Are you a European?

Evenemang för allmänheten - registrering fordras
Timothy Garton Ash (PDF, 32 Kb)

Mån 13.3.2006
House of Estates, Helsinki

Speech by Prof. Garton Ash

What does it mean when we say "I am a European?" It is self evident that it has meant very different things to different people at different times and in different places. What for example did it mean to Europa, a Phoenician princess - and one of the earliest illegal immigrants to Europe? What about Charlemagne himself? He is held to be the patron of Europeanism, celebrated in the Charlemagne Institute, the Charlemagne prize awarded in Aachen and the Charlemagne building in Brussels. There is a whole mythology of Europeanism built around Charlemagne, starting with the Chronicle of Pseudo Turpin - an 11th century forgery. Napoleon, when he met papal delegates in 1809, said, "Je suis Charlemagne, moi, oui, je suis Charlemagne". But in what sense was the real Charlemagne a European? What does it mean to say Charlemagne was a European? It's a question Jacques Le Goff asks in his book 'The Birth of Europe'. His answer is sceptical. While some contemporary documents describe Charlemagne as Head of Europe or Father of Europe, in truth Charlemagne was much more a great Frankish warrior. His imperial enterprise was more about trying to revive the old Roman empire than it was about looking forward to a new Europe.

What existed in the later Middle Ages as a conscious (though often disunited) community was Christendom. Only in a slow process from the 15th to the 17th century, described by John Hale in his great book 'The Civilisation of Europe in the Renaissance', did Christendom come to be redefined and increasingly called Europe; until Francis Bacon in 1623 could write "we Europeans" and assume that his readers would know what was meant. Even since then, the geographical, the cultural, and the political meanings have fluctuated widely - as has the salience of the question of what it is to be a European.

I would like to argue that the question of what it means to be a European is today vitally important, perhaps more important than at other periods in the history of the European Union, for at least three reasons: enlargement, immigration, and integration and its discontents. The enlargement debate is reaching the point for the first time where we really are asking 'where does Europe end?' The political and institutional debate is reaching the limits of what was customarily held to be the geographical, cultural or historical definition of Europe. To put it crudely: "Are Turks European?" Immigration poses the same question. There are a great many people living among us who would not, from the 15th to the 19th century, have been considered European, notably Muslim immigrants. Are they citizens of Europe or merely denizens? Is it possible to be a Muslim European? And, finally, integration and its discontents: because a great many people have become extremely sceptical about being a European in the sense of supporting further progress of European integration. Witness the French and other "no" votes on the constitutional treaty; witness the Eurobarometer polls which in answer to the question "Is EU membership good for your country?" come out with a European average of only about 50% saying "Yes". The optimistic view of this would be to say, to paraphrase Cavour after the unification of Italy: "Europe has been made; now we must make Europeans". There is a real sense that the progress which has been made institutionally, politically, and economically, is ahead of consciousness. The pessimistic view would be to say, "Unless we have more Europeans, Europe may be unmade".

So, what do we mean, in 2005, when we say "I'm a European"? It's interesting to go back to the dictionaries for initial definitions. In almost all dictionaries, definition 1a of the personal noun is "a native or inhabitant of Europe" - two rather different things. When you go down the native track, a native being someone who was born there, you come to such subsequent definitions as "1b. A person descended from natives of Europe", "1c. A white person" or, in another dictionary, "A person who is white, especially in a country with a large non-white population". This reminds us of the fact that in large areas of the world, notably India and Africa, the primary meaning of the term 'European', at least until recently, has been to describe post-colonial whites living there.

The other track is inhabitant of Europe. An inhabitant, according to the dictionaries, is a 'permanent resident'. What is a 'permanent resident'? Is a Turkish Gastarbeiter who has lived in Berlin for 40 years a permanent resident? He would probably think so. The Federal Republic of Germany until recently did not think so, and did not give him full citizenship. We have many millions of permanent residents of the EU who are not granted citizenship: they remain denizens rather than citizens. In most EU member states a second-generation immigrant would now be eligible quite rapidly for citizenship, but then a second-generation immigrant is in fact a native in the true meaning of the term: someone who is born in that place.

