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November/December 2005 Historically Speaking 27 History over the Water Derek Wilson£ £ "W "W That is Europe?" Every polit- ^/%/ ica^ or cultural event of t ? moment, every major anniversary rubs our noses in the basic enigma of our shared identity and our frequent squabbles . Last year, for example, we were remembering {ad nauseam, or so it seemed) the DDay landings, the beginning ofthe end ofNazi Germany's pretensions to dominate the continent (only, of course, it is not really a continent ; that is another part of the enigma). This year there is to be massive coverage in Britain of the Battle of Trafalgar, when, in 1805, we knocked the stuffing out of Bony and the revolutionary ostentation of the French. Such memorials might, on the face of it, seem to be proof that Europe is no more than a collection of "neighbors from hell," to use the title of a current TV series, forever fighting among themselves. Yet it wasWinston Churchill, the hero of World War II—and an avid historian, to boot—who spoke in 1946 of the need to create a "United States of Europe" and remove the "iron curtain" that had descended across the continent from Stetin to Trieste. Both these statements presupposed that "Europe" had a political, cultural, perhaps even spiritual identity that had been violated by our erstwhile Soviet allies just as certainly as it had been by what Churchill called the "Hitler gang." The issue that recently raised the old question again was the referendum on the new Constitution proposed for the European Union. It was roundly rejected. The reason is not difficult to see. It was all about "sovereignty ," one of those politically useful words that is difficult to define but which can be relied upon to stir emotion. It is a gift to tubthumping , right-wing nationalists who wrap themselves in the flag and make their appeal to patriotism. To gain a following they do not need to argue their case. Indeed, any attempt to do so would, inevitably, weaken their position . To work out what member states gain and lose from EU membership would require more patient, mind-numbing consideration than ordinary people are remotely disposed to devote to it, and as for the proposed new constitution , that is a big yawn. People's sense of belonging decreases in direct proportion to the increase ofthe size ofthe entity to which they belong. So, it is more productive by far for opponents of integration to rely on slogans— "Save the Pound," "Down with Brussels red tape," "Protect our Sovereignty." Britannia Attacked by Her Enemies," 1783. Britannia and the British lion being attacked from the left by a Dutchman, a Spaniard, and a Frenchman, and from the right by a Native woman representing America. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [reproduction number, LC-USZ62-45541]. Governments inevitably face an uphill struggle against this appeal to prejudice. Now, if it were true that the people of those countries did not think ofthemselves, in any way, as being Europeans, all this would make sense to foreign observers. They could believe that we who happen to share proximity on the western end of the Eurasian landmass are a group of distinct peoples with no sense of common identity. But if they tried to match up this assumption to the everyday life of ordinary Europeans they would quickly become aware of puzzling anomalies. Never have population movements been more fluid. This is not just a case of workers traveling to the more prosperous regions in search of employment. People relocate to other countries as though national boundaries no longer existed. There is, for example, a positive migration of Brits to the sunnier climes of France, Iberia, and Italy. Tens of thousands, undaunted by language difficulties, leave their native shores every year. "Retiring to a villa in Spain" has become a national aspiration and our appetite is whetted by an endless procession of television programs narrating the progress of families who have sold up and devoted all their resources to "doing up" a tumbledown Burgundian chateau, an Andalusian bodega, or a Tuscan granaio. In short, there is no shortage of people who "think European." In the Middle...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 27-28
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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