Nationalism and Universalism in European History
“To be a man of the West, is to belong to a culture of incomparable originality and power; it is also to be implicated in incomparable crimes.
Brief Preamble by the author: This essay first appeared in Ovi magazine in 2013 as a thematic contribution to the theme of nationalism. This is a slightly revised version. The theme of nationalism has consumed rivers of ink. It is a veritable challenge to even attempt to condense it in a few thousand words in the form of an essay, but, for whatever their worth, here are a few synthesizing thoughts.
Those thoughts have appeared in greater detail in two books I have published lately. One of those books has appeared in the Ovi’s bookshop as an e-book titled Europe beyond the Euro, and the other is titled A New Europe in Search of its Soul (Author-House, 2005). The interested reader may wish to peruse them for a more thorough treatment of the issue.
Iwish to begin with a sharp distinction between nationalism interpreted as patriotism, as loyalty to one’s country and respectful of the patriotism of others for their country, and blind destructive nationalism, characterized by an overzealous almost fanatical regard for one’s country alleged superiority and a misguided dishonorable disregard for others’ countries often considered inferior and resulting in innumerable wars. Even a cursory look at European history will confirm such a confusion.
When nationalism is positive and constructive it calls the individual to self-sacrifice, puts loyalty high on its scale of values, it is proud of the national language, the native soil, the history and culture of the nation and the right of self-governance and determination. This is patriotism in tandem with nationalism. When nationalism is negative however it becomes exaggerated and blind to the fault of one’s nation; it turns into a destructive force leading to attempts by one nation to dominate other nations. Perhaps the best example of this kind of xenophobic destructive nationalism bent only on mere military glory and prowess is Nazi Germany, a nationalism gone crazy. More than patriotism we ought to call this kind of negative nationalism chauvinism and xenophobia. It declares “my country right or wrong.” To use a metaphor, if my mother happens to be a drunk, the best way to help her is to first acknowledge the truth that she is a drunk and then try to help her, while continuing to love her even as a drunk. The chauvinist instead proclaims “my mother, drunk or sober.” This is an important distinction often overlooked by those historians and scholars who collapse the word patriotism into nationalism.
A common language is very important but does not necessarily result in instant nationalism. In Italy, the modern European nation I am most familiar with, there was a common literary language in place since the 12th century, as exemplified in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Petrarch’s Canzoniere and Boccaccio’s Decamerone. Politically, however, we need to wait six more centuries (1860) for Italian national unification to become a reality. The paradox present in Machiavelli’s Prince is this: while he lauds the universalism of the Romans and writes the Prince dressed in a Roman toga, he is also urging, via his political science, the imitation of the foreign nationalism in order to become another united nation. I shall return to this theme of nationalism and universalism, which constitutes the title of the essay, further down in the essay.
To better discern this announced distinction, we need to go back to ancient Greece where there was indeed a common language and culture and yet those were not able by themselves to overcome centrifugal political forces and unify the city states into one country. There was however patriotism and pride in one’s culture, best exhibited by Leonidas’ small force of 300 Spartans confronting the invading oriental Persian “barbarians” at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Those Spartans were sacrificing themselves for a common Greek culture, a culture spread for a short while all the way to India by Alexander the Great. So, paradoxically, the universalism of an empire succeeded where nationalism as we know it failed. In the Roman Empire too we see an empire with Latin as a lingua franca, as a sort of unifying principle beyond military might. That empire lasted a bit longer than surmised, some two thousand years if we remember that the Byzantine empire was the continuation of the Roman empire, and that Greco-Roman civilization continues to be at the basis of our own and to exercise considerable influence on it.
The Goddess Europe on a journey on top of Zeus disguised as a bull
When we come to the Middle Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, another intriguing thing happens. National languages (French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German) begin to sprout but it is the Catholic Church and Latin and more broadly speaking Christianity which continues to supply the unifying centripetal cultural factor to the whole continent of Europe. Without understanding that simple historical fact one searches in vain for the roots of European cultural identity. This is indeed something that seems to be either ignored or forgotten by the present day Europeans in search of unity beyond nationalism and sometimes finding it in inanities such as soccer games and common banks and currency, thus ending up with the cart before the horse. When Italian unification was achieved Dazeglio said “now that we have done Italy we need to make the Italians.” Similarly we now have some Europeans proclaiming that “now that we have a European Union we need to find the sources of European identity.” There would be no need to reinvent such a wheel if the Italian historical example had been better pondered.
For full-fledged nationalism to arrive on the stage in Europe we need to wait for the Protestant Reformation which shatters the unity provided by Latin and the Catholic Church. And so a more narrow nationalistic experiences follow the universal experiences of the Empire, the Renaissance, the Catholic Church. The word Catholic, after all, literally means universal. So we have well formed nation states, Spain, England, Portugal, France, fighting each other incessantly either in Europe or all over the globe as they build their imperialistic empires in America, Africa and Asia. Nationalism becomes the fashion and the politically correct way to go. This despite the fact that the elite aristocracy of Europe (in Russia for example) preferred to speak French rather than their native languages. That was a form of effete cultural showmanship and not allegiance to France.
