13 augusti 2005

Is there a soul in Europe?

A couple of weeks ago I met very nice scholar of International Relations at the Berlin airport. She had been in a conference and I came from Poland that morning. While we paced slowly towards the counter (it was a massive queue), we had very nice discussions about her work, religion, Europe etc; and then we came to the topic of integration. France insists on assimilation, that minorities fully take on the host culture, which naturally creates problems. She said: “What we Americans don’t really understand is why it’s such an issue in Europe”. In a sense, implying that America has been successful in assimilating a variety of cultures. I reminded her that the immigrant that came to America created a third culture in which they aligned themselves to. This is not the case in Europe. What is particular with France though is that it insists in assimilating people into a secular humanist culture.

This conversation came to mind today as I heard some discussion about Europe on the radio. Do we want an EU or not, and how much do we want to integrate with each other? The EU is in a crucial time, and is in need for some soul-searching. The constitution has had the ‘non’ and the ‘nee’ and more will probably join in if they are allowed to vote. Many governments don’t allow for referendums if they think they’ll loose. So Britain won’t vote. But I think the British government is rather pleased about that, for some reason.

The former and worthy ideal for the union was peace. Trade partners don’t start wars because they’re too dependent on each other, and they might even develop friendships. However, the union has grown and is expanding and the goal posts have changed. We need to unite to compete with India, China and the US; we might sink if we don’t work closely together. This is at least what the constitution enthusiasts have been telling us.

The problem is that the European countries have not decided what the EU is supposed to be. What is the EU? What is it for? Where are the limits and the boundaries? What are the common areas we want to work on? What’s the European vision? The constitution was written without answering those questions, and therefore it largely became a document where each country tried to get as much out of the constitution as possible.

One may argue that the balance of self-interest is positive, but without an over-riding and common interest for the whole, there is no question of sacrifice. And without sacrifice, how can we say that we’re working for the common good, or for a common future? Why then create a common market or a common union at all? I think this is what Delors meant when he said the EU needs a soul to survive. But where is that soul?

Our leaders need to find their own souls though. A person blind to its own soul, can’t find the soul for others. It will otherwise be a hit and miss endeavour. The European technocrats will forge out an economic plan for Europe, without considering the social, political or even spiritual consequences of their ideas. The blind will lead the blind into a ditch.

But as charity starts at home, soul-searching starts with us. It might not be the easiest choice we can make for ourselves , but how can we not find our soul and be at peace with ourselves?