When they become citizens of Europe they do so exclusively through the national route. They become national citizens, and thereby European citizens. Article 110 of the draft constitutional treaty said, "Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union, Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship: it shall not replace it." This definition was really set in place in the Maastricht Treaty and reinforced in the Amsterdam Treaty. Two academic experts on the subject, Randall Hansen and Patrick Weil, comment in their book on the subject: "For migrants to Europe 1992 was the end of European citizenship not the beginning". That is not just a legal point. It seems to me that Europeanness, as a personal identity, should be the inclusive, liberal, civic identity, which should be the most accessible to people coming to live in our countries, rather as Americanness is the most accessible, civic, inclusive identity for people migrating to the US. Within a short space of years, people will come to identify themselves as Chinese-American, Vietnamese-American, African-American, Cambodian-American, Mexican-American. It does not happen in Europe. People do not say "I am an Algerian-European" or Moroccan-European or Pakistani-European or a Turkish-European. The hyphenated identities, such as they are, are national identities. First you become a Turkish-German or Moroccan-Spaniard or Algerian-French, and only through that do you become a European in terms of identity, as well as legal status. It seems to me a great pity that Europeanness does not function in that way.

The other point about this initial definition - 'inhabitant of Europe' - is that it begs the question that is now posed by enlargement, of where Europe ends. The geographical distinction between Europe and Asia is arbitrary, but it is very old. For almost 2300 years, the answer almost invariably given by nearly all geographers to the question where Europe ends was, on the Hellespont, at the Dardanelles, on the frontier to Turkey. Turkey was not part of Europe.

But the question "Are the Turks Europeans?" is also posed because Turkey is a mainly Muslim society. This brings me to another classic answer to our question: "to be European is to be Christian". The notion, the political usage of 'Europe', emerges as a successor to Christendom. In the index to the geographical encyclopaedia produced by Abraham Ortelius, the great Dutch geographer, in 1578, there is an entry that reads simply "For Christians, see Europeans". Europe defined itself in the struggle, first with the Arabs and then, above all, with the invading Turks. There is a wonderful letter from Pope Pius II to Sultan Mohamed II which starts by enumerating the powers of Europe, "Spain so steadfast, Gaul so warlike, Germany so populous, Britain so strong, Poland so daring, Hungary so active, Italy so rich, high-spirited and experienced in the art of war". Then he says in effect you cannot beat us, so why not join us? "It is a small thing, however, that can make you, Mohamed, one of the most powerful, one of the most important men of your time. You ask what it is. It is not difficult to find. It is to be found all over the world: a little water with which you may be baptised and convert to Christianity."

From the 1460s to the 1960s Western Christendom, meaning Catholic or Protestant, but not Orthodox, was very widely seen as part of a central self-definition of what it meant to be a European. It played a huge part in the formation of what is now the European Union, in both the Christian democrat and the Christian socialist form. Today, Europe is the most secular continent on earth according to the World Values Survey. In Berlin, for example, the order of practised religions is: first, Protestant, second, Muslim, and third, Catholic. Yet in the debate about Turkish membership we saw that even though the continent is largely secular, and God did not make it into the constitutional treaty, nonetheless the afterlife of that identification of Europe with Christendom is enormously strong. For many people who feel comfortable talking about a Christian European, or a Jewish European, or a secular European, a Muslim European still feels something like a contradiction in terms.

Another element of traditional self-definition has been to say that to be a European is to be civilised, i.e. more civilised than some other people. It is an inextricably value-loaded term. From its very beginning with the ancient Greeks, the notion pitted civilised Europe against barbaric Asia. Pliny wrote, "Europe is by far the finest of all the lands". For most of its history, European identity was defined against some 'Other' (in the dreaded jargon of identity studies), considered to be culturally or morally inferior. Normally that 'Other' was the East, one or other East. Initially it was Asia, meaning primarily ancient Persia, then Islam i.e. Arabs, then Islam i.e. Turks. Ortelius said, writing in 1570, "Europe might be less in quantity and circuit than other continents yet might it be accounted, and indeed of all ancient writers hath it ever been accounted, superior unto other parts of the world". That assumption of superiority lay behind - and underpinned - the European colonisation of much of the rest of the globe. 'Civilisation' was a term used to mean an active process of civilising and often taken to be interchangeable with the cognate notion of Europeanisation. Europe was assumed to be the seat of modernity, especially scientific and technological modernity. The East was described in the terms of what Edward Said has called 'Orientalism', including something that one might call 'intra-European Orientalism'. I mean the way in which, from the Enlightenment on, eastern parts of geographical Europe were considered to be in some sense Oriental: wild, exotic, slightly barbaric. Adenauer said, "Asia begins at the Elbe". Europe's internal Orientalism was reinforced in the period of the Cold War, when Europe's defining 'Other' was the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc (and the Soviet threat was a major negative external integrator, a major force for European integration). This is why Poles, Czechs and Hungarians desperately tried to get out from under the label of Eastern Europe. "No" they said, "we are central Europe, our programme is to return to Europe", and that slogan of "the return to Europe" expressed once again the value-laden notion of Europe. This wasn't a return to geographical Europe; it was a return to Europe understood as a community of values, of liberty, and of modernity.