While Christianity barely survived in Spain, it remained the dominant faith in the rest of the European continent to such an extent that the adjectives “European” and “Christian” tended to be confused. What is intriguing in Goff’s thesis is that he designates as Christian Europe only the Western part of the Roman Empire, not Byzantium, the Christian Orthodox Eastern half; nor Greek and Russian Christian Orthodoxy, nor paganism and its vestiges which are somehow regarded as unessential to European unity.
Be that as it may, one begins to wonder if it is purely coincidental that the former Pope Benedict XVI, who had assumed the very name of the patron saint of Europe, the founder of Western monasticism, travelled to Bari, Italy, the land of Saint Nicholas, the linchpin between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, on the very day when the French people voted down the EU Constitution put before them by their elitist politicians and pundits. Food for thought.
What is of interest to us here is the crucial question suggested by Goff’s thesis: in an ultra secularized modern Europe so unfriendly to religion in general, is it conceivable that the Catholic Christendom of the Middle Ages be at least acknowledged as the direct precursor of today’s Europe? The question may result absurd for many Europeans, but if it is, it would itself reveal an intriguing posture vis-à-vis religion on the European continent. It would at the very least raise the suspicion that the grudge against religion is so deep that one is ready to ignore and even deny one’s cultural roots.
Christopher Dawson and the Making of Europe
In 1932 Christopher Dawson published a book titled The Making of Europe which had enormous success and established his reputation as a scholar of incredible range and erudition who could communicate with great clarity and elegance. He had previously written two other books: The Age of the Gods (1928), and Progress and Religion (1929) but this was unique.
The book avoids the conventional burdensome footnotes, bibliographies and theoretical frameworks and reads like a romantic novel, hence its popularity. Indeed, 19th century Romanticism was a corrective to the previous century, the so called age of Enlightenment. It did this by questioning the rationalist conviction that the empirical physical sciences constituted the paradigm of all knowledge and thus reinstated Giambattista Vico’s revaluation of history against the Cartesian depreciation of it as mere gossip.
Vico had observed that the external world of nature is ultimately impenetrable, for the human mind can only attempt to manipulate it within the strict limits set by God who created it. The stream of history, on the other hand, is essentially the world that the human creative spirit has made, and therefore despite its recurring mysteries, it can come to be known by humans in an incomparably deeper sense. Dawson shared this revaluation of history as did Hegel when he declared history the highest form of knowledge: the self-realization of the absolute spirit in time.
And what was the single idea, the keynote of Dawson’s thought as found in The Making of Europe? I was this: religion is the soul of a culture and a society that has lost its spiritual roots is a dying society, however prosperous it may appear externally. The fate of our civilization was endangered not only by the fading of the vision of faith that originally formed it, namely Christianity, but the failure to integrate the world of reason and science with the world of the soul, which has lost the power to express itself through culture. In Dawson’s view this was the tragedy of modern man. Before writing his famous book Dawson had read and pondered deeply the works of Augustine (The City of God) and Edward Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). He was also influenced by Lord Acton’s World History wherein Acton affirms that “religion is the key of history.” He slowly became aware of the continuity of history and of how the coming of Christianity had transformed the dying Roman Empire into a new world.
He spent fourteen years of intensive study before writing his twenty some books among which Enquiries into Religion and Culture (1934), Religion and Culture(1948), Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (1950), The Crisis of Western Education (1961), The Formation of Christendom (1961). All these books dealt with the life of civilizations. The underlying idea in them was the interaction of religion with culture and subsequently with civilization. Religion is discovered to be the dynamic element in every culture—its life and soul. He discovered that worship, prayer, the rite of sacrifice, and the moral law were common to all religions and so what the object of worship, and that moreover, the destiny of the human race was conditioned not only by material progress but by a divine purpose or providence working through history. Dawson also discovered that “the world religions have been the keystones of the world cultures, so that when they are removed the arch falls and the building is destroyed” (Progress and Religion, p. 140).
As he surveys the two millennia of Christianity Dawson noted four landmarks. The first one is the new element which defines the difference between the new faith and the old mystery religions of Europe: this is the principle of a dynamic and creative spirit that inspires the whole of life. The Christian religion has a power of renewal that has accompanied it through the ages.
The second landmark was the extraordinary development in the fourth century A.D. when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. After centuries of living on the inherited capital of the Hellenistic culture, this fountainhead seemed to run dry. Yet the achievement of Greece and Rome were not rejected by this new faith. They were merely transformed. Classical learning and the Latin language became fused with the ideals of a Christian society that was founded not on wealth, tyranny and power but on freedom, progress, and social justice. Latin became “not only a perfect vehicle for the expression of thought but also an ark which carried the seed of Hellenic culture through the deluge of barbarism” (The Making of Europe, p. 49).
