by FJ Rocca 7/6/15
George Washington once said, “Someday, following the example of the United States of America, there will be a United States of Europe.” Since the end of the Second World War, Europe’s various political leaders tried repeatedly to unite. Their efforts ultimately resulted in what is now known as the European Union (the “EU”).
The European Union has suffered much praise and much criticism. It was founded on the belief that a united Europe would produce not merely a vast zone of equity and free trade, but also of permanent peace. After all, how could Germany, France, Belgium, Italy et al. desire war when they are all allied in a wonderful mixture of economic and civil growth, sharing borders and cultures, and operating on a single currency?
But the premise of a single European “family of nations” may be false at its root. First of all, families fight amongst themselves. One brother may be richer than another, one sister more beautiful than another, and one sibling vastly more talented than all the others put together. Thus, jealousy can ensue quite naturally and discontent is inevitable when the entire family group must support a single incompetent, indigent or uncivil member. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So the recent situation with Greece proved when other nations made a deal demanding an austerity program in exchange for sufficient loans to keep Greece afloat, and the Greeks voted in a government that scrapped their part in the agreement. Now the Greek people are in serious trouble, unable to pull their savings out of bank accounts or even hard cash from their safe deposit boxes. Greeks now popularly want Greece to resign from the EU. So much for family solidarity.
Most of the criticism of the EU is economic. Alan Greenspan has doomed the idea of a single European currency and others have said that without a United States of Europe, under a single government, the Euro will eventually fail. Taking turns, various member countries have experienced economic problems and have had to be bailed out, threatening the very basis for the EU. Wars tend to generate from national discontent which is always has an economic root. Jealousy among and within nations has often lead to wars, ethnic cleansing and other euphemisms for cruel persecution and genocide.
The American Civil War was based on economics, too, involving a largely agrarian South that used slave labor and a largely economic North that was industrial and popularly abolitionist. But the union prevailed, slaves were emancipated and the US healed its rift among the states. While many Americans complain about various policies and are tossed and turned by political feuding, the US is very stable, both as a nation and as a community. Moreover, to be American does not require nationalist ethnicity. Americans are varied in ethnic and cultural origins, united by a culture of individual freedoms and rights secured by the very documents upon which the American nation was founded. We are not Americans by ethnic unanimity but by political and the cultural unity of inalienable human rights.
But Europe is an entirely different proposition. While the US was created out of the struggle against archaic European tradition, on the basis of a philosophic idea, Europe was not. In fact, Europe was not created at all. Europe is a large region in which tribes grew into ethnic factions, which in turn grew into ethnic nations ruled historically by despotic monarchs. America fought its revolution against these forms to become a nation based on the single greatest idea ever had by mankind: individual freedom for each and every person. While European nations have had their turns establishing free republics, vestiges of the old cultures remain.
No matter how many republics it declares, France is still France, and, despite its parliament, England is still England, and Spain still Spain. They struggle with the ideas of free principles, but they still bear the weight of millennial royalism, feudalism, dictatorships and other traditions that no set of treaties amongst them will overshadow.
In the end, unless they are able to shake off the burden of thousands of years of history impressed upon the European consciousness, they will be unable simply to merge as parts of a new whole. The very idea that a Frenchman or an Englishman would consider himself to be a fellow national with a Greek or German is probably tenuous at best. My father was French by birth and we are Italian by ancestry. My father came here as a young man of 19 and grew into his American identity. He was proud of his American citizenship, but deep inside, he retained the vestige of his “Frenchness” with French inclinations, a love of French food and a great pride in the history of his native country. He described America as the most beautiful country anywhere, but Americans were to him a naïve lot with an insufficient history to make them a truly great culture.
I was lucky to be born here. I had my Americanism by birth. But I also learned it in school and in church, in Boy Scouts and on the sandlot baseball fields of my childhood. It was taught to me by my uncles, aunts, brother, sisters and friends. But my father is the one who said it outright. “I am American by choice. No one can become a Frenchman by choice.” I’ve heard that said many, many times in my life.
France is a wonderful place. I’ve been there a couple of times, once to visit the place where my father was born and lived for the first two decades of his life. I love French food myself. I also love Italian food which my grandparents taught me how to make. But my culture is American. There is just no other way to describe it.
The Euro has been an uncertain experiment. I’ve heard economists say that you can’t have a standardized currency when there are so many considerations that make it nearly impossible: natural resources of value located in disparate regions, an internal trade network that cannot be regulated properly, which inevitably results in overregulation. And again, there is the pesky idea of ethnicity. Greeks are Greeks, Hungarians are Hungarians, and Portuguese are Portuguese. As the French say—albeit in another context—vive la difference!
I say why not disband the European Parliament which seems unable to do much good anyway. Let the members go home to their own countries. Keep the borders as open as possible but let the locals control their own countries as they have done for millennia. And if they can’t make the Euro work, let them go back to the Franc, the Mark and the Austrian Shilling. The system of currency exchange worked well enough for centuries. Why not let it go on for centuries to come.
FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is candiddiscourse.com. • (1240 views)