Talk given at the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona on 12th November 2007, as part of the «Thinking Europe» lecture series.
Eric Hobsbawm: Thinking about Europe is thinking about an open question and, therefore, it is something that needs discussion and, for this reason, it seems to me that it is a good thing that tonight we are meeting to think about Europe in conversation with my old colleague, friend and former student, Donald Sassoon.
There are three possible ways of looking at Europe. We can see it as a geographical area on the western edge of the great Eurasian continent. This is, so to speak, politically and historically relatively neutral, although it does indicate that, historically speaking, Russia has been part of Europe and must be considered as part of the geographic of Europe. Second, we can see it as a programme, usually consisting of a more or less exclusive club of states and territories, but always defined by exclusion, by those who are not in Europe, in the Europe so defined. At present, the formal expression of this particular programme is the European Union which, ever since 1957, has gone through a considerable process of expansion and transformation, and the future of which, of course, is one of the things in all our minds. Until recently, this club was supposed to be confined to the geographic of Europe but, since we are now negotiating the possible accession of Turkey to the European Union, this is no longer the case. So it would require a complete redefinition of what is Europe, just as the so-called North Atlantic Defence Treaty had to be redefined in order to enable it to operate not just in the North Atlantic but in Afghanistan, which is where it is active now.
The third way to see Europe is as an unending historical process, born in parts, but not all parts, of the geographic of Europe but which made these parts the dynamo of world historical transformation and which, for some centuries, made a group of European powers the rulers of the globe. It has recently been doubted whether the developments in Europe, the development of capitalism, the development of modern technology and so on, were quite such a revolutionary force transforming the globe. And, for instance, my colleague Chris Bayly's book on the origins of the modern world (The Birth of the Modern World) sees it much more as a collaborative process between old and new worlds and so on. While this is true, it seems to me that it is impossible to deny that for some centuries, historically speaking, everything that changed in the modern world came out of this particular part of the globe.
This period of European history is now over, has come to an end, but Europe as a process continues. Europe is not static but a concept of movement, of historic change. You may notice that I said «a group of European powers», the hegemons, the lords. I believe that the plurality of Europe is at the root of the emergence of its short-lived world domination and probably of the specific developments that helped the world to be changed through its action. I'm therefore sceptical of the project of a Europe as a single political entity, which is probably a passing reaction to the great wars of the 20th century. In fact, the only time Europe has aimed at being united in any form has basically been under military conquest. And the most recent military conquests, those of Napoleon and Adolf Hitler, lasted only a matter of a few years and are not historic forces. Unlike othermajor cultural regions, unlike China, India, Iran and theMiddle East, the territory of Europe never tended to generate a dominant empire. The Roman Empire, of course, was not European in the modern sense. It was based around the Mediterranean, the north and the south and, eventually, theMiddle Eastern thing. But, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the entire area remained politically divided and pluralist, and it is still so. Indeed, for about 1,200 years, after the end of theWest Roman Empire,much of what we think of as Europe was on the defensive against invaders, mainly fromvarious parts of Asia and, to a lesser extent, from the north. The Turkish defeat before Vienna in 1683, marks the end of this long era when, in a sense, what there was of Europe was what had not been conquered by people from Asia or from the Maghreb.
All three ways of looking at Europe are historically novel, even the geographical definition of Europe, which we all learnt, dates back to the 18th century. Remember that in school books it included the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. This was devised in the 18th century by a modernising Russia in order to insist on its European character and to distinguish it from its Asian hinterland.
Europe, in other words, became European when European technology became superior, in some respects, to Chinese technology and Chinese know-how, and when states fromour region began to conquer other parts of the world. Roughly, this occurred in the course of the 15th century, not before. As the Ottoman Empire was being driven back after 1683, Europe became potentially — and, in the course of the 19th century, it became actually — hegemonic, expansionist and capable of ruling other parts.
Now, the Europe that appeared for the first time as the recognisably modern Europe in the 18th century, and that largely coincides with the Europe of the maps, consisted of three things. First, it was a system of international politics based on the relations between a number of so-called great powers and a number of lesser states. It was an international system. In the 18th century, these great powers consisted of France, the Hapsburg monarchy, Britain and a new entrant into defining the borders of Europe, namely a modernising Russia. Second, it consisted of a small, elite community of the educated operating across state borders, very largely through a common language, a common second language, if you like, which in the 18th century was French. It had previously been Latin but it increasingly became, for the time being, French.
This — we might call it, the European village, just as today the similar community is the global village where people operate across frontiers — the European village, operated from Dublin in Ireland to Kazan in Russia, from St. Petersburg to Palermo: these small groups of educated people who wrote to each other, the «republic of letters», as it was called. A substantial part of these was united by their beliefs in reason and education, in progress and the possibility of improvement of the human condition — the entire human condition — by human action. In short, they were united by the values of the 18th-century Enlightenment, and these, inmy view, formed the most specific and lasting form of the European heritage.
