K. A. Dilday: All Quiet on the Western Front?

By K.A. Dilday

As always, summer in Western Europe is a quiet time. People tend to take much of the European Union mandated four weeks (at minimum) of paid work leave during August. Official discussions about managing the crisis created by the Ireland’s early June rejection of the Lisbon Treaty have been put off until October, although last week Ireland’s European Affairs Minister, Dick Roche, hinted at the next step by saying that a second vote was necessary if Ireland wants to remain an integral member of the European Union. The implication being that Ireland must continue to vote until they come up with the right answer. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s economy falters, and the Poles are going home.

According to a report released this summer by Britain’s Institute for Public Policy Research, nearly half of the Eastern European migrants who moved to Britain when EU enlargement made it possible in 2004 and 2007, have returned home as the U.K. economy continues its regression. The United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics found that even though the population grew by 388,000 in 2007 (one of the smallest jumps in recent years), the proportion of growth attributable to immigration decreased.

The Poles and other Eastern Europeans have left the U.K., and if they’ve not gone home, they’ve gone elsewhere—to France, for example, which opened its employment ranks to the 12 newest members of the European Union in July, a year ahead of schedule. While economists likely applaud the economically driven pattern of trans-European migration, it seems it is just what social nationalists fear—migrants driven purely by financial motives rather than a desire to relocate and become part of a national community.

France, which assumed the presidency of the European Union in July, introduced a draft European pact on immigration and asylum this summer. It addressed the issues of national values and identity with these lines in the preamble:

“The European Council recognizes the interest of the integration contract for third-country nationals who are admitted for long-term residence on their territory and encourages member States to propose it at a national level. This integration contract must be compulsory. It will include the requirement of learning the national language, European national identities and values, such as respect for other people’s physical integrity, equality between men and women, tolerance, compulsory schooling and education for children.” [Emphasis mine]

As I wrote in the summer 2008 issue of World Policy Journal, even politicians have difficulty defining their country’s identity—of which “values” form the essential part—as independent from those of Europe. The European Union is expected to adopt France’s pact when it reconvenes in October.

Yet while Western Europe has been fairly quiescent on their long summer holidays, the Balkan region, which includes several states that are next in line to be considered for EU membership, has been roiling.

Serbians protested when their government handed over to The Hague the fugitive accused war criminal Radovan Karadzic in late July, yet the Serbian government, which is soon to be a candidate for the EU, could not afford to jeopardize its chances by angering Brussels. The desire to be European, it seems, is more important than pleasing Serbian nationalists.

It extends even to the sensitive issue of state sovereignty: Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February and has since been recognized as a country by 20 member states of the European Union (the exceptions are Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and unsurprisingly, Cyprus, Greece, and Spain—which have their own secession problems). Slovakia, which has taken the most hardline stance, stated this summer that it will not recognize travelers with the Kosovan passport.

Sovereignty and secession movements are sensitive for the European Union, yet Brussels is determined to continue to play a major role in the management of the former Yugoslavian countries. Despite resistance from the Serbians, on August 18, the EU quietly signed a memorandum to assume the administration of the mission in Kosovo from the United Nations. This region was, not so coincidentally, the site of the EU’s first military mission in 2003 when its troops patrolled the ethnic Albanian-populated regions of Macedonia that border Albania, Serbia, and Kosovo. Just as Serbia agreed in July to return the ambassadors it angrily pulled from EU countries that had recognized Kosovo, it is likely to retreat in its resistance to EU administration of the Kosovo mission, for fear of losing the opportunity to be European. (Notably, Serbia still refuses to return ambassadors to the United States and other non-European nations that have recognized Kosovo.)

Little wonder that Ireland, which was an early member of the European Union, has been threatened with exclusion or second-tier membership for daring to assert its national identity when it voted the EU’s Lisbon treaty at the beginning of the summer. Serbia, which isn’t yet a member, is in an even more tenuous position.

Nationals and politicians must ask which is more meaningful: national identities, most of which are less than two centuries old, (Serbia, as a nation has only existed in its present incarnation since 2006) or European identity? In Europe, will national identity soon give way to other forms of allegiance, such as ethnic or regional affiliations, while the EU assumes the functions that each state once provided?

Summer has been quiet in Europe but expect to see these issues return in full force come fall.

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K. A. Dilday is a journalist based in London. Her article, “Europe Reborn,” appeared in the summer 2008 issue of World Policy Journal.

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