The third great change of thought, according to Dawson, came about in the 16th century with the Renaissance and the Reformation, which brought an end to medieval unity. The fourth came about after the industrial revolution in the 19th century and led to the 20th century. In one of his last books Dawson, the Crisis of Western Education Dawson calls our own era the age of Frankenstein, “the hero who creates a mechanical monster and then found it had got out of control and threatened his own existence” (p. 189).He had in mind atomic warfare and he argued that if Western society were to gain control over these forces there would have to be a reintegration of faith and culture, and that there is an absolute limit to the progress that can be achieved by perfecting scientific techniques detached from spiritual aims and moral values. This is similar to Einstein assessment of our era as one characterized by perfection of means and confusion of goals.
But let us go back to The Making of Europe which remains Dawson’s best-known book. In it he demonstrates that Christianity has been the spiritual force that created the unity of Western culture, indeed the commonwealth of Europe itself, from the chaotic world of myriad warring tribes. He shows in that book how the Dark Ages, the period between 400 and 1000 A.D., became a dawn witnessing to the conversion of the West, the foundation of Western civilization and the creation of Christian art and liturgy. And he then asked a crucial question: If such a transformation could happen in the age of the barbarians could it not be repeated now? Like the founding fathers of the EU Dawson, after the Second World War was already envisioning a new united Europe. But he soon realized that there was a problem which faced not only Europe but America too and all societies that consider themselves Western.
The problem was this: the disastrous separation of culture from its religious base brought about by the modern barbarians of the mind and assorted nihilists had not been stemmed by the modern educational system which considered the study of religion superfluous and in fact aimed at its liquidation. The unity of thought, which had prevailed in European civilization over a thousand years, was shattered by excessive specialization which allowed the educated elites to see the tree while missing the forest; moreover science, philosophy and theology had long since split apart. Education, rather than being a preparation for life, had become purely utilitarian and vocational. Humanistic studies needed to be resurrected in all schools and not preserved, almost as a relic of the past, in places like Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities as a sort of frosting on the cake of education. This was urgent since the neo-barbarians had already entered the citadel of learning and were hard at work to destroy it from the inside.
Humanism as integrated with Catholicism was at the forefront of Dawson’s speculation. It was that humanism which produced the medieval unity of the 13th century exemplifying Christian culture par excellence. For the flowering of art in every form reached its zenith in Europe between the 13the and 15th centuries with the poetry of Dante and Petrarch, the fresco painters of the Florentine school Giotto and Fra Angelico, and the sculptures of Michelangelo. It was also the age of saints and mystics, both men and women: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominick, St. Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, just to name a few.
It must be mentioned that Dawson was not advocating a return to the Middle Ages; neither was he commending the external apparatus of medievalism, nor Charlemagne’s so called Holy Roman Empire, but rather “a return to the forgotten world of spiritual reality” to which these centuries bear witness. He was not recommending a nostalgic evasion of the present day cultural dilemmas. He was indeed an intellectual for
The Holy Roman Empire in 1250
whom ideas were important but many of his colleagues noticed a paradox in him: together with the remote facts of history, he knew of the latest current events in remote corners of the world, and understood and spoke several European languages. Indeed, he had the gift of seeing deeper and further than many of his contemporaries because he had the capacity to interpret the present in the light of the events of the past. As he put it: “The more we know of the past, the freer we are to choose the way we will go.”
To conclude, it is a mistake to think of Dawson as an anti-modern. Rather, what he was advocating was a retrieval of spiritual values in a godless and nihilistic world. The reason he was assigned the first Chair of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University was that he had the reputation of being a very broad-minded scholar, able to contemplate opposite ideas and integrate them. He was in short a consummate humanist who understood the universal character of the Church, which belongs neither to East nor to West but stands as a mediator between the two. It was in fact his humanism which led him to conversion to Catholicism as it also happened for G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene and David Jones. I hope that this brief sketch of a great and beautiful mind will motivate some readers to a deeper exploration of its ideas. You will not be disappointed.
Jacques Le Groff on the Middle Ages
The middle Ages, after all, encompass no less than one thousand years of European history subdivided in early (500-1000), high (1000-1300), and late (1300-1500). Jacques Le Groff, a well known French cultural anthropologist, is the first one to discard the early middle ages of Charlemagne as precursor of the idea of Europe. He sees them as too consciously Christian with a rather violent ideological program, although he stops short of branding them as “Christian imperialism,” for indeed the confusion between the spiritual and the temporal, properly speaking begins with Emperor Constantine in the fourth century AD who adopts Christianity at the official religion of the Roman Empire. Goff, however brands Charlemagne’s empire “the first example of a perverted Europe.” Other “perversions” that he takes notice of, are the empires of Charles V, Napoleon and Hitler.
