After Gothenburg

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Current European public antagonism towards US environmental carelessness, renewal of Cold War missile-building, and failure to pursue a meaningful consultative relationship contrasts with a rising sense of European Union solidarity vis-a-vis the United States.

Joe Lockard

Tuesday, June 19 2001, 8:20 AM


The protests at the EU summit in Gothenburg were just the beginning of this summer's political heat in Europe. Although the World Bank decided to cancel its meetings in Barcelona due to anticipated protests, in the next six weeks there will still be the European Economic Summit in Salzburg, the Climate Summit in Bonn, and the G8 Summit in Genoa.

Tens of thousands of protestors -- most peaceful, a few violent -- are spending their summer summit-hopping. A proliferating need for international meetings is one Achilles heel of globalization economics, and the Euro-left has coalesced around converting these summits into anti-capitalist festivals. The World Bank's retreat into electronic meeting rooms may be a coming trend to avoid mass police mobilizations.

George Bush walked onto the scene at Gothenburg still trying to figure out the basics of European political geography, of which he is little more cognizant than his hero Ronald Reagan was of Middle Eastern politics when Old Jellybeans used secret emissaries to send Ayatollah Khomeineh a cake and an inscribed Bible.

European leaders were so upset with Dubya over his withdrawal from the Kyoto climate accord that his advisors could not even leave him alone with them in the same room, as planned, but had to stay and help him repel attacks. This is the voice of the European mainstream. Should current US policies on global warming and armaments prevail, goes much European thinking these days, Europe and the rest of the world will become hot tropics packed with missiles, anti-missiles, and anti-anti-missiles. The Euro-left amplifies the same message on the streets.

Current European public antagonism towards US environmental carelessness, renewal of Cold War missile-building, and failure to pursue a meaningful consultative relationship contrasts with a rising sense of European Union solidarity vis-á-vis the United States. That mood long predated the current administration, but Bill Clinton's personal popularity in Europe kept it in a subdued note. The Toxic Texan, on the other hand, confirms an archetype of arrogant American provincialism. Contempt for George Bush is an everyday sentiment; when Europeans are being kind, they add pity for the majority of Americans that did not vote for Bush.

Political distances across the Atlantic are growing, despite Tony Blair's inadequate attempts to minimize and smile away blatant differences. British prime ministers have long functioned as go-betweens for Washington and Europe, but Blair cannot charm his way through this confrontation. Goran Persson, Sweden's prime minister, typifies the confrontational position when he argues that a unified Europe provides a political counterweight to US hegemony, and especially to the Bush administration's propensity to unilateral decision-making on issues that affect Europe profoundly. For its part, the US administration continues to deal with the European Union more as a trading bloc rather than as an ever-more solidified political union.

Despite objections from segments of both the European left and right, Euro-patriotism rules at leisure and ease. Europe is engaged in building a vast network of legal, economic and political relations, mainly through a new bureaucratic culture, that renders nation-states much less potent creatures. Whatever the internal Euro-conflicts or questions surrounding adoption of the euro, Europeans are in the midst of building creating a new political identity. The real questions lie in the borders of that European identity -- eastern Europe and Turkey -- rather than in its continued internal evolution. Answers to such questions will involve dealing with historic prejudices against easterners and Turks, with de-centering a western and Christian self-concept of European-ness, and with economic redistribution to poorer areas of Europe.

There is opposition. After Irish voters blocked ratification of the Treaty of Nice, which seeks to rationalize EU institutions in preparation for expanding EU membership, anti-ratification campaign leaders immediately presented a statement explaining that localization, responsiveness, governmental transparency and anti-militarism were the issues of concern. They did not object to European integration or EU membership expansion, and such a reading would misinterpret the Irish 'no' vote. Fundamental opposition to the European Monetary Union and adoption of the euro comes primarily from right-wing nationalists and parts of the Euro-left that view a common currency as a tool of free-market capitalism. Anti-EU sentiment remains strong in some regions, particularly Sweden with its concerns over social democracy and opposition to EU-style free-marketeering.

But political culture grows more and more distinctly pan-European year by year. Even the anti-EU opposition, in truth, professes just another vision of Europeanism. What that opposition does make clear, however, is that localization is equally important as EU expansion or consolidation of a new European political identity. New accomodations for mixed federalisms, regional autonomies, and neo-nationalisms will be equally needed. EU super-centralization is a recipe for failure.

Part of this new wave of European constitutional experimentation is taking place immediately across the street from my kitchen window in Edinburgh.

The new Scottish Parliament is in mid-construction, with cranes rising above the site. Although only half-finished, the new parliament buildings are already a major tourism site with an adjacent temporary pavilion. The central compound of parliamentary buildings has been compared to the forms of a cluster of overturned, beached fishing dories. It's a very impressive and very expensive architectural plan, one that simultaneously pursues localization, national identity and postmodernism.

Sitting in interim quarters a half-mile up the road, the Scottish Parliament, newly back in business some three centuries after disappearing under the 1707 Act of Union, has been debating the cost overruns on its future home while receiving South African president Thabo Mbeki on a state visit. It is devolution with a capital expenditures budget and state dinners, one that combines regional autonomy with a progressive globalism.

Yet the ultimate direction and control of localization is far from clear. The rising Holyrood parliamentary buildings have as neighbors both deteriorating council flats and posh new buildings for economic elites. So far the neo-liberal forces of New Labor control the parliament, and it is not clear that a coherent opposition exists in other than in a frightfully bourgeois local nationalism. Autonomy may one day end in Scottish independence, with as civil a divorce for England as occurred between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. But if localization is to mean democratization of power, then it involves much more than establishment of another new-old European nation-state. As Tom Nairn, early prophet of modern Scottish nationalism, points out, phoney identity claims and fake Celticism have nothing to do with creating basic social justice through self-rule.

Ironically, the United States may be making a significant contribution to resolving Europe's conflict over centralization and neo-regionalism, and shaping the continent's evolving constitutional arrangements. The US, where devolution of federal powers is a right-wing formula for perpetuating social injustices, is an anti-model. By contrast with Europe's boiling constitutional experiments, it is the United States, which after more than a century still can't figure out what to do with Puerto Rico, that appears like a unitary nation-state of the old Old World variety.

Besides, who wants to be like the Americans? Especially if that comes together with George Bush and chemical executions? Globalization, well, that's one thing. Americanization -- bah! -- that's quite another.

Joe Lockard is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.

Copyright © 2001 by Joe Lockard. All rights reserved.

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