A rapid word about an issue that has been raised in the course of discussions in Europe, namely whether Europe is basically Christian in its traditions: this is not the case. Since the division of the Christian churches in the 11th century, Christianity has not been coextensive with Europe, not even themain area of Europe and a diaspora outside. And, before this division, Christianity in Europe consisted very largely of a bit that did not happen to be conquered by people fromthe Middle East, or the Muslims, or the pagan northerners, and they were only Christianised shortly before this time. So the idea that somehow or other, historically, Europe has a basic Christian tradition is not historically valid, in my view.
The greatmass of Europeans, as well as the non-Europeans, were quite unaffected by these developments. On the other hand, they were to be gradually drawn in by the third aspect of Europe. This developed in the 18th, but especially in the 19th century. It was a largely urban model of general social amelioration, which rested on a dynamic commercial and industrial economy, on education, on culture and ideology and, not least, on the modern sector of institutions and the modern vocabulary and equipment of politics and collective political action. But, of course, all these, though of European origin, were, from the beginning, seen as exportable and globally applicable, though not all were.
Now, the point that I want to make is this: insofar as these things were globalised and democratised, they ceased to be exclusively, or even comprehensively, European. That is to say, they ceased to apply only to Europe or to all of Europe. That is obvious, but what I want to point out is that these tendencies created forces for both unification and division within Europe. The basic building blocks of European and, since the end of the colonial imperialism, of global politics, are the centrally governed and administered territorial states of citizens — what we got used to calling the «nation state».
Nation states became the major carriers of collective identities. At the moment, everywhere in Europe, they consist of formally democratic, representative governments, elected by universal citizen suffrage. Taken together with the efforts of the expanded European Union, this looks like a force for the growing homogenisation, even standardisation, even unification of Europe. But the trouble is that men do not identify with common institutional models or institutional rules. Even today, nobody will identify oneself, if asked for one's identity, nobody will say, «I am a European», except possibly against North Americans. They won't say they're Europeans if they happen to be in India because the difference between Europeans and Indians is clear, but just to make the distinction between being European and other, so to speak, white people, whichmeans Americans. In other respects, practically nobody will actually define themselves as European. They will define themselves as whatever they might be, but basically in national terms. It is possible that today, in the 21st century, an alternative identification informs of a newly revived fundamentalist type of religion which may take its place but, until recently, even these identifications have been very largely through identification with a particular nation state. Catholicism has been very strong in Poland and Ireland because it was Polish and Irish, not because it was universal. The same thing, I think, is true elsewhere but this may conceivably change. But not yet.
Now, however, while we have had these tendencies that look as though they make Europe more European, in fact, contrary to the historical trend from 1500 to 1914, Europe is in the process of Balkanisation. From 1500 until 1914, the tendency towards the rise of the territorial state tended to increase the size of these states and to eliminate smaller lordships and smaller groups and, in a sense, by 1913, there were no more than 20 states of any kind of size, 20 states in all, left in Europe because some things that count as states today once again, such as Andorra, were not in those days recognised as existing for any purposes except possibly philately, collecting stamps.
Now, whereas by 1913 Europe had been reduced, as it were, to a limited number of states, today there are at least 40 such states or groups aspiring to independent state existence and that is without counting the current separatist potential in some traditionally unified West European states such as theUnited Kingdom, Spain, Belgiumand Italy. All these claim a separate and specific ethnic, linguistic, confessional or historic-cultural collective identity, but increasingly an identity which is hostile to their neighbours, or which is not on good terms with their neighbours, as it were, which distinguishes them as being not like our neighbours. And this is a comparatively new development since, in some sense, the division of the territorial state with its mass basis of identity in a national ideology is a divisive element in the modern world.
So the trend of historic development has therefore been against the formation of a specific European identity, and yet globalisation and 50 years of European unions are beginning to create a sense among Europeans, if not of common identity then of greater difference from the inhabitants of other regions. For instance, since the triumph of neoliberal ideology among governments, it has become clear that Europe still tries to stick to a particular version or set of versions of social or welfare capitalism, which is not so effectively defended in other parts of the world, whether it's Catholic, socialdemocratic or has other foundations. I think Donald Sassoon will talk a bit more about that.
I don't claim that this amounts to a sense of primary identity as Europeans. It doesn't. But it has helped to create a sense of superiority to the masses from the poorer countries who are attracted by what we now realise as being our exceptional wealth and high standards of living. And so Europe has becomemore xenophobic than before, even, I would say,more colourconscious. It may also help to create a sense of difference in institutions and ways of living from the rival regions of the rich, mainly the USA, because, essentially, the other rival regions of the rich such as Canada and Australasia do not play such a global role in people's minds. And this sense of a difference in institutions and ways of living has been intensified in the past few years, for political and other reasons, in the days of the second Bush. It's too early to predict what effect the rise of Asia as the new economic centre of the world will have on European experience.