|The Holy Roman Empire in the 16th century|
So, what’s left are the High Middle Ages, usually viewed by historians as the most creative segment of the medieval millennium. This period of history produced the Italian city states, seen as the precursors of modern democracy, as well as international banking and commerce, considered the foundations of any modern state. Culturally, the High Middle Ages produce Scholasticism which gives Europe the first modern universities (Bologna, Padua, Naples, Paris, Salamanca) with their uniquely European intellectual propensity for critical thinking rooted in skeptical doubt, intellectual freedom, lucidity and clarity. Descartes, who had a penchant for rationally “clear and distinct ideas” devoid of imagination and the poetical, is often seen as the intellectual grandchild of the Scholastics. Thereafter we have the late medieval and the Renaissance periods which, after the disaster of the Black Death, witness an unprecedented era of European global expansion spanning five centuries: from the late 15th century (1492) till the early 20th century.
The New Western Imperialism
In an insightful article in The Scotsman titled How African Aid can be the New Imperialism, Fraser Nelson argues that there is a new Western imperialism on the horizon, echoing the now forgotten 19th century British rationalization for global empire, i.e., “the white man’s burden”: the moral obligation to change the world—allegedly for the better—and redeem it with civilization, the rule of law, and the spread of democracy and market values.
He characterizes this political phenomenon as “history [that] has swung full circle,” since this vision, allegedly for the benefit of its former colonies, does not proceed directly from Washington (where political power now resides) but from London in the person of the former UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. His ambition then and now is to become the conscience of the world while George Bush acts as its policeman.
If one were ignorant of the history of Western imperialism one would see absolutely nothing wrong with the above scenario. We would all feel good about ourselves as Westerners, and perhaps even safer. But to talk of “new imperialism” one must have in mind the old one as a reference point. Moreover, to examine such an old Western imperialism one needs to go all the way back to Alexander the Great, then proceed to the Roman Empire, the Carolingian, so called “Holy Roman Empire” of the Middle Ages, the expansionistic global colonialist era of 16th century Renaissance which extends all the way to the 19th century to encompass the Spanish empire, the French empire, the British empire, the Russian empire, the Portuguese empire, the Italian empire, Napoleon’s empire, Frederick the Great’s empire, Charles V’s empire, the Austria-Hungarian empire, Mussolini’s empire, Stalin’s empire, Hitler’s empire.
The list is endless but worth remembering, for as Marx quipped, those who have amnesia about their history risk repeating it; they may find themselves driving the brand new car called the EU, full speed ahead into a future disaster with no rear-view mirror. That is a dangerous operation as both Vico and McLuhan have well taught us. Hence it may prove useful to briefly revisit the phenomenon of imperialism which is unique to the West. In my opinion, two recent books are essential reading for any kind of valid analysis of the phenomenon: Jacques Le Goff’s The Birth of Europe, and William Pfaff’s The Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia.
Le Goff alerts us to the fact that the present geography of the European Union is strangely similar to that of Medieval Catholic Christendom, i.e., the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne which used to encompass at its core France, Germany and Northern Italy. He then argues that although the ancient Greeks originally proposed the distinction between East (Asia) and West (Europe), nobody at the time, and even subsequently during Roman times, called oneself “European,” despite the famous myth of the goddess Europa. If anything, the proud boast was that of “civis Romanus sum.” The unity of the Mediterranean world was Roman through and through. It was broken not so much by the invading northern barbarians, who often were assimilated and proud to also declare themselves Roman citizens, but by the rise of Islam, its conquest of Jerusalem in 638, and its subsequent conquest of North Africa and Spain.
The above mentioned expansionary period gives the designation Europe its full meaning. How so? In this sense: while imperialism and colonization proper begin with Alexander the Great, once, and only once so far, has existed in man’s history the phenomenon of total global dominance, and that dominance has been exercised by Europeans, or those of European descent which of course includes North Americans. As Le Goff points out, although in the 15th century China was the most advanced country in the world, it never expanded beyond its borders and never dreamed that the sun would never set on its possessions. The Moslem world also has lost the impetus and cultural fervor of its medieval period. Such is not the case for Europe.
Europe is different. In the explanation of this difference lies the crux of the enigma. Some have explained it away with technological superiority, i.e., superior guns and ships. Others, depending on their pet ideology, go for social explanations: capitalism, or individualism, considered uniquely European. What is lost sight of, is the fact that 1492 while witnessing the beginning of a rapid European expansionism, also witnessed in Spain the dual destruction of Europe’s largest Jewish community, and of Granada, the last bastion of Moslem culture in Western Europe.
So, from the very beginning of the global expansion, one notices a tendency to exclude certain elements which were already present in the Medieval European cultural identity while retaining others; a club mind-set seems to have been set-up, with the included and the excluded. It all leads to another crucial question of cultural identity: does European mean Christian in any sense? The EU constitution, as presented to the European people obviously does not suggest so, since it does not as much as mention Europe’s Christian heritage aside from some vague references to “spiritual values.” And yet, it cannot be denied that several important features of the modern West, such as universities, corporate towns, representative assemblies, have their roots in the Christian Middle Ages. Why this penchant for historical amnesia?
