Misc

DEFIANT IN THE FACE OF LOGIC

Excellent article in the New Statesman from Timothy Garton Ash about American-European identity issues.

Thus the lead story in the New Statesman last week was not entitled “How to stop Bush”. It was entitled “How to stop America”. I don’t want to live in a Europe that is trying to build its identity by asking itself how to stop America. It’s hopeless, because to define yourself against the US will not unite Europe – it will split it down the middle, as we saw over the Iraq war. It split governments, with France, Germany and Belgium on one side, and most of the rest on the other. It split public opinion, with most people against war and against Bush, but certainly not against America. To be European today is, whether we like it or not (and I do like it), to be deeply intertwined with America – culturally, socially, economically, intellectually, politically. Why cut off your nose to spite your face? Why define yourself by who you are against, rather than by what you are for?

I wonder if the New Statesman will take heed?

On a lighter but still significant note, Garton-Ash points out the interesting contradictions that exist in Europe today:There are two characteristic figures in Europe today: the deeply Europeanised anti-European and the deeply Americanised anti-American. We have all met him, the pinstriped Tory Eurosceptic who has a house in Tuscany, is an expert on French wines and knows a great deal more about Wagner operas than Chancellor Gerhard Schroder does. (This last may, admittedly, not be saying a great deal.) We have all met her, the ageing German anti-American peace campaigner, whose inspirations are Woodstock, Joan Baez and not the German Martin Luther but the American Martin Luther King. Except that each in turn would protest: “I’m not anti-European, I’m just against the Brussels Eurocratic vision of a federal superstate”, and “I’m not anti-American, I’m just against the inhuman, warlike policies of that Texan cowboy in the White House.”

Which reminds me of an incident that occured a couple of years ago when I was travelling in that complicated corner of Northern Europe where you are not quite sure whether you are in Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany and where France is just down the road.

I had stopped at a service station for a quick cup of coffee but when I saw the Wallace Arnold coach parked in front of the entrance my heart sank and I knew it was going to be a long wait. Sure enough inside the cafe were a coach-party of southern English pensioners touring Europe. I took my place in the queue and in front of me a gentleman from the Home Counties and his wife were struggling to pay for two cups of coffee and two cream cakes. The chap was looking at a till that merely said 7.80 and he was in battle with a pile of shrapnel in his hand that consisted of French Francs, Belgian Francs, Dutch Gilder and German Marks and a few pfennigs.

After a few minutes had passed with whispers of incomprehension from the English customers and impatient yet understanding smiles from the check-out girl (who this being Europe spoke English as one of her three or four languages) and fearing an even longer than expected wait for my coffee, I decided to intervene. We were in the Netherlands after all and so I filtered out the gilders for the gent and handed over his cash. Rather embarassed the couple muttered some thanks to me and turned to head for their seat.

“Not at all,” I said, “I suppose I can see why they want the euro,” I added. To which the grey-haired gent from the Home Counties turned on his heels, stared at me and barked:”NEVER, NEVER, NEVER!!”

I wonder how many times he voted in the Daily Mail’s referendum?

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