In short, Europe today is both more unified and more divided than before especially since, for ideological reasons, it chose to expand — after the fall of the Soviet Union — wholesale into Eastern Europe, into countries for which the traditional bases of historic unity on which Europe was founded were not present. However, in spite of all this, Europe has certainly failed to acquire the all-European identity, which was part of the original project and which still, so to speak, lives a ghostly existence in attempts from Brussels to have institutions and celebrations of European culture, and to turn the song in the Ninth Symphony into a European song. There isn't an all-European culture. There are either local cultures or national cultures, or by now globalised cultures. At this stage I will pass over to Donald Sassoon for his observations.
Donald Sassoon: I don't disagree fundamentally with Eric Hobsbawmon the contradictions which have pervaded today the European project, but I think I want to give it a slightly less pessimistic twist. After all, the degree of convergence among European countries over the last 50 years has been absolutely astonishing.What was Europe like 30 years ago? It was divided between Eastern Europe, which was under a form of left-wing authoritarian regimes, Southern Europe — this country, Portugal and to some extentGreece, which was under a right-wing dictatorship — and even democratic Europe was quite deeply differentiated between southern countries (northernMediterranean or southern European countries like Italy and France) and the Scandinavian social democracies, and with intense differences between rival political parties, largely communist in France and in Italy, or socialist with a radical image, at least, in other parts, and then social democratic ones, more moderate and committed to welfareism, in northern Europe. Since then, there has been a remarkable convergence. Nearly everybody is a subscriber to the doctrine of liberal capitalism. Nearly everybody, at least in words, subscribes to the view that some form of social capitalism is the only way of developing the economies in Europe. In other words, given a long-term historical perspective, Europe may be not united but it's more united now, and has been more united over the last 20 or 30 years than it has been in a very, very long time and, in my view, since time immemorial.
Now, what role has the European Union or the process of economic integration played?Well, it hasn't played a primary role. It's quite clear that communism did not fold because of the bureaucrats in Brussels. It's quite clear that the transformations that have taken place in Europe have been so complex, so important, so world-shaking that we cannot attribute that to a process of integration which, in spite of the utopia of a common European identity, started actually from much more pragmatic reasons. I mean, it was about having a common policy over steel and coal and, since people do not get excited about a common policy over steel and coal, one had to add, «And we are also building Europe though, in themeantime, we are going to reduce customs barriers over two key commodities.» That's the origin of the six that formed the European Union. The six are now very, very many.
Nearly the whole construction of this Europe has been on the basis of removing barriers. In removing barriers, one has, of course, allowed for a number of inequalities to reproduce themselves. And also, in removing barriers, one has allowed nation states to keep control of the most important levers of economic policy in each of the countries and, above all, taxation. Taxation and, of course, social policy. Taxing and spending, which is what governments are all about, are still overwhelmingly in the hands of the nation state. And therefore the allegiance of people to the nation state is not only due to all sorts of things they have in common, including a centralised bureaucratic system and, in many cases, a centralised school system, but it's also due to the fact that they pay taxes to a group of people and this group of people has got to decide how to spend ourmoney and to what extent this spending affects the welfare of the population.
Now, in terms of the various projects of trying to give an identity to Europe, I think the most remarkable over the last few years has been the Constitution.Not for what it says.Once, Napoleon Bonaparte said that constitutions should be short and obscure. And one can see the intelligence behind this advice. The European Constitution was certainly obscure. I'm not going to ask how many people here have read it, but it was obscure and long. Nevertheless, it had a very important element: its name. It called itself a «Constitution» precisely because the Treaty — in fact it was a treaty — more or less did a cleaning job of all themyriad of treaties that existed before. That was all that the Constitution was. But to call it a Constitution was really an attempt to give a signal, and this signal failed. People used the Constitution to protest against it. To protest against what? Here everybody had their own interpretation but, generically speaking, there were people who did not want a European Constitution because, in reality, they did not want too many Polish plumbers, or they did not want to have too many Turkish workers. In other words, there was a section of the anti-Europe vote which was a xenophobic vote. And there was also an important section of the anti-Europe vote which was afraid because the Constitution — the treaty — did not contain enough guarantees to preserve what was special, in their view, about Europe, namely the welfare state. Namely social Europe.
And so we were in a situation where you have a very important contradiction. It's not the only one, but I think it's a very important contradiction, between popular aspirations and what governments have been doing. The popular aspirations have been, in general, a strong defence, a strong view that Europe should be a social Europe. Capitalist, yes. Amarket economy, yes. But with limits, with controls, with rules. Not the neoliberal dream. Something people already know about Europe, either because it is a recent conquest, or because it is an old established thing, as it is in the Scandinavian countries. But the chief narrative, themain story, which is pervading not just Europe but the world now, is quite a different narrative. It says that the main obstacle to economic growth, the main obstacle to prosperity, the main obstacle to the further development of our economies is precisely the lack of flexibility which European institutions have allegedly inflicted on the market. So the paradox is, in order to be better off, we have to be worse off. In order to be better off, we have to decrease the level of protection. This is the story, but it's not the one that people accept. In other words, we have a discrepancy between what everybody seems to be saying and, by everybody, I mean the people who write in The Economist and The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, and the people who form theWashington consensus, the story of the IMF and the World Bank and so on, that somehow the problem is flexibility and not enough of it in the case of Europe. At the local level and throughout Europe, the thing that seems to unite Europeans is not European identity but it is certainly the acceptance of social capitalism.
