Relations with the south Mediterranean countries, despite the monumental changes, have largely been business as usual as far as the EU and its Member States are concerned, namely immigration and economics. Ashton has promised €17 million in aid to Tunisia and €258 million by 2013, figures a Tunisian minister immediately ridiculed (“Millions or billions?”). I find the minister’s attitude a little surprising, granted it’s not the billions of dollars worth of (mostly) guns and (some) butter the U.S. provides, but it’s nothing to scoff at for a small country like Tunisia. Ashton’s aid also doesn’t preclude potentially much more from the Member States.
The self-consciously radical French group the Indigènes de la République (“Natives of the Republic”) have copied to their website an article by Jerzy Buzek on the World War II-era genocide of the Roma. It isn’t every day that the President of the European Parliament is taken on by a group like the Indigènes, who are something like France’s equivalent of the 1970s Black Power movement in America, albeit with more Muslims (and not fake Muslims at that, though they are hugely inspired by Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali).
The interest of both Buzek and the Indigènes in the memory of the Roma genocide comes no doubt from anti-Roma sentiment across Europe and in particular Nicolas Sarkozy’s deportation of Roma last year. In Indigènes ideology, race and racism play a determinant role in national and international politics whether in attitudes towards immigration, varieties of neocolonialism (American, French, Israeli) or concern about “national identity”..). Buzek’s article is of interest to the Indigènes insofar as it also includes non-Jews in the memory of the Nazi genocide (“one third of the people held in Auschwitz were Roma”) and in keeping alive the memory and proof of racism in France and Europe.
Incidentally, after the “national identity debate” of last year that led to the criminalization of burqas in France (all 2,000 of them), Sarkozy has deemed it necessary to have a national “Islam and secularism debate” too (also see Reuters), to deal with the financing of Mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of imams. The best one could hope for would be more mosques so Muslims don’t have to pray in the streets (and be compared to Nazi occupiers) and more Western-educated imams so they don’t need to come from more conservative countries. The worst one can expect is another round of Front national-emulating and a few more legitimate points to the Indigènes.
On the one hand, I know the debate and the burial of “multiculturalism” is a false one, largely manufactured by the European center-right to supposedly prevent gains by the far-right and tax the center-left of dangerous naïveté and self-hatred. On the other hand, who can resist a moment when the Russians of all people can pose as more progressive than their holier-than-though Western cousins?
Though Merkel, Cameron, Sarkozy and a Dutch deputy PM have all gotten onto the bandwagon and pronounced the death of multiculturalism, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev recently declared the opposite at a meeting with minority leaders. He condemned the Western statements as a “fashion trend”. In an odd reversal of roles, he pontificated against European leaders, saying that if “we speak about the failure of multiculturalism, then the destruction of traditions could follow; this is a dangerous thing and European countries need to understand this.”
The situation in Russia is not the same of course as that in the rest of Europe. Medvedev is no doubt referring mainly to the various nationalities that have deep roots in Russia’s current territory. The Europeans do not contest the right of Scottish or Breton culture to exist, but rather that of the immigrants from the Third World.
Nonetheless, I can’t help but be struck by the incredible bad faith of the European leaders involved. I will leave Cameron aside as Britain has legitimately had an ideology of multiculturalism which, whatever one makes of it, can at least be said to have existed. The same cannot be said of Germany or France. The Germans have long had an ethnic-racial concept of nationality that was enshrined in the laws on acquiring citizenship. Until the reform of 2000, it was easier for a long-lost Russophone Volga German in the Kazakh SSR to become a German national than a person born, schooled and raised in Germany to Turkish parents. Blunt und Boden and all that.
The Germans have never believed in multiculturalism because they had never asked themselves the question of what nationality was. The French, on the other hand, have had an explicitly anti-”multicultural” national ideology for over 200 years. This dates back to the Revolution when, in granting equal rights to Jews, one politician famously stated that ”We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and grant everything to Jews as individuals.” Sarkozy’s recent comments were a response to a question at a roundtable discussion with ordinary Frenchmen. His long reply included ”We were too concerned with the identity of the person that arrived, and not enough of the identity of the country that received” and that practices “communities next to one others” as in Britain and America [sic] has “reinforced the extremists”.
I would like to stress that, with little exaggeration, the French people and authorities have never given a damn for niceties like the “identity” of newcomers. This is not America where signs in Spanish for campaigns and advertising are common and you must press 1 to hear your instructions in English. If these things were to exist in France, there’d be a bloody riot calling for the saving of the République from the Musulman hordes. Even hard left radical Communists in France have refused to to participate in certain demonstrations (on Gaza, say) if certain participants held signs in Arabic.
The declaration regarding “extremists” is also puzzling to the extent that alleged “multiculturalism” has not led to a noted radicalism among American Hispanics or Muslims (though the case might more strongly be made in Britain). In France itself, the Muslim and black working and under- classes are ultimately much more moderate than the White working class preceded them (and often lived in the same areas). The latter tended to vote en masse for the (quasi-Stalinist) French Communists.
All in all, a rather sad but unremarkable development across Europe. Instead of a substantive discussion of realities and real dilemmas, Europe’s two most important figures lay the blame for poor race relations at the door of something which has never existed in their country. What are these realities? There is a degree of inherent “communitarianism” among newcomers and non-Whites in general, a measure of which is normal and not threatening but can be a problem in specific cases. However, whatever developments there are must stem principally from the grotesque inequality of power between the newcomers and the “natives”.
