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Revisiting the Issue of the EU Cultural Identity

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Recently we have seen in Ovi’s pages a timely and illuminating article by Professor Anis Bajrektarevic which reminded us that the geopolitical roots of Europe are extremely complex and not easily disentangled.

He pointed out in such an article that there is a Europe, the Balkans, or the Eastern part of Europe bordering on Russia which is often overlooked vis a vis the Atlantic West and the Mediterranean West in the center. This analysis, to my mind at least, exposes the weakness of defining the EU only in purely economic or geo-political terms. By implication, it also hinted at the fact that there may be another aspect to the European identity which may need to be rediscovered and appreciated, and it will be futile to search for it with the tools of political science, what are needed are the tools of cultural anthropology.

Not that there haven’t been academic studies galore on the subject. In fact, at a minimum five European identity models have been identified. They all have their methodological and theoretical assumptions. Here I’d like to list them briefly and then make a few comments on the first one, the one that I have been proposing in Ovi for the last eight years or so and which I believe is the most comprehensive as well as the most overlooked. The whole will function as a preamble to the issue of new paradigms for the idea of Europe and the relationship between liberty and democracy which we will explore in the next issue of the Ovi symposium.

The five models are as follows:

1. Historical-cultural identity — This model of European identity refers to a perceived common European past with cultural roots and common values. Politicians use this concept in order to signal a historically grown. Academics, such as politico-historians apply a primordialist approach.

2. Political-legal identity — In order to bypass the ethnic dimension in European identity, politicians favour a republican reading which is based upon citizenship, representation and participation. The academic debate looks at the issue from the perspective of democratic theory and legitimacy.

3. Social identity — The sociological variant of European identity focuses on the popular basis of politics. In the political arena this approach is often referred to as a ‘people’s Europe’ approach. The academic approach is based on communitarian and constructivist theories.

4. International identity — In terms of social collectiveness, this is probably the weakest interpretation of European identity. When politicians use it they mainly indicate the need for a more united image of the EU in world politics. In political science, this interpretation is typified by governance or regime approaches.

5. Post-identity commonness — this model strives to avoid the identity-trap. Political models are inexistent. Political philosophers discuss this question on the grounds of post-modernist and postnationalist theories.

It is worth mentioning here that there is no strictly chronological order in the above models, each new framework clearly responds to shortcomings in the previous one, except for the last one which declares the incompatibility of identity and integration and negates all the others. However, the first one remains the most comprehensive.

The historical-cultural model of European identity is based on the premise that there is a missing or forgotten historical consciousness of being European. It highlights a common past which needs to be remembered and even commemorated and celebrated for the successful continuation of the European integration process.

Historically the political use of historical European identity is usually linked to the Enlightenment as one of the truly European achievements, but, if truth be said, the roots go much deeper, all the way back to ancient Greek civilization and the Italian Renaissance which was a rebirth of Greco-Roman civilization synthesized, albeit imperfectly, to Christianity. This kind of identity harkens back to a commonly perceived pre-national or pre-modern past, when political and intellectual elites across Europe shared the same cultural, linguistic, philosophical and religious framework. It was called Humanism, and precedes both the Italian Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The process as a whole embodies the myth of a common origin, a continental unity with common traditions, values and achievements.

This search for ‘European-ness’ has indeed divided scholars into those who defend the existence of a historical European identity and those who deny it. The latter point to a lack of a transnational historical experience in the relatively early stage of European integration which itself needs to become a historical process before social bonds grow into a common social reality.

The political use of European identity is reflected in manifold speeches and dossiers on European integration. A typical example is Vaclav Havel’s speech “About European Identity” (1994). In Havel’s words: “The European Union is based on a large set of values, with roots in an antiquity and in Christianity, which over 2000 years evolved….” Thus it cannot be said that the European Union lacks its own spirit from which all the concrete principles on which it is founded grow. It appears, though, that this spirit is rather difficult to see in Europe. It has been quipped that it is easier to see outside of Europe.

Under Havel’s guidance a subsequent “Charter of European identity” was drafted, with passionate calls for the European Union to strengthen its federal structure and to establish strong education and cultural policies. The process of re-inventing the European tradition would be one of identity politics with a particular focus on Europeanized education in schools such as a European history book and a European curriculum.

During the European Convention, discussions on the historical model of European identity occupied a great deal of time and space, as it embodied the spiritual and cultural foundations of Europe many were searching for. It accounted for 28 percent of the contributions to European identity, these accounts of European integration discovered the roots of ‘European-ness’ in the humanist values of the liberal-democratic writings surrounding the French Revolution, which even found their way into the preamble of the “Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.” It stated that the universal values of inviolable and inalienable rights of every human person, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, are derived from the inspiration that the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe offers to all the citizens of the EU,

As I remember, since I was actively involved in it myself, one of the most controversial debates in the European Convention arose from the question of a specific religious European heritage, namely Christianity. For example, Elmar Brok, chair of the European People’s Party (EPP), supported a reference to Christianity and God, as did the then Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, who promoted the European Union as a “community that shares a Judeo-Christian heritage as its fundamental values….” He also stated that “We must make more explicit the roots of European identity, which we see as part of the value of the Christian religion.” As is well known, the majority of the Convention rejected the Christian reference in the final document. The secularists, excluding religion from the public agora and delegating religion to the mere private sphere had won the day. The rest is history!