Now, if one were to create a European identity, we only have one rulebook.We only have one precedent. It is the creation of nation states.Nation states were created by destroying local and regional loyalties and by telling people who actually did not feel Spanish, did not feel Italian, did not feel French, did not feel English because they were Scottish and Welsh, telling all these people, «Actually you belong to one nation», and this was done from on high. It was done using the apparatus of the state, by having a central education system, by having a central currency, by having an army which recruited you, by having nice wars to fight against others. All that created the feeling of the nation state. And what would be the lessons of the creation of the nation state for Europeans?
Well, I'm not advocating that Europe should fight a war of Europe against someone else so that we can feel all together as Europeans. This would be a bit drastic, but also I don't think one should advocate it because actually we can't fight it. In the words of a Belgianminister — but it's been rehashed before — «Europe is an economic giant but a political dwarf», (which is what used to be said about Japan) but he also added, «And it is a worm when it comes to military capabilities.» There is, in fact, not only no European army but there is very little which one could imagine could be an ability or a possibility of intervening in the world. There are, after all, only two serious armed forces, the French and the British, which are also the two European nuclear powers, somilitarily is not the way that one can imagine the construction of European unity.
What about in terms of foreign policy? After all, one does not need to have an army to pursue a foreign policy. Lots of countries have been able to pursue an imaginative and intelligent foreign policy without having a certain military backing. Well, I've been trying to find instances of a common European policy — and here I agree quite a lot with Eric that it would have to be in antagonism with, or at least different fromthat of theUnited States. There are virtually no instances in which such an event has taken place. The one time when the European Union has shown a common intervention recently was over Yugoslavia, but that was actually with the United States, with NATO, over the intervention in Kosovo. That was indeed an American initiative. It was taken by the one institution — not with the United Nations — but the one institution which links together the United States and the Europeans. In matters such as the Middle East, notably the Israel-Palestine issue, there is a common European position but it is badly articulated and it is frankly quite ineffectual. The relative equidistance, the balancing act that Europe seemed at one stage to have taken between the position of the Palestinians and the position of the Israelis — the Israelis who enjoy almost, well, unconditional support from the United States — in fact has not been real equidistance. When the Palestinians elected the wrong party, namely Hamas, then Europe joined the United States in condemnation ofHamas.
We could come to the Iraq war because the Iraq war was at one stage cited as an example of the distinction between Europeans and Americans. In fact, just before the war had started, Robert Kagan, the American «theorist» of international relations suggested a new mission civilisatrice — and he used the French words — for Europeans, in which he contrasted the American aggressive attitude with the general European indirect approach: kinder, more flexible, more feminine, Venus against the American Mars, towards so-called rogue states. And this was an extension of his well-known thesis that Europeans are from Venus and Americans are from Mars, which is a sound-bite transformed into a book. But, nevertheless, it does contain a grain, an element of truth.
But over Iraq, what did Europe do? Again, we are faced with the same contradiction that we have over social Europe. The opinion polls done before the war and after the war show a systematic majority in every single country of people opposing the invasion of Iraq. Quite staggering. Not just in «old Europe», the one Rumsfeld doesn't like, but also «new Europe», meaning Eastern Europe, the one Rumsfeld used to dislike but then came to love, the countries that include from Albania to Bosnia, from the Ukraine to Poland and so on, including, of course, this country whose government was initially in favour of the invasion of Iraq, and Britain and Italy and many others. Well, 72% to 74% of those in Eastern Europe were against the invasion, and 80% to 90% in some instances. I think in Spain, in fact, 95%were against the invasion. So one had a complete imbalance between what politicians felt they had to do in terms of accepting or not accepting the fact of the American intervention and what the people wanted. But, at the same time, this moment of European unity, at least at the popular level, once the invasion was — I can't say successfully — finished, or as soon as the Americans triumphantly entered the streets of Baghdad, and even though the occupation has turned out to be a complete disaster, in spite of that, themovement, the peacemovement, which was so large just before the invasion, has disappeared. There are actually very, very few protests in Europe against the occupation of the United States in Iraq. There is sufficient distance in that fewer and fewer countries want to keep their forces there so, in a way, they approved the intervention but most of the troops have now been withdrawn and, actually, the last ones who are still committed to be there, until the bitter end, apart from the Americans, are the Australians and the British. In other words it has become an Anglo-American or, if you are French, an Anglo-Saxon, degree of unity there.
So after all that, there is not an awful lot left. Social Europe is in danger. Foreign-policy Europe doesn't really exist, except forminor things.Wementioned culture, a common European culture. Well, I've written a book about the common European culture (The Culture of the Europeans, 2006) but, alas, most of the book is about how little in common Europeans have culturally except for one thing. The one thing Europeans have in common, when it comes to popular culture particularly, is American culture. When Europeans meet, they can talk about the programmes they share and nearly all of these are American programmes. And some of themare very good. I'm not a facile anti-American. Some of them are a lot better than some absolute rubbish programmes each of our countries produce. So it's not about quality, it's about the origin of these things.
