23rd February 2017
I was reading an article the other day about faultlines across Europe. The most obvious from the papers is that of the nationalist, populist mood against the increasingly-derogatory term Europhile. This in-out, inclusive-exclusive divide reacts to the others.
In England, we want to “take back control” from Brussels but jealously resist devolving powers to Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast. Le Pen is confusingly spreading her France-first nationalism to their former colony in Lebanon.
France’s elections will prove a taper test for this split. Only a few weeks ago, Fillon and Le Pen were expected to make the presidential result decidedly anti-Europe. Now there is the increasing likelihood of a pro-European globalist taking on the FN leader head-to-head.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands promise to upset the balance with a large vote for a man convicted of hate crimes and a centrist party cornered in to threats to “conform or get out”; twisting doe normaal (don’t be a pain) out of context.
‘Us against them’ is (I suppose) a natural reaction and a survival instinct. My charming girlfriend’s less-welcoming grandmother still resents the southern Italian immigrants in her northern Italian town. The perspective varies.
Two main divisions in Europe continue to threaten it (beyond the petulance of the UK and elsewhere): North-South and East-West.
I upset a German friend terribly by telling her that when I had said “I want to go to Europe this summer”, I hadn’t meant Germany. She wasn’t impressed that Europe was shorthand for Mediterranean. But the Southern, Latinate Europe couldn’t be further from the Northern, Germanic and Scandanavian part.
But the East-West split could prove even harder to bridge. For the border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire still runs deep: to the East were the Ottomans and the Orthodox; they are the ex-Soviets, the newcomers. To the West is Europe proper, home to Catholics and Protestants.
Holding this rabble together was always a thankless, fragile achievement. Brexiting Britain won’t be the only hurdle to overcome. Many out there still dream of reducing those divisions to European-or-not. I still see a path back to this dream (perhaps with Macron in the Elysée). But I suppose by the time European integration is politically viable again, I will be on the outside looking in.