Europe appears to be in a unique position in this post-cold war, post 9/11 world, both with regard to its internal reconstruction and to its potential role in current world politics. At a time when the "post-national," "the end of the nation-state," have become buzzwords within academic and non-academic discourses of globalization, the European Union appears as the first supranational system fit for the 21st Century. The quest for an European identity however, seems to have fallen way behind the process of creating a common legal and economic system. While changes in national laws and the introduction of the Euro passed relatively smoothly, the rejection of a European constitution in a number of national plebiscites lead to renewed debates, a search for an existing “European consciousness” able to hold the Union together. All too often however, these debates devolve into an assessment of what, or rather who, is certainly not European. Migration in particular gains a central position here by functioning both as a threat uniting the beleaguered European nations and as a trope shifting the focus away from Europe’s unresolved identity crisis.
In this essay, I briefly analyze discourses on the continent’s future and past as they pertain to memory, identity, and migration. In order to do so, I will trace some of the complicated interactions resulting from the simultaneous construction of a European space, both materially and discursively, in the contemporary global landscape and of a normative European historical memory. My starting point is the notion of an emerging European “public space” and its role in creating a common continental identity. I focus on two recent incidents of what could be defined as the emergence of a “transnational” European public: the widespread protests against the Iraq war in the spring of 2003 and the “riots” in the French banlieus in the winter of 2005. Both events also place the European public within the discursive space of two dominant tropes of current global politics, “the war on terror” and “the clash of civilizations,” tied to renewed attempts to create transatlantic Western unity.
I will approach the events at the center of my analysis partly by way of their assessment by two of Europe’s foremost “public intellectuals,” Juergen Habermas and Jean Baudrillard. Habermas’ reflection on the meaning of the Western European resistance to the Iraq war and Baudrillard’s view of the uprising on the margins of French society can be seen as emblematic of two versions of post-war Europe – one in which the European Union stands for the successful construction of a civil society out of the ruins left behind by World War II, the other documenting the failure of this attempt. Ultimately however, I will argue, both interpretations are failing to place Europe’s post-war history in a global context as they remain caught up in an outdated, solipsistic perspective that continues to place racialized migrant and minority populations outside of the limits of “Europe.”