I enjoyed myself examining something I don't normally do, which is looking at the songs which make it to the top in a number of European countries and I found the nearest proper figures for 2005. In Finland the top of the pops was «Taivas Lyö Tulta», by a group called TerÃ¤sbetoni. In Hungary, of course, it was something completely different. It was «Elment az én rózsám» by a group called Balkan Fanatik, and in Italy the big success was «I bambini fanno ooh» by a group called Povia, and in France it was a song called «Unmonde parfait». But if you looked at the top ten in each country, they were not all French in France, Hungarian in Hungary, or Finnish in Finland. There were also other songs. But the songs which were on the list were always Anglo-American songs. I add «Anglo» but, actually, 90%were American, with the odd British success, and then the others were all national.
In other words, even popular culture, if it is transnational, is largely American, and if it is not transnational, it is national. The Swedes do not share with the Finns, next door, even the same pop songs. It's not just amatter of the same language, but even the same pop songs. And, when they meet, they will speak English, as indeed when a young Chinese studentmeets a young Japanese student, what they will speak is English. So a lot of the culture not only is divisive, but when it unites it does not come fromEurope. I repeat this because I don't want to be taken as someone who laments American pop music or American programmes. There is a perfectly good reason why people like it. It's better. And one of the reasons why it's better, I think, is because the American market for culture is actually a non-national market. It is a market made out of immigrants and American culture is itself a hybrid of various bits of European culture, including some fromAfrica, forcibly deported but still there. Therefore, if you win in the United States, or you make it to the top in the United States, it is because you have been able to convince people who came from Italy, people who came from Poland, people who came from Ireland and create a product which is the nearest to a transnational and, in a way, European culture. And, once you've got that, it's easier to resell it to the Europeans themselves because it has been tested in a very special market. The one thing that stays, of course, is a view about high culture and we are there defending Bach and Beethoven.
Eric Hobsbawm: I think that, in one respect, I amslightlymore optimistic than Donald. I think that there are some institutions in Europe which actually have developed and will probably remain in action. Europe never became a state. It hasn't got an executive. It hasn't got a legislative, because nobody takes the European Parliament seriously, not even the lobbyists. They don't go to Strasbourg. They go to Brussels. But it does have a Supreme Court. It is, as it were, theUnited States Supreme…a judiciary for Europe exists and, for reasons that I cannot quite understand but which were developed in the 1970s, it was accepted as superior to local law in some important respects, except for the British who wish to contract out of it.What thismeans is, in effect, with these exceptions, that Europe developed in the way in which De Gaulle predicted as l'Europe des patries. One drawback about l'Europe des patries is that there are only some patries — I mean some patries are more equal than others. In fact, half the European population lives in about five states and the rest is, exactly, becoming Balkanised. Imean, the average is between 600,000 or less in some of the islands to, let's say, five million. So there is an increasing tension. As the size of the number of countries in Europe increases, there will be an increasing tension, as it were, between the major countries, of which of course Germany is by far the largest, with 82 million, followed by France and Britain, followed by Italy, much the same thing, with Spain and Poland coming up. The rest are likely to have the function, or to create the complications that we got used to in the days of the League of Nations between the wars with the small Central American states. There are complications of the problems rather than solutions. And the more Europe gets Balkanised, the more we shall have this particular problem, particularly as the smaller new units are primarily dominated by exclusion. The Estonians, the Latvians, the Lithuanians, for understandable reasons, are primarily defined by being against Russia. The Scots, if they ever get their independence, will be primarily defined by being not- English, or against the English, and so on. As for the various Balkan states, there are more Balkan states today than there ever were in the days when people talked about Balkanisation. It's not clear at all.
The trouble, it seems to me, about the progress of the European Union has been in a sense a trouble which still exists, namely the insertion of democracy in the process. People talked about Europe being constructed and having a «democratic deficit». Europe does not have a democratic deficit. It was constructed fromthe top and it was constructed, effectively, while people did not take it seriously. They thought it was about trade, about free trade, about tariffs and stuff like that. As soon as it became a matter of national politics, of political interest to the mass of electors in each country, the difficulty about going on developing Europe began. And this happened in the 1970s. I think this continues to bedevil, to handicap the further development of Europe. The present Treaty, which once used to be called the Constitution, is essentially being sold to the European states, as far as possible without consulting the European citizens because, when it was last put forward, the French and the Dutch voted against it and a number of other countries would also have voted against it. And so, at present, I think with the exception of the Irish, none of the countries concerned actually plans to have a vote on the new European Treaty. Now, this may ormay not be a good thing but, Imean, this is a fact that, to some extent, complicates the job of developing such European institutions as exist.