Lets take the French case, that I know best. It doesn’t matter which sphere – police, political, economic, education, housing – one group has everything while the other is dependent on the first’s good graces for anything. Anti-Muslim discrimination in hiring and accommodation is systemic. The country passes laws against burqas and veils – claiming it does not target Muslims – but not one of France’s 577 deputies is Muslim and only 2 of its 343 Senators (something that alarmed the U.S. Ambassador to France). Police brutality is not rare and black and Arab youth are 3 to 15 times more likely to be stopped by the police (a trend also identified by the Council of Europe). In such a situation, one might excuse some for feeling entirely welcome or at home in the land of their birth.
Comparable situations exist across Europe. If we are seeing a lasting split among Europeans between natives and newcomers, I would prefer the discussion recognize these situations and who might hold the most power in bringing us together. Instead, our leaders blame their own failures to deal with these problems on a figment of their imagination.
Every Monday of a plenary week in Brussels, each MEP’s office fills a big malle with essential workstuffs: documents, folders, books, the office’s one working stapler, whatever. It is then locked and left outside the office so that, the next day, it will reappear like magic in front of the MEP’s Strasbourg office. The malle, like the 736 MEPs, their assistants and the slew of journalists and lobbyists, has made the monthly pilgrimage to the official seat of the European Parliament (twice in September).
The reasons for this go back to arcane diplomatic negotiations – which generally are no more than godless horse-trading – and concern that Europe’s institutions should not be concentrated in one place. And Strasbourg, after all, is a far more potent symbol of European reconciliation than Brussels. Although with Belgium’s hideously complex linguistically-determined politics and history as a case of “generic industrialisation”, Brussels is perhaps closer to the reality of the EU.
Strasbourg’s symbolism comes at an exorbitant cost which sometimes has uniquely absurd results. EUobserver reported that €1.7 million were saved in 2008 when the ceiling collapse of a room in the Strasbourg parliament meant that some meetings had to be held in Brussels. As eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan points out, that is the net saving, once the costs repairs and of travel and hotel cancellations were deducted from the original €2.5 million in savings.
According to a new study, 91% of MEPs would prefer to stay in Brussels. Beside added hassle and lost time for everyone involved the study claims the endless back and forth costs €180 million per year and produces an extra 19,000 tonnes of CO2. The French authorities were unmoved. Their spokesperson said that that France“will continue to implement concrete actions to affirm Strasbourg’s European dimension and to make working life easier for European MEPs, especially by improving the accessibility and attractiveness of the city.” Delightful.
Why is this never changed? Major European political figures have been associated with the city: Pierre Pflimlin, president of the Parliament in the eighties, was also mayor of Strasbourg for over two decades while Joseph Daul, an Alsatian, is head of the center-right European People’s Party, the Parliament’s biggest group. Perhaps more to the point, the Parliament is powerless: its seat is set in stone in the treaties and would therefore require France’s assent. This is unlikely to be given due the (imagined?) prestige the seat grants to Strasbourg and the massive subsidy it represents to the city’s hotels and restaurants.
Even if the Parliament were to leave, however, it wouldn’t necessarily be such a catastrophic loss to the city, the magnificent building be used for something after all. The opening to the study quotes Simone Veil, the first president of the elected parliament, suggesting it could be turned into a ”European university”. I should hope some compromise is eventually found, either removing the Parliament from Strasbourg or giving the seat a much more symbolic role. In the meantime, the whole travelling circus serves to discredit the entire EU. Indeed, if the very Treaties which are the Union’s constitution sanctify this traveling circus, who is is to say what other absurdities of narrow national interest are made eternal by the fine prints nestled in these dense texts?
The growth of renewables slowed in the North and CO2 emissions dropped, but China (and the rest of Asia) managed to compensate for both. Read more over at Future Challenges.
Generally speaking, the EU’s aesthetics comes in two varieties: 1) soulless technocracy (when it tries to be mature and legitimate, think shiny window panes and lots of grey) 2) postmodern kitsch (when it tries to be young and hip). The WSJ’s blog humorously points to an expensive-looking recent ad which has successfully managed to combined these two tendencies into one mystifying “Euro-pudding” promoting the “Innovation Union”. Best to read the original post and watch the two parts of the ad yourself.
The Commission’s website also has lots of other less obtuse videos highlighting specific technological innovations made across Europe in medicine, renewables and robotics. This is is not a bad thing. The American Right loves to portray the state of the European economy as something akin to the Soviet Union’s sclerotic poverty while politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, if they want to promote a given economic policy, will always cite something the Chinese are supposedly doing as a precedent. In all this you’d forget much of rural China still lives with something like African levels poverty or that Europe is one of the great poles of a largely tripolar world economy, along with North America and East Asia.
As such, Europe is at the forefront in domains like face transplants, mobile telephony (the GSM standard used by 80% of mobiles in the world comes from a French acronym (si, si, pour une fois…), and renewable energies. A little polishing of the European brand so people in Europe and abroad be more conscious of Europe’s economic and technological success is not a bad thing. That said, the Commission’s PR people haven’t found the best way of going about this…