Napoleon provides the illusion of a unification of Europe but what he provided was really French imperialism with a national foundation. In America a common English does not prevent the colonists from declaring independence from its European colonizing nation and proclaiming their own independent country. Later on, the French and American revolutions advance the idea, popularized by Rousseau’s “Social Contract” and flourishing in the 19th and 20th century, that all the classes within countries comprised the nation. The people have become the nation.
In the 19th century, to men like Mazzini, Garibaldi, Verdi (see his opera Nabucco), nationalism was an ideal worth striving for and even dying for. In mid 19th century both Italy and Germany become unified countries politically, but culturally they both possessed a viable and vibrant culture centuries before. The number of sovereign nations in Europe reached 24 in 1924.
There is no doubt that nationalism played a major role in World War I. Those were the chickens coming home to roost given that the Congress of Vienna of 1815, after the demise of Napoleon, paid little attention to nationalistic aspirations in its division of European territories. Nationalism was certainly in the mind of Woodrow Wilson when he declared at the Treaty of Versailles the principle of self-determination. What you ultimately had there were for multi-national empires limited by the boundaries of their predominant nationality: Austria-Hungary, the German Empire, the Ottoman empire and the Russian empire. Certain historic states simply disappeared from the map while Czechoslovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania appeared suddenly and out of nowhere on the map of Europe.
After World War II nationalism spreads to Arab countries, India, the Far East, Africa below the Sahara, on the dovetail of European imperialism. As the UN exemplifies the world is now made up of hundred of nations despite the predictions of nationalism’s disappearance after the second World War. Nationalism in fact goes viral and produces after World War I tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco and Salazar, Mao, Castro, Amin; they all considered themselves super-patriots. The schizophrenia on the part of Mussolini is almost comical. On one hand he fancied himself a Roman Emperor out to restore the ancient glory of the Romans and establish Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean; on the other hand he was, monkey-like, imitating all the worst features of a narrow negative kind of European nationalism, colonialism and all, as evidenced in the most powerful European nations. Had he remembered the true glory of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance and the Catholic Church he would have known that the core of that glory was not narrow nationalism but universality. Those were all universal movements to which Italy had become accustomed, thus rendering rabid nationalism a straight jacket of sort.
Signing of the EU Constitution in Rome (17 June 2004)
The question thus arises: has this gift of nationalism on the part of Europe to the rest of the world been a positive or negative one? Hard to answer such a question in the light of what we have just explored above. What remains paradoxical in all this is that Europe now claims to have abandoned nationalism forever for a sort of unifying federalism called the EU. Some no longer speak of the European Union but of the United States of Europe where nations govern themselves internally but contribute to a unified political goal and a common cultural identity and in the ideal spirit of solidarity and brotherhood, equality and liberty. But is this a reality as we speak? What about the rabid regionalism of an Umberto Bossi out to declare independence from Italy, not to speak of a rabid neo-nationalism consisting of right-wing political parties from all over Europe and presently within the European Parliament as a sort of Trojan Horse out to destroy the union. The question arises: is this universalism or rather a narrow resurgent nationalism of the worst kind?
Were not egalitè, fraternitè, libertè also the ideals of the French revolution? When things were going well economically, this seemed indeed to be the case in the EU. Now that hard financial times are upon us in the West as a whole, words like solidarity seem to have suddenly disappeared from the vocabulary. What one ears is the cold utilitarian language of the bureaucrat, the banker and the venture capitalist devoid of humanistic criteria, euphemistically characterizing his capitalistic activity, based on social Darwinism, as entrepreneurship, abysmally ignorant of the genuine heritage of European civilization. Which leads one to suspect that once again, just as with Italian unification, the cart has been put before the horse and the European cultural identity continues to be an elusive historical phenomenon. Indeed we live in a Brave New World and as Kierkegaard warned us back in the 19th century: the sickness unto death is to be sick, to have dehumanized itself as a culture and civilization and no longer be aware of it. of his
Northern Ireland: Peace in the province – still a pipe dream?
All eyes are currently – and understandably – on the bitter and still unfolding war in Ukraine.
The first anniversary of the conflict recently passed with, sadly, no sign that it will end any time soon.
But it is not just Ukraine that should be of concern to political leaders, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Many in the UK and Europe had hoped – and assumed – that violence in a country much closer to home had been consigned to the distant past.
But, sadly, it appears this may not be entirely the case in Northern Ireland where, just this week, the terror threat level has been raised to “severe” after recent New IRA attacks.
MI5, the British security service, has raised the threat level from “substantial” to “severe,” meaning an attack is regarded as highly likely.
The move follows a rise in dissident Republican activity, including a gun attack last month that left a police officer fighting for his life.