Why, then, did we find that, in some countries, there was a genuine enthusiasm for Europe, for the European Union, the Economic Community and so on? Which there was, I think, for local reasons. In Eastern Europe, it was perfectly clear. It was a way of being anti-Soviet, a way of, as it were, getting away from the Soviets, particularly in countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia. So you were for Europe. You didn't really know what you were letting yourselves in for, but you were for it because it wasn't Russia. In other countries, and I think Spain is one — and this is in the Franco period — there was a genuine enthusiasm for Europe because it stood for a kind of modernisation that was different from the one that was being undertaken byOpus Dei and other people but, nevertheless, if you want to be a modern country, it would be good to be in with the othermodern countries. As Spain was, at that time, undergoing a rapid and very important process of industrialisation and change, this was understandable. There were other cases. Perhaps in Italy, enthusiasm for Europe was another way of expressing disillusion with their own government. You don't trust your own government. You don't like your own government. Butmaybe, if you join a larger unit, some of the evident weaknesses of the Italian governments in the second half of the 20th century will appear less.
Even then, what is now happening, and what has been happening, is a curious development, namely that wealthy parts of Europe have become less enthusiastic about carrying the burden of developing the less wealthy parts. And it's there that you now get a much stronger sense of dividing Europe, of separatism. It is in northern Italy where you find a new separatist movement growing up. I won't mention the case of Spain where the separatist or independentist regions are actually the more prosperous parts of Spain. But certainly, in the case of Scotland, the argument of the Scots is that we would be better off if we weren't with the British. It's phoney government. So, at this stage, I don't know whether Donald has got any further observations.
Donald Sassoon: I'll return briefly to what Eric was saying in terms of the idea that Europe has worked as a set of exclusions. And, as a term, Europemeant different things. Itmeant, above all, that the thing we call Europe is better,more civilised. It belongs, as it were, to a higher level. The Slovenian Freudian- Leninist philosopher Slavoj Zizek in a seminar pointed out that what happened in the former Yugoslavia and for generations before is that the Serbs would say, «We are Europeans and, in fact, we are defending Europe against the Ottomans, against the Turks, against the Muslims.» And the people in Croatia would say, «No, no, no, we are defending Europe against Byzantine Christianity, against obscurantist orthodox Christianity. We are Catholic.» And then the Slovenians would say, «No, no, no. We are defending Europe against Balkan disintegration, a mess, which involves all of them.» And, of course, the Austrians said, «Oh no, we are actually the bastion of Europe», and meanwhile the Germans — extending the little story — were actually defending Europe against Slav barbarism— Poland and Russia. But the Poles were actually defending Europe, Catholic Europe, against the Russians. Meanwhile, of course, Spain was defending it from Africans and so on and so forth. The only ones who never bothered about that were the British, who said, «We are not Europe. Europe is there and it's a mess and let them sort it out.» So, the use of the word Europe — and there is something in this little story — the term «Europe» has been used to divide Europeans, about who is really European and who is not. Eric is quite right: the countries that weremore enthusiastic about Europe were countries which had a problem with their own identity. The Italian centrist leader Ugo La Malfa, leader of the Republican Party, used to say and he said it in the early 1960s, «dobbiamo aggrapparci alle Alpi se non sprofondiamo in Africa» (We must hold on to the Alps to avoid plummeting into Africa). And his view of Europe gives this image of Italy holding on desperately to the Alps, to Europe, to France, to Germany, to civilisation in other words.
Now, when the concept can be played in all these ways, then we obviously can't get an awful lot ofmileage in this. But when we look at how people feel about the institutions — the «democratic deficit» was a phrase which actually was invented precisely because the construction of Europe had come from on high. And so it was said, «We have a democratic deficit so we have to do something about it.» And so, we invent the European Parliament. But the number of people who vote for the European Parliament has decreased systematically. The EUaverage was 63%in1979, in spite of the fact that, in Britain, 33% voted (the Mother of Democracy is always a bit reluctant) but, still, the average was 63%. But, now, at the last election, 2004, it is down to 46.5%, so the electoral participation in elections to the European Parliament has been in constant decline, has in fact reached American figures because in America, too, less than half of the population votes. And some people read this as an instance of people being so happy, so satisfied with the existing state of affairs that it doesn't really matter because, anyway, things are going to proceed in more or less the same way, and yet there is enough of the serious threat, the serious threat that is posed by abstentions and the growth of the xenophobic parties. And these xenophobic parties have an idea of European identity too. But it's a wrong one. I hope most people here would agree.
Question: Just two very brief questions, one to Professor Hobsbawm specifically. There is much talk of a multi-polar world in the making, and names of countries like China, Brazil and India are usually linked to this discussion. And this makes some people very happy. My question would be, how close would this new multi-polar universe be to the European multipolarity of the 20th century, composed by competing national interests, all the way to 1914, actually? My second question is just about democratic deficit. I think it was very interesting what was mentioned about the gap between the aspiration of the European people, especially concerning the welfare state, the war in Iraq and what actually came to pass in terms of policy, but doesn't that point not so much to a problem but certainly a risk of European democratic deficit, but to a true problem inside the democratic system of the very European nation states, something that is probably one step before the European deficit as such?