 

P.S. This article has recently appeared in Ovi Magazine and is reprinted with permission of the editor and author.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Europe

Le Pen’s under-plot for the French President

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The President of the French National Rally political party, Marin Le Pen, is trying to take little stances on the new protests in her country. Some French politicians have accused her of interfering in the recent protests in favor of the French National Rally. Meanwhile, many analysts believe that, ultimately, the outcome of Macron’s removal from power will be the presence of far-right nationalists (led by Le Pen) at the Elysees Palace.

 In any case, Marin Le Pen and the French National Rally continue to make lots of propaganda in their country’s political and social atmosphere. It should be acknowledged that the recent protests in France have doubled their chance to win the public vote, and he has greatly encouraged Le Pen and her entourage to win the European parliamentary election which is to be held in June.

In 2014, the French National Rally was able to shine exceptionally well in the European parliamentary elections and overcome other French political parties. In the 2017 general election, Le Pen was able to reach the final round of the presidential competitions for the first time since the establishment of the French National Rally. However, at that time, Le Pen couldn’t act against the broad opposition of the Socialist and Conservative parties. But the equation seems to have changed now!

Polls conducted in France suggested a decline in the popularity of Emmanuel Macron as the country’s president. This is while only 18 months has passed since Macron’s presence at Elysee Palace. Under such circumstances, Le Pen and her companions will naturally try to change the French citizen’s mind to the benefit of the French National Rally.

 This is a very good time indeed, as many of the French citizens no longer trust Macron and his promises for making economic, social reforms in France. Le Pen and the senior members of the French National Rally, argue that the Socialist and Conservative Parties won’t be able to redefine themselves in the near future, given the crisis that has stuck the two traditional French parties.

 The removal of Socialist and Conservative candidates in the 2017 general election, was well indicating the political and social isolation of these two traditional parties in French society. As a result, French citizens should once again choose between Macron and Le Pen. Le Pen believes that indicating a new face in France political scene as an independent politician is not possible under the current situation, and that’s because the bitter experience of Macron’s presence at the Elysée Palace prevents the formation of such a phenomenon.

 Le Pen is now trying to remove Macron from power through holding an early elections; “It is necessary to implement proportional representation and dissolve the National Assembly in order to hold new proportional elections”.

 Simultaneously, she attempts to attract the attention of French citizens to herself as France’s next president.

“We believe that the way out of the crisis is essentially political. This decision excludes any use of violence that only adds chaos to adversity,” Le Pen said in a letter published on the party’s website.

Le Pen also emphasized that the political solution to the recent crisis depended on the French officials, while uttering that French President Emmanuel Macron “is deprived of sympathy for the people, constrained by arrogance and indifference of the elites.”

It is not clear, however, that Le Pen’s calculations would all come true. The French National Rally President opened a special account on Macron’s former supporters to change their minds, and as a result, their votes to her benefit! This is while some of these votes may turn into silent votes or white votes.

 Also, it’s quite possible that France political atmosphere in 2017, would once again repeat in 2022, or during the country’s possible early elections. In this case, to right-wing extremists of French National Rally are going to lose the elections again. Therefore, Le Pen is really cautious about her positions right now, though she believes that Macron’s incapability provided the ground for her political and social success in Paris.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Will there be another referendum over Brexit?

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Brexit continues to be an implicit term in the Britain’s political equations. Complicating the process of the British withdrawal from the European Union is a joint measure taken by the British government and European authorities.

At the same time, the British government, with its widespread negative propaganda against the Brexit, is seeking to re-arrange a referendum. In other words, the European authorities are trying to direct the public opinion about the Brexit.

Recently, some western news sources are speaking of an issue called “repeating the Brexit referendum”, and name it as a possible option! An option that had been previously denied by British authorities, including Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the country. According to the France news agency, regarding the increasing doubt about the British Prime Minister’s efforts to conclude an agreement with the United Europe, the possibility of holding a second referendum on Brexit has multiplied.

This source has also announced that there are major obstacles on the way of confirming this agreement between Theresa May and European leaders, which has, in turn, intensified this trend. The existence of legal complexities in this agreement made its implementation difficult for both sides.  Meanwhile, it is possible that the members of the parliament will vote in favor of Theresa May’s decision.

