by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor
An “idea of Europe” – on George Steiner and Brexit
The result of the 2016 UK referendum (Brexit) undoubtedly posed a series of questions and triggered a set of concerns that, in a way, were already underlying European collective thinking – rectius, underlined and involved the dynamics of European integration.
Following the Brexit referendum, many considered (or even predicted) the progressive disintegration of the Union, a contagious effect on the rest of integrated Europe, especially in the face of the emergence of outbreaks of nationalist populism in countries such as Italy, Poland, Hungary, Malta, Spain, as well as the strengthening of these political currents in other Member States – with the already traditional Front National in France, besides Holland and Germany.
However, instead of these forecasts, during the entire negotiation period of the exit agreement, until January 31, 2020, the contagion effect occurred in the opposite direction to what these currents (which bet on the breakdown) supposed. There was a political reinforcement of the Member States’ common position to renew the will to maintain and deepen the integration process. In other words, a position with a single voice from all the remaining 27 Member States, so that, in that plan, Brexit represented – despite everything and until now – a factor of strengthening the union around the need, commonly felt, to maintain the “European dream” (expression by George Steiner, in a posthumous interview, published in the newspaper El País, on February 7, 2020). So, being naturally a disastrous mishap, Brexit can also be a positive event. There are thorns that oblige us, at times, to pay more attention – treating it with more care – to the beauty of the rose (because “there are no roses without thorns”!).
The political and institutional construction of the Union is, of course, complex. It is an architecture that serves a process (European integration) tending to be supranational, but incorporating (at least, not politically surpassing) the Member States. In short, it is an UPO (“Unidentified Political Object”), in the expression of Jacques Delors. One of the recurring criticisms of this process is that there is no sociological and cultural history and tradition common to all Member States. For many, there is no “idea of Europe” – or else that idea is nothing more than an artificial political and legal construction, without substratum, without the support of a shared daily experience and a common history, between different peoples and different geographies. In other words, a formal reality that is confined to the geographical space occupied by the Member States, to the area of the Union that, moreover, does not quite have a truly continental dimension.
Now, this fragmentation and diversity (at times, apparently antagonistic) between the States and the peoples that occupy Europe, is precisely the source that generates wealth and one of the essential characteristic elements of a possible European history and culture. In other words, it is the civilizational watermark and the least common denominator among all, from the ends of Northern Europe, to the peoples of the South in the Iberian Peninsula. They all incorporate aspects of the legacy of the history of various peoples and states into their daily lives – hence, the history common to all these peoples and states. Greek Antiquity, Roman Latinity, the maritime wanderings of the Vikings, the Portuguese and Spanish discoveries, absolutism and the Sun King, the Liberal Revolutions, the dramas of the World Wars in the 20th century – all this, regardless of the political construction of European integration , is the ballast and legacy common to all the peoples of Europe.
Essentially, Great Britain is still European, in this historical, sociological and civilizational sense. It is part of the European dynamic and is one of its compelling centers. In this sense, interestingly, the Eurosceptic theses – which accuse the Union of not being based on a real cultural and historical logic, existing beyond the formal and institutional frameworks of the European Union – end up, in this respect, losing meaning, insofar as even outside the Union, Britain is material, historical and civilizationally European.
Pictures credits: Europe together by Alexander Gerst.