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The First European

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Who was the first European? ý The answer depends on what one means by 'Europe'. If Europe is a mere economic ýarrangement among nation-states, then the first European must surely be Augustus. For it ýwas he who determined the limits of the Empire which subsequent emperors merely ýtinkered with at the edges. There were to be no more conquests, no more expansion. The ýriver, the desert and the ocean set the limits to empire. Within, there was one economy, ýwithout, the dark world, full of threatening barbarians. ý However, Europeans do not feel Augustus sufficiently European. The line of reasoning ýfollowed above might be called the Anglo-Saxon line of reasoning. The English regard ýEurope as an economic arrangement, a large trading zone of shopkeepers. Until 1998, this ýwas, for instance, The Economist's view of Europe. Then, to the surprise no doubt of ýmany of its readers, it performed a remarkable editorial volte-face. The London-based ýnewspaper nominated Charlemagne as the 'first European'! And, for the first time, the ýnewspaper acknowledged that Europe was not just a nation of shopkeepers, but a political ýdream an, aspiration. ý Why Charlemagne and not Augustus? Well, simply put, Charlemagne was Christian, ýwhile Augustus was pagan. And while thinkers such as Edward Gibbon would happily ýhave regarded the pagan as the first European, the founding fathers (yes, Europe, too, has ýits founding fathers) could not: they were all devout Catholics. Jean Monnet, Alcide De ýGasperi, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schumann (recently nominated for 'beatification', ýthe first step towards sainthood) were all fervent Catholics. And Charlemagne had been ýCatholic. ý After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, in the fifth century, Europe lay in ruins, ýungoverned for a thousand years. However, an ephemeral union of western Christendom ýwas achieved under Charlemagne (768-814), with the denarius circulating as a single ýcurrency. The contours of the Carolingian Empire more or less coincide with those of the ýsingle market, achieved on January 1st, 1994. And, on January 1st, 1999, Europe acquired ýits denarius, the euro. ý Since then, the attempts to unify Europe had been bloody encounters. Louis XIV ýconfessed on his deathbed that he had "loved war too much". During the War of ýDevolution, it took the triple alliance between England, Sweden and the United Provinces ýto defeat Louis. The League of Augsburg was a Europe-wide alliance against the Sun ýKing. During the War of the Spanish Succession, it took the combined might of England, ýHolland and the Holy Roman Empire to frustrate Louis' ambition to control Spain ýý(1714). The next unifier of Europe was, of course, Napoleon. Again, a combination of ýEuropean powers was required to bring him down. The Congress of Vienna (1814) – a ýgrouping of European states – emerged to ensure peace in Europe for another hundred ýyears. The hundred-year cycle of war and peace prompted Arnold Toynbee to compare ýEurope's war-cycle with the business cycle! The First World War began eerily in the year ýý1914. Already, there were voices advocating a unified Europe. The most active statesman ýin the field of European peace and co-operation was undoubtedly Aristide Briand. In ýý1929, he observed: "I think that among peoples constituting geographical groups, like the ýpeoples of Europe, there should be some kind of federal bond". And then came the last ýunifier, Adolph Hitler. It was clear that Europe had to be unified, through war or peace. ýSince war had failed, the union must be achieved peacefully. It was in this spirit that ýHelmut Kohl, the ex-Chancellor of Germany, described the question of the single ýcurrency as one of war or peace. And it was in this spirit, too, that Europe resorted to the ýundemocratic method of bribery to enable Kohl to win one more term as Chancellor to let ýthe statesman push through his most precious project. The London-based journalist, ýGwynne Dyer, described the bribe as "the good bribe". ý The Catholicism of the project was so pronounced that the (Protestant) Scandinavian ýcountries stayed out of the Union for decades fearing that it was a Catholic plot. After the ýwar, Christian Democracy emerged as the leading power in politics. In Italy, the ýDemocrazia Cristiana was headed initially by De Gasperi; in France, the Mouvement ýRupublicain Populaire (MRP) was created in 1944; in West Germany, Konrad Adenauer ýled the Christian Democratic Union; in Holland, it was the Catholic People's Party. ýExceptionally, Great Britain possessed no Christian Democratic tradition at all. ý However, the European Union resembles the Roman Empire of Augustus as well as the ýHoly Roman Empire of Charlemagne in that it has quietly eschewed democracy. Just as ýAugustus rendered the Senate and Republican traditions otiose, maintaining only the ýtrappings of republicanism, so the European Union, directed by unelected Brussels ýbureaucrats, has maintained a veneer of democracy. How many Europeans vote for the ýpowerless European Members of Parliament? The last time, the percentage was only 45. ýThe most vivid evidence of the basically undemocratic nature of the Union came after the ýAustrian elections, when that country was collectively boycotted by Europe since it had ýelected the fascist and xenophobic Freedom Party. Louis Michel, the foreign minister of ýBelgium, observed that voters can be 'naïve' and 'simple'. Of Jorg Haider's Freedom ýParty, he said that to be a democratic party "you must work by democratic rules, you ýmust accept not to play on the worst feelings each human being has inside himself". After ýall, even Hitler had been elected by the people. However, Europe's 'despotic phase', as ýone newspaper described it, has been a well-kept secret. In the last ten years, only one ýbook has been written on the lack of democracy in Europe. And since the purpose of the ýunion is to prevent future wars, a Pax Europeana along the Augustan Pax Romana lines ýmust be undemocratic. It was the people of Europe who caused those wars. One has only ýto compare the patriotism of Rupert Brooke with the pacifism of Wilfred Owen to ýappreciate the after-the-event nature of the wisdom of the European Union. ý
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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, "Bangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL "TEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. "He is also a (more...)
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