Although it seems that Theresa May is trying to convince legislators to give a positive vote to this agreement, not only members of the Labor Party, but also some members of the Conservative Party are opposing it. The MPs argue that the Brexit is basically contrary to the interests of the UK.

Meanwhile, supporters of the “People’s Vote” campaign, who are now very active in England, believe that the parliament’s negative vote will pave the way for a new referendum on the Brexit. This issue is no way contrary to the demands of Theresa May and the Conservative Party, but it’s secretly supported by them. The negative propaganda of the Theresa May’s government against the Brexit since 2016 is known to everyone. After the British citizens voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the two Labor and Conservative parties (as UK’s two traditional parties) tried their best to change the general vote on this issue. The active role played by people like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair can well indicate the dissatisfaction among British authorities over the Brexit.

Supporters of the People’s Vote campaign are currently trying to convince the public for holding a new referendum on Brexit. “The People’s Vote campaign seeks to ensure that the government’s Brexit deal is put before the country in a public vote so that we can decide if a decision that will affect our lives for generations makes the country better or worse off. Good deal or bad deal, it’s definitely a big deal – and that’s why it should be put to a People’s Vote”, that’s how the campaign’s supporters define their goal.

Proponents of this campaign believe that the parliament’s negative vote to May’s plan is the best opportunity to hold another referendum. On the other hand, Theresa May doesn’t intend to violate the people’s vote in the 2016 referendum explicitly, so she tries to appear to be opposed to a new referendum, but she set the game in a way that it will eventually lead to the UK’s remain as part of the European Union.

Labor Party officials led by Jeremy Corbin have also agreed to vote again on the Brexit, and have officially backed this issue. The fact that Britain’s two rival parties have come to an agreement on holding a new referendum has provided the ground for its ultimate realization.

First published in our partner MNA

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West return to 2007: Europe’s anger over incompetent politicians

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The anger and discontent of European citizens over European politicians is increasing day by day. While more than ten years have passed since the economic crisis in Europe, we are still witnessing austerity plans in this block.

France’s recent round of demonstrations isn’t limited to this country anymore, and we’re now witnessing demonstrations in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

Many European citizens spent the years between 2007 and 2012 with the hope that the austerity policies would affect the devastated economy of United Europe and the Eurozone. That’s why they tried to cooperate with their own governments (which were mainly the far-right and social-democratic administrations). However, after 2012, we witnessed the end of European citizens’ patience towards politicians like Merkel.

Part of this dissatisfaction revealed itself in cases such as the European Parliamentary Elections in 2014, where more than 100 right extremists managed to enter the European Parliament. Now, in 2018, we are witnessing the continuation of the economic crisis in Europe in the security, social and political spheres.

It’s not without a reason that the number of nationalist groups’ supporters has increased in the mentioned areas. The security crisis is strongly felt in today’s Europe. Common policies which were adopted by European authorities couldn’t improve the security crisis within the Schengen borders and other European borders.

During 2015 and 2016 (and somehow in 2017), the Immigration and security crises in Europe caused other issues such as the economic crisis to become marginalized. But now it’s shadowed over the whole of Europe. Under such circumstances, the main question of European citizens is that what was the impact of austerity policies adopted for ten years inside the EU borders?

They can clearly see that the adoption of such policies has had no effects on improving their economic conditions. The existing economic crisis continues to be felt in everyday life of European citizens. The rise of the signs of the financial crisis in Europe, and the decline in credit ratings, and the growth of unemployment in countries that continue to be affected by the financial crisis have created many social crises in Europe.

The protests that are taking place today in France and other European countries are not merely an objection to rising fuel prices or tax increases for low-income groups. It is a protest against the unstable economic structure of the European Union and the Eurozone.

Emmanuel Macron, the young French president, as an economist, promised to redefine the existing economic structure in the Eurozone, with regard to the current economic crisis. However, Macron himself has now become the symbol of crisis in Europe!

The economic crisis in European countries doesn’t limit to austerity policies! The external debt crisis in the European countries should also be added to the economic and credit crises in the West. The crisis is heavily extended in countries like Italy, causing a lot of trouble for other member states of the Eurozone. The economic cohesion of the Eurozone member states has fueled this trend.

In any case, it seems that the patience of European citizens has come to an end. As noted, according to the predictions, these crises were to be resolved before 2012, and economic growth symbols was to be replaced by austerity symbols. But at the moment, there is little indication of economic growth in European countries, and austerity policies remain strong.

Finally, it should be concluded that the European countries, especially the EU member states, have no choice but to “self-destruct” their economic foundations and replace them with new patterns. If European officials continue to insist on existing methods and economic models, they will be doomed to failure in the near future. In this case, nationalist groups and far-right extremists will dominate Europe’s political, economic, social and security equations, and this would definitely be a terrible nightmare for those like Merkel and Macron.

First published in our partner MNA

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