So time and time again Europe's defining 'Other' was the East. At the same time, although not to the same degree, there was a notion of being European which condescended not towards the east, but towards the west. If there was a Wild East there was also the Wild West. There is a supplementary history of European self-identification, which is about defining ourselves against the United States. It's mainly a story of the 20th century. As early as 1904 we can read in a French school textbook, "America is becoming the material pole of the world, for how long will Europe remain its intellectual and moral pole?" So, they might have the money but we have the values and the ideas. This, by the way, at the height of the imperial era, the time of the colonial atrocities in the Belgian Congo and elsewhere.

Since the end of the Cold War, we no longer have the Soviet Union to define ourselves against. It seems to me that the temptation has become strong to look West rather than East, and to define being a European as not being an American. We are the Westerners who are not American. If you look at the manifesto produced by Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida during the Iraq war, it is in essence a long list of all the things that they claim distinguish us from the Americans. I've argued in my book 'Free World' that that distinction is empirically unsustainable. It has invited a countervailing American stereotype of Europeans as 'limp-wristed Euro-weenies', or 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys'. That anti-European stereotype was nicely summed up already in 1984, in an Economist title page 'How to recognise a European (through American Eyes)' - angry eye on Reagan, blind eye to Russia, snooty, bleeding heart, tight-fisted, tied to old ideas, limp wrist, no guts, hole in pocket, weak-kneed, cold feet. This stereotype has only strengthened in the last twenty years.

There is one other available 'Other', and a very important one. It is what I call a 'virtual Other' and it informs what one might call the self-critical version of being a European. Here we define ourselves against our own barbaric past, against the European history of two World Wars, the Holocaust and the Gulag. This Europeanism of the rejection of narrow nationalism, in the post-1945 spirit of 'never again', seems to me still a very powerful and persuasive presupposition of what it means to be a European. Let us remember what happened in Bosnia and then in Kosovo into the very last years of the last century. Yet this is a decreasingly effective part of what younger Europeans think it means to be a European. That is simply an empirical fact. Partly because of the poverty of the teaching of history in our British schools, partly just because of the march of time, the memory of war has faded, and this argument no longer has a great deal of traction with many young Europeans.

Finally, "a European", according to the dictionary, is "a person concerned with European matters or a person who is committed to the EU" or, according to the Collins dictionary, "a supporter of the common market or of political union of the countries of Europe, or part of it, especially Western Europe". In British parlance we often use the term 'a European' in that sense, meaning 'a pro-European' or 'a good European'. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that to be a good European you have to support ever closer union? Does it mean you support European integration or unification for its own sake? Does it mean you support the EU in its existing form? Or does it simply mean that you have some general idea that cooperation between European states and peoples is a good thing. Is David Cameron a European in this sense? Is Bill Cash? Is Jörg Haider? Is Jean-Marie Le Pen? I don't put them all in the same category, I hasten to add, but certainly all say that they are European. There are very few people in Europe who don't in some sense want to claim that they are as European as the next man. Perhaps this is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, but it certainly complicates the matter of definition.

Now what I have been trying to suggest in this whistle-stop tour through history, geography and semantics is that there is a very powerful and persistent set of default assumptions set deep in this discourse about what it means to be a European. They do not necessarily all come together in one and the same person, but they sometimes do. That person is several or all of the following: white, native-born, Christian or post-Christian, educated, civilised, at least in his or her own estimation (where being civilised is defined in terms of superiority to 'an Other', to the east or the west), usually west European (at least until recently), and a supporter of the European Union and some version of a European project going forward from it. Yet that list of attributes only fits a dwindling minority of people in the European Union and in geographical Europe. It feels an increasingly old-fashioned notion of what it is to be a European. It doesn't fit a growing number of people who are inhabitants of or indeed natives of today's European Union, let alone today's geographical Europe, and that is a problem.

