July 26, 2004

Europeans are Republicans (except for the ones that aren't)

Fernando Pereira has emailed a couple of clues to help clarify European political nomenclature for me.

The term "liberal" in continental Europe mostly means "market liberal," someone who is for reducing the role of the state in economic and social affairs. Like cutting welfare, reducing employment protections, facilitating transnational investment, ... In contrast to US "conservatives", Euro liberals tend to be social libertarians too. For example, the current ruling coalition in Portugal is a combination of market liberals and social conservatives. This may not be so different from the Republican party, come to think of it, except that the market liberals have more relative power in the coalition than the social conservatives.

The term "conservative" in continental Europe tends to be associated with socially conservative, petit burgeouis positions, including concerns with immigration and assimilation, preservation of state funding of religious education, and support for small businesses and farms. Because of this, Euro conservatives tend to support strongly certain aspects of state power (farm subsidies, mandatory religion in schools, law and order). Not so different from some factions of the Republican party.

OK, I get it -- politically speaking, all Europeans are like Republicans?

Fernando clarifies:

Not quite :) There are all of those pesky social-democrats and socialists (communists are out of fashion), not to mention a fair sprinkling of greens.

Well, I'm exaggerating my naiveté here, if only a little. But I'm still puzzled about the kerneuropa business. When Jan Leidecker wrote that "we completely disagree with the whole notion of a European core that conservatives want to create", did he mean Euro-conservative in the sense given by Fernando above? I should have thought that such conservatives would subscribe to narrower forms of nationalism, though perhaps I'm out of date. And is someone like Jan likely to be opposing the kerneuropa idea from the side of wanting less European integration, or more? Or both?

I'll find out soon enough what Jan Leidecker thinks, by reading his web site and by asking him about it via email. But I'd like to understand the landscape that he lives in.

[Update: Jan wrote with a very clear explanations, both of the history of the term and concept kerneuropa, and also of his own perspective on it, which I've quoted below with his permission. Key quote: "The 'discourse' on European Integration and European cultural identy has many different layers. It cannot easily be understood under a right/left scheme."

First, you've got to understand that the term "kerneuropa" has a history that goes beyond its use by Habermas. The term was invented by Wolfgang Schäuble and his political ally Karl Lamers in 1994. Schäuble at the time was a central figure of the German conservative (centre-right) Christian Democratic party. As you might know, for a decade or so, Europe was gripped by a debate about political and economic integration. Several treaties, most important the "Maastricht", "Amsterdam" and "Nice" treaty defined this process. The most important achievements were the euro, the european free market and a great number of other thinks. All of this was overshadowed by the persepective of integrating middle and eastern Europe into the EU. Even further away at the horizon, there is still the unsolved question of the Turkish wish to enter the European Union.

I am generalizing now: Schäuble and others proposed a new model of integration. "Kerneuropa", or the core of Europe, means nothing less than that a few nations should integrate faster than the others (Schäuble and others usually refer to the founding member of the European Community: Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg and Italy). He and those lobbying for this concept did not believe all countries could integrate politically at the same time at the same speed. Furthermore the core should have consisted out of the economically successful, rich countries only. Therefore this concept has also been called the "two speed Europe". I have always been convinced that this would lead to a disintegration of the European integration process, a process that I for too many reasons to explain here, strongly support. The concept died pretty soon, after it became clear that the majority of other countries did not want this two-speed Europe to happen. Nevertheless, the word and the idea survived.

The term has also a strong cultural dimension: The people that supported the "kerneuropa" idea believed that there are cultural barriers that could and should not be overcome between the countries at the "heart" of Europe and those at the fringes, especially "underdeveloped" Eastern Europe and the "islamic" Turkey. The German Christian Democrats are strong opponents of a turkish membership of the European Union, because they believe - and argue - that the EU should be a "christian" community, the "christliches Abendland".

Therefore, this has been a line of political conflict between the German left and right. Those who do believe a European Integration should be possible despite cultural differences and those that want to split the European countries into different camps, according to their cultural origin.

"Kerneuropa" had a strong revival after the European heads of state initially failed to agree on a European Constitution in Novemember 2003. That's when some friends and I secured the name and created our webblog. BTW, I am glad you liked the Latvia post :)

Habermas and Derridas manifesto came pretty much as a surprise to the European left and it was at the time in 2003 seen as an intellectual accident.and a political disappointment. It has to be read in the context of the time (February 2003) immediatly before the Iraq war. At that time 8 Eastern European heads of state hat pledged their support for the war in Iraq. Habermas and Derrida answered this with a call for a "European Identity" and for a political integration of those countries that opposed it. Though I myself opposed the war, I consider this as a pretty weak argument. At the time there was a lot of talk about how the "European Identity" might, or should be shaped by a seperation from the United States - remember the debate on the multi-polar world.

The "discourse" on European Integration and European cultural identy has many different layers. It cannot easily be understood under a right/left scheme. I hope I clarified some of the questions without raising too many others.

And no, we're not becoming a political weblog. This is all about lexicography :-). And maybe orthography -- have you noticed that Huntington and Habermas both start with "H"? ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 26, 2004 12:13 PM