This comes with Joe Biden, the U.S President, due to make a long-awaited and landmark trip to Belfast next month to celebrate 25 years of peace.
On Wednesday (28 March) Members of the European Parliament also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, which was designed to bring 30 years of violent conflict in Northern Ireland to an end.
This act of statecraft, it appeared, paved the way for the transformation of Northern Ireland by laying a new foundation for a safer, more prosperous and inclusive future for all.
However, the 25th commemorations come just weeks after a police officer was shot and seriously wounded in Northern Ireland, in an attack blamed on the dissident Republican group known as the New IRA and the raised level follows “an increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland-related terrorism which has targeted police officers.
All parties hope that current tensions can be defused so that, truly, the dark days of what became known as The Troubles – a 30-year conflict which claimed the lives of over 3,000 people – will never be repeated.
But it is not just the current security situation in the province that has given cause for concern of late. The same might be said for the political landscape, with uncertainty about the so-called Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland protocol only just now starting to fade.
It has been almost 7 years since the UK referendum to exit the European Union but hopes are high that the agreement recently brokered between the EU and UK – known as the Windsor Agreement – can deliver the smooth flow of trade within the UK (and protects Northern Ireland’s place in the Union).
Socialist MEP Pedro Silva Pereira,the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, says, “While it has not always been an easy or pleasant path to get here, we are hopeful that the Windsor Framework lays the foundations for the building blocks of a new relationship with the UK.”
The so-called Windsor Framework is a new joint understanding that allows more flexible and more effective implementation of the trading arrangements for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, so that both the EU’s much-vaunted Single Market and the Good Friday Agreement can be fully safeguarded.
Jessika Roswall, Minister for EU Affairs of Sweden, says the Framework will benefit people and businesses in Northern Ireland and should allow the EU and the UK “to open a new chapter in our relations.”
Worryingly, the terror threat level in Northern Ireland may have suddenly been raised but the next few days will still see numerous high level commemorations of the Good Friday Agreement.
Also known as the Belfast Agreement, the GFA was signed on 10 April 1998 by the British and Irish governments, and confirmed by referendums in Ireland and Northern Ireland in May the same year. The agreement established devolved political power-sharing structures for the nationalist and unionist communities in Northern Ireland, and brought the 30-year period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland to an end.
In Wednesday’s commemorative ceremony, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola hailed the Good Friday agreement (GFA) as one “which has instilled harmony between people”, adding that there were few examples in history of a “peoples’ peace agreement”.
People’s lives in Ireland have been transformed thanks to the agreement, Metsola said, adding that throughout the years preceding 1998, the European Parliament had provided a platform for the dialogue that led to peace.
European Council President Charles Michel said the GFA is a “remarkable achievement” steered by visionary leaders who did not fear compromise. It echoes the Treaty of Rome in 1957, he believes, citing how the tragedy of World War II inspired Europeans to build a unifying spirit and to draw borders that do not divide. He added that the two historical events are couched in the same ideal – “making the most of the richness of diversity.”
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen believes that “25 years ago, the impossible came true” and the Belfast Agreement “opened a new era of cooperation and was a new beginning”.
Since then giant steps forward have been taken, she states.
MEPs, at their sitting in Brussels this week, celebrated the GFA as a historic development that remains essential to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. They reiterated that the Agreement was central to the EU’s negotiating of a post-Brexit relationship with the UK, as was the prevention of a hard border emerging on the island of Ireland. The EU, they said, should not just be a passive spectator to the GFA.
Beyond Brussels, the exact date for President Biden’s showpiece visit to Northern Ireland has not yet been announced – April 11 has been mooted – but it will top off a week of events to mark the GFA’s 25th anniversary.
Other architects of the deal including the former US senator George Mitchell, who chaired the talks between unionists and republicans that ultimately resulted in the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries laying down their arms, Tony Blair and the former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who shepherded the deal over the line, will also attend.
Despite the recent and disturbing increase in violence, all will be hoping that, together with UK Premier Rishi Sunak’s recent deal with the EU, the 25th anniversary will help further cement a settled and peaceful future for the province.
Why Europe Must Do More to Support Ukraine
As we speak, the Islamic Republic of Iran, who is only weeks away from obtaining a nuclear weapon, is supplying drones on a systematic basis to Russia, who is deploying these indiscriminate weapons against Ukrainian civilians. In recent days, 500 protesters gathered outside of the European Parliament in Brussels, where they voiced not only their indignation for the world’s silence in the face of Iran’s brutal suppression against its own people, but also their inaction as Iran essentially props up Putin’s war in the Ukraine. By Iran backing up Putin, the Islamic Republic has become a direct threat not only to the State of Israel but also to Ukraine and all of Europe.