My argument is that, faced with the three challenges that I mentioned at the outset - enlargement, immigration, integration and its discontents - we need to start quite fundamentally rethinking what it means to be a European at the beginning of the 21st century. "Europe has been made; now we must make Europeans". Except of course that many people would object to that statement: "Who is this 'we' you are talking about? We must remake, we must rethink." "This" they might say "is exactly what's wrong with so much of the European debate: that it's all about elites deciding, in condescending terms, what the rest of the people of Europe should do. Who on earth do we think we are, to tell people who they should think they are?" I have some sympathy with that objection, but only up to a point. It seems to me self-evident that the identities of all political communities are constructed. Historically speaking, that construction of identity has usually come with a fair dose of coercion as well. "England's on the anvil, hear the hammers ring" wrote Kipling of the formation of English national identity. In France, it was the process that Eugene Weber described in his book 'Peasants into Frenchman'. That is no longer an available option. But historically the process has also involved grammarians, linguists, poets, novelists, historians, and, not least, statesmen and stateswomen telling stories, proposing narratives that make sense but also that appeal to the imagination and the heart. So long as we are proposing and not imposing such narratives and constructed identities, I think it's an entirely legitimate and right thing for us to be doing.

So what is this new story that 'we', if we can consider ourselves to be part of a European elite, should be proposing? I am not going to come up with a complete new story in five minutes, but let me just suggest, in conclusion, a few conditions that such a proposal would have to fulfil. Firstly, I think it would have to accept that being European is always going to be a secondary or supplementary identity. Secondly, I think that it does need to be built on some notion of values, but it seems to me that the values debate is a very difficult one because in defining European values you have to work on a complex matrix. European values, as compared to what are claimed to be national values; European values, as compared and contrasted with American values or Canadian values or Australian values; traditional Christian or post-enlightenment values as compared with Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim values. That matrix is also a minefield. Thirdly, it seems to me that this new definition of what it means to be a European has to allow it to be possible to be something that Europeans of the time of Pius II would have thought quite impossible: a Muslim European. For Pius II, to say 'Muslim European' would have been like saying 'a man-woman', a contradiction in terms. In a continent where we have at least twenty million Muslims living already, and will have many more on account both of differential birth rates and necessary immigration, it has to be possible to find a definition of being a European, which does not exclude what, if Turkey becomes a member of the European Union, could be between 10 and 20 per cent of the population of the EU.

Tariq Ramadan, currently a Visiting Fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford, has written a book, entitled 'To be a European Muslim' - a very interesting attempt to try and understand what it means to be a Muslim in Europe. But the adjective and noun are in the other order there: 'European' is only the adjective. The challenge is to find a definition in which Muslim is the adjective and European is the noun.

Our redefinition of what it means to be a European also needs to have some traction with the young. We have to recognize that many of our traditional definitions of what it is to be a European do not have traction with the young, partly because Europe is not delivering jobs, partly because the European project seems old-fashioned, but also because many young people ask the question "Why only Europe?" The issues that appeal to them are those of development, fair trade, climate change, and what we need to explain to them is what Europe can actually do in the world. We have to do all of this in a way that does not claim what Europeans have claimed for centuries, superiority over some 'Other', whether it be the Soviet Union, or Islam, or the United States, or Asia. We cannot even any more plausibly claim to be the central locus of scientific or technological modernity, as the West was between about 1500 and 2000. This definition also has to be pluralist, inclusive, self-critical, non-fundamentalist, non-absolutist. If it is to get anywhere, it has to celebrate the extraordinary diversity of what Europe is today, rather as the London 2012 Olympics bid very successfully celebrated the diversity of London and made that almost the defining feature of its presentation for Britain. Can we do that for Europe? 'Unity in diversity' is a familiar cliché, which we have all heard many times. Whenever I hear that phrase, I always want to say "Well, I can see the diversity, but where is the unity? What do we all have in common, what are the common minima of being a European today?"

I will not attempt to answer this, but I will begin a short list of possible common minima. That all these incredibly diverse people from very diverse places and backgrounds, ethnicities and religions live peacefully in the same crowded place. That, like the states in Europe, so also the Europeans are determined to resolve their differences always by peaceful means, through negotiation and under the rule of law. That we have a basic commitment to some sort of inter-human solidarity and minimal social justice, and see a role for the state in providing it. That we believe in equal human rights for all citizens - men and women - and also for those who are at the moment just denizens. That we believe in individual freedoms, though these are being eroded as of late. These - we would say in the spirit of European patriotism - are commitments we have in common, but such values are not unique to us. They do not make us superior to other continents or communities, but they do add up to something worth preserving. This is only a beginning, but the list cannot, by definition, be written by one person. It has to be written by all of us, working together, to redefine what it means to be a European in the 21st century.