countries, from the s to the s, each national story seems at first glance very different. For France, it was the humiliation of defeat and occupation; for Britain, relative political and economic decline; for Spain, a fascist dictatorship; for Poland, a communist one.
Europe had no shortage of nightmares. But in all these countries, the shape of the pro-European argument was the same. It was an elongated, exuberant pencilled tick: a steep descent, a turn and then an upward line ascending to a better future. A future called Europe. Personal memories of bad times were a driving force for three distinctive generations. Many of the founding fathers of what is now the European Union were what one might call 14ers, still vividly recalling the horrors of the first world war.
Then came the 39ers like Geremek, indelibly shaped by traumas of war, gulag, occupation and Holocaust. Finally, there was a third cohort, the 68ers, revolting against the war-scarred generation of their parents, yet many of them also having experience of dictatorship in southern and eastern Europe.
The trouble starts when you have arrived in the promised land. Call it a European empire or commonwealth, if you will. But we are closer to that ideal than ever before.
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After all, younger voters are often more pro-European than older ones. But it would not be wrong to say that many 89ers who have grown up in this relatively whole and free continent do not see Europe as a great cause, the way 39ers and 68ers did. Why be passionate about something that already exists? Unless they have grown up in the former Yugoslavia or Ukraine, they are unlikely to have much direct personal experience of just how quickly things can all unravel, back to European barbarism.
By contrast, many of them do know from bitter experience how life got worse after the financial crisis of O n the walls of Al-Andalus, a tapas bar in Oxford, depictions of flamenco dancers and bullfights embrace cliche without shame. Here, when I first met him in , Julio — dark-haired, lean and intense — worked as a waiter. But serving tourists in a tapas bar in England was not what he expected to be doing with his life.
It was the eurozone crisis — which at its height made one in every two young Spaniards unemployed — that reduced him to this. Across the continent there are many thousands of Julios.
For them, the tick line has been inverted: it started by going steadily up, but then turned sharply downwards after Ten years ago, you and your country were in a better place. Now you are in a worse one, and that is because Europe has not delivered on its promises. Here is the cunning of history: the seeds of triumph are sown in the moment of greatest disaster, in , but the seeds of crisis are sown in the moment of triumph, in With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that many of the problems haunting Europe today have their origins in the apparently triumphant transition after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A few far-sighted people warned at the time. And so they have. The events of opened the door to an unprecedented era of globalised, financialised capitalism. While this facilitated great material progress for a new middle class in Asia, in the west it generated levels of economic inequality not seen since the early 20th century. A divide also opened up between those with higher education and international experience, and those in the less fortunate other halves of European societies.
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