As a former Israeli Communication Minister, I say that enough is enough. Over five million people have become internally displaced persons and many more people have fled the Ukraine with little more than the clothing on their back merely because Putin could not accept that the Ukrainians wanted to veer towards the West and away from them. They have savagely treated the Ukrainians merely for wanting to be part of the West, literally leveling entire buildings to the ground and transforming what used to be another European country into something reminiscent of Syria.
Human Rights Watch recently reported, “Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and the ensuing war had a disastrous impact on civilians, civilian property and energy infrastructure, and overshadowed all other human rights concerns in the country. Russian forces committed a litany of violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing and shelling of civilian areas that hit homes and healthcare and educational facilities.”
According to them, “In areas they occupied, Russian or Russian-affiliated forces committed apparent war crimes, including torture, summary executions, sexual violence, and enforced disappearances. Those who attempted to flee areas of fighting faced terrifying ordeals and numerous obstacles; in some cases, Russian forces forcibly transferred significant numbers of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine and subjected many to abusive security screenings.”
For all of these reasons, the sanctions against Russia must be much stronger than the presently are today. After all, it was recently reported that Russia’s diesel exports have reached a record high this month despite the EU sanctions in place. This is because these sanctions, although curtailing Russia’s energy exports, hardly put a halt to them, as China, India, the United Arab Emirates and many other countries still utilize Russian oil.
Recently, Bloomberg News published the top six companies who continue to purchase Russian oil despite the imposition of sanctions by the West. These include the Hong Kong based Noad Axis Ltd., which purchased 521,000 barrels of Russian oil till December; Dubai based Tejarinaft FZCO, which bought 244,000 barrels a day till December; QR trading, which purchased 199,000 barrels a day till December; Hong Kong based Concept Oil Services LTD., which purchased 152,000 barrels per day till December; Hong Kong based Belerix Energy LTD., which purchased 151,000 barrels per day till December; and Coral Energy DMCC, which purchased 121,000 barrels per day till December, although they stopped dealing with Russian oil from January 1.
According to the Times of Israel, Tahir Karaev and Azim Novruzov are standing behind Coral: “What’s really funny, if you can call it funny, is that Mathieu Philippe appears as UBO for some of the vessels they operate after he was kicked out of UML because he was Coral’s man.”
All of this makes a mockery of human rights and the desire for the Ukrainian people to obtain justice, after Russia essentially destroyed their lovely country. The time has come for the world to sanction Putin harder. The time has come to force China, India and other countries to stop trading in Russian oil. The time has come for Putin to face the wrath of the international community due to the crimes against humanity he has committed. The time has come for Putin to become truly persona non-grata in Europe.
If Paris sneezes, will Europe catch cold?
The Austrian Chancellor Metternich once said “Quand Paris s’enrhume, l’Europe prend froid” (“When Paris sneezes, Europe catches cold”). With the French President Emmanuel Macron all set to visit Beijing in early April, can France lead the rapprochement between the European Union and China?
“Une voix européenne”
Set to be accompanied by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the French President plans to “carry a European voice” on his state visit to China, the details of which were revealed by L’Élysée on Friday. On top of his list is the agenda to end the Ukraine War. Macron has called China’s engagement in resolving the Russia-Ukraine conflict that came in the form of a 12 point plan a “good thing“. Beijing’s position paper urges all parties to support Russia and Ukraine in negotiating a way out of the conflict while upholding the UN Charter and values such as respect for territorial sovereignty, abandoning Cold War mentality, non-interference in internal affairs among others.
The French President has further urged China not to militarily aid Moscow, an accusation made by the Western powers that Beijing has consistently denied. He plans to push China to use its influence over Russia so as to prevent the latter from using chemical or nuclear weapons. Macron noted that the War would only come to an end if “Russian aggression was halted, troops withdrawn, and the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine and its people was respected”. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has also expressed a similar willingness and is ready to visit China in April. Luxembourg too resonates the opinion of engaging closely with Beijing.
Both Chinese and Western media reports note that this “competition to book flights to China” among EU leaders stems from their realisation that they “cannot lose China” owing to the latter’s increasing international significance. While many have voiced support for engaging with Beijing, not all are on the same boat.
A House Divided
The European Council meeting earlier this week, which remained focussed on Germany’s tussle with EU leaders on its decision to end the use of traditional combustion engine cars, did discuss China albeit in an inconclusive manner. While France, Germany, Spain and Luxembourg have signalled their intentions to engage with Beijing; Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland have expressed concerns over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent high profile visit to Moscow which is being seen as “cementing of a dangerous alliance”. The concern is not just suspected military aid to Moscow but also the growing threat of a war between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan where Europe finds itself caught in the middle. Apprehensions too remain over increasing economic reliance on China.
While there has been no consensus on how the EU as a bloc must shape its China policy, Macron has clarified– although France values EU’s coordination, it follows an “independent foreign policy” thus highlighting that he would push to negotiate with China, with or without his regional allies.
