Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Culture and the European Union

Will Culture Prevent the EU From Becoming a State?


When the European Union opened its membership to states such as Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States, Western European countries were worried that these states would not fit in with “Western values.” Being “Eastern” and living under Communist rule for nearly six decades, these states posed problems to the EU’s goals of democracy, free markets and pluralism, and created new security issues that the EU would have to address. Nonetheless, each state met the EU’s structural prerequisites and was accepted in 2004. While still not a single political entity, accession does illuminate Europe’s unification of sorts. On the other hand, the 20th century has been the bloodiest for Europeans, from two World Wars up until the Kosovo War, with problems brewing today in states like Albania, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova. But like the beginnings of the European Community states did not enter to find social harmony but rather joined for the financial and economic benefits integration would possess (Story and Walter 1997: 5). For this reason alone, the possibility of a single European state is not out of the question despite cultural, linguistic and identity differences. In this essay I argue that cultural constraints are minimized and sometimes irrelevant because political entities seek cooperation on number of pragmatic dimensions – economically, politically or for security. While Europe might never become a state for a handful or reasons, culture will not be one of them.

The State, the EU, Pragmatism and Culture

The state as a political unit already cuts across various dimensions of cultural, identity and language. By way of territorial boundaries, states can arbitrarily divide lands that might have more in common with one another than areas that are within the state already. For example, north Germans might feel more in common with their Austrian neighbors socially and politically than southern Germans in Bavaria. Italians have long believed there is a “real” Italy and a “legal” Italy. The “legal” Italy was the geographic boundaries that demarcate Italy, but the “real” Italy was as Italians saw it – northern Italy and southern Italy. This notion of overlapping national or cultural identity with statehood gave rise to the nation-state, a unit “by which almost all of Europe formed” (Tilly 1990: 181). For more than 50 years, states as dissimilar as France and Italy have cooperated at an international level, abiding by similar monetary and financial laws to accrue similar benefits. This is what Robert Keohane might have called “rational-egoist” logic – or joining an institution that mutually benefited both you and your neighbor and spurred cooperation among states (Keohane 1984: 51).

The accession of non-Western states into the EU proves somewhat that the rest of Europe is ready to accept cultures and languages that seem different from their own. On December 17th, the EU will decide if Turkey – a Turkish speaking predominantly Muslim country – will be under consideration for acceptance into the EU. Despite the most disparate of cultures Turkey has the potential for large economic growth and brings with it a potentially huge army the EU’s way.[1] In states like Estonia and Latvia, the treatment of Russian minorities posed initial problems in terms of citizenship and Russian-EU relations for their acceptance (Pettai 2003 18). But the economic benefits of expansion to the East, coupled with the prospects of being able to keep Moscow under a close eye, proved beneficial in the long run. Lastly, to the credit of the European Union, states have been willing to work with one another to not only improve economic relations but also protect human rights and ethnic minorities from all over the continent (Gelazis 2003: 46).

Some cause for concern with respect to a cultural and a unified European state might be found in the domestic political patterns and ideologies of each current state. First, the influence of far-right parties in Europe which have targeted immigration, racial preferences and refugees has been said to spur a new culture war in Europe (Betz 1998: 4). The Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) and its charismatic leader Jorg Haider used immigration as a platform from which to gain popularity and political clout. In fact, in 1994, the 19-29 age demographic was most supportive of the FPO (Riedlsperger 1998: 35). Germans and Britains were also worried about immigration problems as highlighted by ISSP’s attitudinal survey that found sixty-five to seventy percent of them wanting to decrease the amount of immigration (Dalton 2002: 106). However, at the same time, seventy to eighty percent of these same Europeans think the EU should take a strong stand against racism and they did believe that immigrants opened the society to new ideas. Their concerns over immigration were practical – Will increased immigration cost me my job? Moreover, although European far-right parties gained popularity in the 1980s, center and left parties still control legislatures in the “big three”: Britain, France and Germany (Dalton 2002: 127).

Secondly, the culturalist school of thought has emphasized how political culture influences systems of patronage, clientelism, tribalism and familism in different domestic politics. The conventional wisdom emphasized how the Latin and Mediterranean countries operated compared to the rest of Western Europe (Piattoni 2001: 1). Even if states dissolve, the political culture – how to get what, when and where – might remain. On the other hand, Simona Piattoni highlights that the different “interest representation” mechanisms in European politics have little to do with culture. Instead, clientelism and patronage are “strategies for the acquisition, maintenance and aggrandizement of political power” (Piattoni 2001: 2). Thus these mechanisms are pragmatic and not cultural at all.


The reasons are numerous for why Europe might never approximate a state, or a single political entity. In this essay, however, I argued that cultural constraints will not have an effect on such an occurrence. First, because states already cut across linguistic and cultural lines, there is no reason to think a single European state would be any less undermined than current states. Secondly, the enlargement of the EU and its willingness to accept states that have never constituted themselves to be “Western” proves that pragmatic economic and political decisions weigh-out over cultural ones. Thirdly, the growth of far-right parties might indicate that Europeans are scared of the “other,” but their concerns arise not from racial fears but from economic practical concerns of immigration and its effect on the economy. Lastly, the influence of domestic political structures might seem to harm the prospects of a single unified state. As Piattoni pointed out though, the structures are created not from the primordial ooze but out of a pragmatic possibility of power maximization.


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