Thursday, September 20, 2012

Those squabbling Europeans (according to Bloomberg Businessweek)

When a news story starts like this:

Italy, unified in 1870, is newer than Nevada. Spain was split down the middle by a civil war as recently as the 1930s. And reunited Germany, dating back only to 1990, is younger than two of the Jonas Brothers. Just a reminder that, for all their claims to antiquity, many of the nations of Europe have been nations for only the briefest of times.
You have to really be curious to keep reading into the second paragraph.

Germany only 22 years old? And German nationalism too? Spain and Italy youngsters in the world? Say what?

I guess this makes sense, kind of. I mean, if you have never heard of the Holy Roman Empire or the Peace of Westphalia. Or of Ferdinand and Isabella and the settling/conquest of the Western Hemisphere. Or the Bishop of Rome (aka, the Pope) or the Habsburg Empire or of Henry IV and the walk to Canossa. In fact, in the last paragraph he writes, "It’s been three centuries since the War of the Spanish Succession, but today’s factionalism would seem familiar to Philip V." Doesn't that suggest that the story of Spain as a nation may go back farther than 1936?

Peter Coy wrote the article in question, One Europe, Many Tribes Bloomberg Businessweek 09/19/2012. A big reason why much of the news about the euro and the European Union sounds so inscrutable to many Americans is that so many news readers have been treated for so long to so many superficial stories about European squabbles that it's not surprising that there could be troubles, but more of a surprise that the EU and the euro ever existed at all.

In this case, Coy reports on several instances of regionalism within countries, some of them more significant (Catalonia in Spain) and some of them silly (some ex-editor in Germany says he would like Bavaria to become independent like in the 19th century) as a way of illustrating the political turmoils in Europe. The article includes a chart about regional debt within countries, which is a significant factor in the current problems. But on the whole, this article winds up confusing more than it explains. This, for instance, indicates at best a real misunderstanding of the "democratic deficit" issue in the EU:

The euro was from the start a project of cosmopolitan elites — politicians and business people who regarded themselves as Europeans first, secondly Spaniards or Germans, and only thirdly Galicians or Valencians, Rhinelanders or Hessians. The elites got out ahead of their own people, who were less "European" then and even less so today.
Yes, the euro currency arrangements were approved by (democratically elected) national parliaments and not by plebiscites. But entry into the EU required a majority vote of the people in the country joining, and the majorities in many cases were substantial.

The rest of this article is similarly muddled.

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