Paris et Pékin
Beijing is not only France’s 7th largest customer and 2nd largest supplier (with a 9% market share in France) but also presents an opportunity for the French President who idealises Former leader General Charles de Gaulle to challenge what the French call hyperpuissance or unchallenged “hyperpower” of the United States. For Macron, relating himself to General de Gaulle is equivalent to “claiming to own a piece of the true cross”. Afterall, it was the General who defied Western allies to establish ambassadorial relations with Beijing in 1964, a period of simmering Cold War tensions that brought Paris seething criticism. Though Macron has no serious qualms with Washington, he does seek a voice that crafts his role as a major leader on the international stage.
On the domestic front, Monsieur le Président finds himself in trouble. The highly unpopular Pension Reform Bill that raises retirement age from 62 to 64 was passed without a Parliamentary vote, resulting in nationwide protests. Opponents suggest other measures such as increasing taxes for the rich and the corporates, a move refuted by Macron for the possibile harm it might bring to the financial system. Amidst a scenario where things have gotten as serious as nationwide halts in services and a no-confidence motion against the President, enhanced ties that bring more investments from China can help, an opportunity Macron will try hard to clinch. But the political environment certainly makes things difficult.
Worsening ties and a Confident China
The “Balloongate” controversy was yet to cool off when a new crisis in Sino-US relations erupted in the form of calls to ban the TikTok app over alleged illegal data collection which many in the US Congress suspect land in the Chinese Communist Party’s records. Parallely can be seen a change in Chinese attitudes towards Washington.
Amidst the recent session of the National People’s Congress, President Xi criticised “Washington-led attempts” to “contain, encircle and suppress” China which pose “serious challenges to Beijing’s development” (“以美国为首的西方国家对我实施了全方位的遏制、围堵、打压，给我国发展带来前所未有的严峻挑战。”), a rare moment when the Chinese leadership has clearly named the United States in its criticism.
A policy shift too seems to be on the cards. Xi’s new 24 Character Foreign Policy, which Dr. Hemant Adlakha believes, marks “China’s new foreign policy mantra in the ‘New Era’ ” acting as its “ideological map to attain national rejuvenation by 2049”, has replaced Deng Xiaoping’s 24 Character Strategy focussed on never seeking leadership and assuming a low profile. The characters “沉着冷静；保持定力；稳中求进；积极作为；团结一致；敢于斗争 ” which translate as “Be calm; Keep determined; Seek progress and stability; Be proactive and go for achievements; Unite under the Communist Party; Dare to fight” clearly demonstrate a more pronounced international role that China envisages for itself.
China’s confidence is further elevated by its success in brokering peace between staunch rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. With the handshake that brought the Sunni Arab Kingdom and the Shiite Persian theocracy together, Beijing has not only garnered accolades from nations across the region but has also succeeded in pulling American allies such as Riyadh to its side to some extent. Xi’s Moscow visit shows how he is determined to craft Beijing as an alternative negotiator to Washington, no matter how much criticism comes his way.
How much can France influence the EU?
As the political climate between US and China heatens, those trying to balance between the two would find the alley narrowing. But considering the stakes, Macron will try. The question however arises, how much of an influence could France exert on the EU?
Being the only Permanent seat holder of the United Nations Security Council post-Brexit, France certainly has a heavy weightage when it comes to policy making in the European Union. Macron too is a leader with a vision. His “grand plan” includes uniting the regional body as a strong political, economic and social bloc by shedding off the influence of the United States. However, there have being many tussles and Paris has found itself at loggerheads with many in the bloc including Turkey and Germany.
Macron has also raised eyebrows over his stance on Russia. After attempts to charm Putin failed, the French President assumed an ambiguous position which included criticising the war but not commiting to defend Ukraine. As expected, it did not fare well with the allies in Europe.
The air has finally cleared and a “defeat Russia but don’t crush it” stance has appeared. Monsieur le Président certainly wants to chart a pragmatic path that inflicts minimum harm and that’s what would be a priority when he lands in Beijing to talk about the war. Would he receive the support of EU allies? Seems difficult, given his past misjudgements and the regional organisation’s recent tussles with Beijing ranging from trade negotiations to the issue of human rights violation.
How successful Macron gets in making EU negotiate with China also depends on how successful Beijing gets in getting Moscow on board, which after all is more difficult than dealing with Tehran and Riyadh. While Russia seems agreeable to China’s plan of ending the war, Putin has bigger ambitions and far lower stakes in launching an all-out war with Washington and allies than Beijing does. The deepening “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for new era” between China and Russia remains unclear and so is how much dependence on Beijing would dictate any change in Putin’s plans. Even if China’s actions embolden Russia as claimed, Beijing knows it is in its favour to tone down Moscow’s belligerence considering the economic costs and military harm that Washington is capable of lashing. Macron too is unsure about how tightly he would like to embrace China. For now, better ties is what he eyes. The question arises – If Paris sneezes in favour of resetting ties with Beijing, would the rest of Europe catch the cold? Only time will tell.
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