Eric Hobsbawm: I think the situation is quite different from the 20th century. One of the reasons why Europe was founded, I think, or developed, was a positive one, namely tomake Central andWestern Europe and, ideally, all Europe, a zone in which wars would not occur. It was the French and the German entente which was very largely at the core of this. And, indeed, to some extent this has happened. It is today almost inconceivable that there should be another war between themajor states in Europe, although that doesn't mean that relations are very good. I amtold on very good authority that themain reason why the British have maintained a nuclear deterrent is that if we stopped having a nuclear deterrent ourselves, the only people in Europe who would have one would be the French. That kind of argument doesn't mean that the English and the French are going to fight but it demonstrates the difficulties of relationships between states within Europe. Nevertheless, the fact that a large part of the world has been removed and stabilised is an important one. The reaction, for instance recently, to the revival of an old-fashioned chauvinism by the Poles has been very characteristic and is a positive development.
On the other hand I think it's also true that in most of Europe, as Donald says, there are comparable democratic institutions which, in a sense, don't make it too uneven. This is not true of countries which claim to be democratic in Asia and Africa and so on but, inside Europe, the differences are local differences rather thanmajor differences. Nonetheless, it seems tome that the real danger is precisely — Imean, apart from the fact that these institutions are not necessarily good institutions for solving the problems of the 21st century — is that they are subject to the rise of new developments, new political movements which, on the whole, are undesirable. The rise of xenophobia in Europe seems tome to be very worrying, and xenophobia particularly in countries that by tradition did not have it, such as Italy or Scandinavia or elsewhere, and where you can now have parties, anti-foreign parties, particularly anti-extra-European parties. This is my chief worry about the situation.
Donald Sassoon: The construction of social Europe was based on the nation state. Each nation state developed a kind of welfare state, and the welfare state was a kind of compromise between internal forces, very often a compromise between Christian Democrats and the Left. This is at least the way certainly it occurred, in Italy, in Austria, in Germany as well. In France, it was a compromise between Gaullist nationalism and the Left and, in Britain, the welfare state was started by the Labour Party, but then it was accepted, during the 1950s and the 1960s, by the Conservative Party. But it was also another kind of compromise. It was, in a way, a compromise between workers and capitalists. It was a way of saying, as if the workers had said, «We will not aspire to the wages of American workers but, in exchange, the state must protect us. It must protect our health, or at least the expenditure to do with our health, and our pensions.» In that way, the cost of old age and the cost of health are socialised and therefore the wages which are necessary will not be as high as American wages. And this was the old pact. For many, many years, there was this gap between wages but also in social protection between the United States and Europe. And, as long as this worked at the level of the nation, things could go on and on and on. But when the world became increasingly an export-oriented world and it became increasingly globalised, then firms began to compare their comparative advantages.Who pays what?Where are the taxes highest? And so on. And the beginning of the end of the traditional welfare state is somewhere around, in fact, the 1980s, and it coincides with the advent to power of Reagan in the United States and Thatcher in Britain or, in other words, parties that were committed to the reduction of the welfare state. So now the problem to which no one has a proper answer is: in a globalised world where one has got the Chinese economy as the largest manufacturing economy in the world (if not now, in the next few years) but also India and other countries, in this kind of world, can wemaintain a kind of welfare state? Is there room for a compromise between capitalists that are less national than they used to be and trade unions, which aremuch weaker? And, of course, one of the great advantages of being a historian — and I am sure Eric will agree with me — is that we don't have to give answers about the future because we tell you about the past and the past is easier than the future.
Question: You've been talking about the past and the future and I think both of you have used the expression «further developing Europe» and talked about differences, as if we had to go somewhere to some kind of ideal Europe in the future. My question is, basically, do we need to further develop Europe? And if you two believe that we need to further develop Europe (and briefly, the main reasons — you talked about xenophobia before, and the welfare state), is further developing Europe a solution to these problems that would be there, I believe, even without Europe?
Eric Hobsbawm: Clearly we don't need to develop in the sense of the old-fashioned European project going towards a united or federal Europe. On the other hand, Europe as a whole has problems which, in some way or other, will have to be dealt with. We are the largest market. We are comparable in this respect to the United States. We are the largest, or at least the second largest, but probably on balance the largest collective of welfare, and we are probably almost the largest accumulation of what youmight call «intellectual capital». But our position is also being undermined, not so much by the rise of manufacturing in China but by the discovery that exactly what we have been strongest in, namely intellectual activities, service activities and others, can be done as effectively, if not more effectively, in countries like India and China by people at least as clever as we are. Consequently, the major danger in Europe is not only that of deindustrialisation but, as it were, the loss of the great service sectors, which have very largely replaced the old industries.
Now, these are problems with which single European states may have to deal, but also with which Europe itself will have to deal. In some ways, for example, the British who have gone in for globalisation to a much greater extent than any other (except very small) European countries, face it much more. We have very little industry left. The Germans face it least because they have a large number still of businesses making things, which they can actually transport. They can outsource them but, nevertheless, the centre remains in Germany. But it is an all-European problem and it will be an all-European problem, even for some of the central countries. It won't be, for a while, for some of the new arrivals. This is, in a way a fact: we cannot say, «We can stop where we are.»
