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Commentary No. 207, April 15, 2007
The European Union (UE) has just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, dating it from the signing of the Treaties of Rome on March 25, 1957. Only one person who was at those signings, Maurice Faure of France, is still alive, and he sounded a bit dismayed at the state of Europe. The headline on this occasion in Le Monde spoke of "gloom" in Europe about Europe and the headline in the International Herald-Tribune spoke of "disquiet." The immediate cause of this less than festive fiftieth anniversary was the referendum rejections in 2005 by France and the Netherlands of the proposed new European constitution.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who is the current president of the EU, sought to put a positive face on things, convened the member states to Berlin for the anniversary, and inveigled all of them into adopting a somewhat ambiguous proposal for renewing negotiations on further political steps forward. The question now is what Europe could look like, may look like, in another fifty years - in 2057.
Amidst the doom and gloom of the media and the politicians, Harris Interactive announced the results of a public opinion poll about the Europe of 2057 that was taken in five West European nations (France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and Spain) and the United States. The poll offered some surprises. Almost everyone was sure that the EU would still be functioning in 2057, and that the euro would have become the standard currency. Only a third thought Europe's relations with the United States would have improved.
But the most startling results came when the respondents were questioned about expansion. A third to a half (depending on the country) thought that Russia would be part of the European Union (something almost no one is advocating at the moment), and even more expected Turkey to be a member (something that is very controversial today). Given all the loud political cackling these days about what a bad idea either would be, it seems that Europeans, in their role of predictors of the future, do not agree, or at least expect other outcomes.
What this contradiction in position-taking reveals is the difference between politics and geopolitics. Politics is fundamentally the immediate interaction of multiple actors in the political arena, reflecting their short-term concerns. In this perspective, Europe could be said to be in a shaky state. But geopolitics is about the middle-run trends that constrain the short-run actors, and which reflect longer-term interests. Very few people, and certainly very few politicians, have geopolitical understandings/preferences/opinions. The geopolitical trends carry most people along without their being too aware of it.
The group that met in Rome in March of 1957 were exceptional in that they did have a particular geopolitical vision, and thus far they have been largely vindicated by the reality of historical trends. Chancellor Merkel has been trying to persuade her fellow heads of government to look at Europe in a geopolitical framework, one that is closer to the expectations of the west Europeans as reflected in the poll results.
What kind of Europe are we likely to see in 2057? There are three major elements in any response to this question. First of all, given the precipitate geopolitical decline of the United States, we are living amidst the creation of a truly multipolar world-system. The question for Europe is whether it can compete - economically, politically, culturally - not with the United States but with East Asia. This depends in part on whether or not East Asia (China, Japan, and Korea) will come together in a meaningful way. But it also depends on whether Europe is able to create a more politically cohesive structure and, on top of that, will be one that includes both Russia and Turkey.
The second consideration is whether or not Europe is able to transform itself from a Christian continent to a multireligious continent. Pope Benedict XV has made as the number one priority of the Catholic Church the "rechristianization" of Europe. He attributes Europe's "dangerous individualism" to its historic "secularization." Europe, he says, is "sliding into apostasy" and "losing faith in its own future," and he defines this as a veritable "cultural collapse."
The geopolitical trends don't seem to reflect the Pope's desires. The percentage of Muslims grows daily, and the number of Christian churchgoers diminishes daily. So, is the Pope right - that this implies the "cultural collapse" of Europe? Or can Europe evolve a new, forceful culture that actually thrives on its demographic recomposition? The answer remains open.
And finally, will Europe be in 2057 an island of relative internal stability, or a zone of acute internal conflict? This is the social question - the degree to which Europe is able to counter the increased internal polarization caused by neoliberal pressures. Up to now, Europe has been relatively resistant to the cry to dismantle its welfare state policies. But the pressures are growing, not lessening. A neoliberal Europe is unlikely to be a tranquil Europe. In a world-system in structural crisis, can Europe play rather the role of a positive force for transformation? That question too remains open.
by Immanuel Wallerstein
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