Donald Sassoon: Yes, one could say (which is in a way the ironic subtext of the person who asked the question), «Do we need Europe? Let's just go on with the institutions we have and the various agreements we have and we can go on quite happily speaking 36 languages and having all these divisions (which actually are quite fun), so there is no compulsion about coming up with a European unity.» I would go along with that. Up to a point, though. We have to ask ourselves — and here I will leave my hat as a historian and will speculate about the future — we have to ask ourselves what kind of world we are going towards. Everybody's quite clear that there is only one superpower left. And this is almost a first in world history. The gap, the difference between American armaments and military power and that of the rest of the world is quite formidable, is quite astonishing. It has never been like that before. In the days of «Britannia rules the waves», they ruled the waves a little bit more than the French or the Germans but there was not this extraordinary gap. And this military power of theUnited States is really going to be, by and large, an exporter of ideas rather than of goods. I am amazed at the ability of the United States to be in the vanguard of so many of the things we use now. I mean particularly those connected with computers and so on. They used to make things, cars and all that, but now it's the constant stream of ideas of this kind of soft technology. But can a country go on being amilitary superpower and feed 300 million people at a standard of living which is absolutely exceptionally high for a long time? In other words, what will happen to the American economy and what will happen to a powerful country which has an economy that is not so strong? In other words, there is a rogue state or a potential rogue state in the world and no one can stop that state, or should stop that statemilitarily (it's a utopian project) but there must be some kind of counterbalance to that. And at the same time there is another power which is on the rise and that is China and that, too, has problems and excellent points, good things and bad things. And, so, in this unstable world, it is important that Europeans should ask themselves: «What is our role in this?What can we offer?» And that is why I insist on the idea of social protection because thismeans that there is some kind of solidarity whichmust be defended, must be protected, in a world in which everybody will be against everybody if the neoliberal dream has its way.
And also, something Eric mentioned at the beginning, when he talked about the European Court. I mean this is a Europe that formally, and I say «formally» because we know it's not quite true, is against torture. There may be a conspiracy to send people to other places to be tortured and there is a lot of hypocrisy, perhaps, but formally there is no torture in Europe. And to be accepted as a European, you may be a Muslim or you may be a Byzantine Christian or a Catholic or something, but you cannot kill people, evenmurderers. Capital punishment has been abolished. And that is something, one perhaps of the few things that a European can still be relatively proud about. And to say, look, one can be rich, one can grow, one can have a market economy and, at the same time, one can look after the old, look after the sick and have a fairly decent system of justice: that's not bad. It's certainly better than what Europeans did 100 years ago.
Question: Nowadays we frequently hear or read about American imperialism and if we consider that economically and commercially the United States and the European Union are more or less at the same level, which are the elements that make us talk about American imperialism and not European imperialism?
Donald Sassoon: Well, it's perfectly true that one of the consequences of European growth over the past 30 or 40 years is that the gap, the wages gap between Europeans and Americans has virtually disappeared, that in terms of benefits, in many instances, Europeans are, of course, better off than Americans. So there is no longer this sharp division, this sharp contrast that there used to be between Europeans and Americans, but the big gap that remains (and here is where the bit about imperialismcomes in) is that, to a large extent, the American firms are supported by a single-minded government, which does its job in a way, which is that of supporting firms. But the American government is able to tell European firms not to invest in Iran, so in a way dictating the pattern of development in the rest of the world. Now, you may not want to call this imperialism. It is clearly not classical imperialism but there is no question that it is using the formidable resources of a very large economy — that of the United States — which is a united economy by the standards of Europe. It is not Balkanised. In a sense it is telling them that, if you want to do business with us, if you want to be a big bank and have branches in the United States, then you are going to have to close down your few branches in Iran or whatever, which on balance, are not as important. And it can do that repeatedly. And, in a way, there is no world system that can say, «You can't do that.» There is no counterweight to this kind of power and, precisely because there is no counterweight, each firmwill quite rationally decide, well we'd better do what the Americans want because it is a larger market. In other words, it will follow economic rationality even though, in the long termor even politically, itmay be a good idea to have firms in Iran, to have investments in Iran and to be able to try to stir or help stir the Iranian economy and the politics towards amoremoderate approach than the one it has been advancing over the last two years.
Eric Hobsbawm: I think there is no doubt that the Americans have established not only a military but also very largely an economic superiority in the Second World War and the half century afterwards. I think that is now weakening. It is being maintained by the enormous size of the Americanmarket and the great wealth that there is there, and that will continue because, unlike Europe and whatever happens in future, the United States will remain probably the third largest state in the world, after China and after India, with about 300million people and rising. It makes a great deal of difference. Nevertheless, I think that with the increasing, I won't say weakness but relative decline — not in any real sense an absolute decline, except in certain parts of the United States — many Americans today are worse off than average Europeans. The danger, as Donald has just pointed out, is that the conflict between a relatively declining power, which is no longer able to maintain the domination, the dictation of policy in other countries, and the enormous military superiority, is that all this produces the potential of a world rogue state. All we can hope is that this will not be realised.