Our European divisions
29 March 2013
Is this a sign of the times? Last Sunday, there was an article which claimed that “like Hitler, Angela Merkel has declared war on Europe,” only this time around, the goal is to extend Germany’s “economic Lebensraum.” Clearly an absurd comparison, but it is one that re-echoes certain slogans that have long been visible in the streets of Athens and, more recently, Nicosia.
In any case, the reason why this article sparked such controversy is because it was published on the website of one of Europe’s leading newspapers, El País. For the first time, the supposed parallel between the Chancellor and the dictator had emerged on a web page, which, although it was not in the newspaper’s print edition, was published by a quality newspaper. In response to the ensuing outcry, El País took down the offending article, and explained that it had been written by an external columnist who did not represent the newspaper’s editorial line.
As it stands, the Cypriot situation has not yet triggered a full-blown euro crisis, but it has drawn attention to divisions and negative feelings that have been nagging Europe since the economic recession and the social shake-up prompted by austerity policies. Traditional defiance of “Brussels” and Eurocrats has been transformed into an antagonism between northern and southern Europe and a toxic mix of defiance and aggression directed at Germany, which has been accused of wilfully imposing its model on all the people of the Union.
It goes without saying that in varying degrees, this trend is already present in the analyses and opinion pieces published by the European press, or rather distinct elements of the European press, which differ in terms of their respective opinions, expectations and sensibilities. And these articles, front pages, and controversial arguments are included on Presseurop website, whose editorial mission is to reflect ongoing debates on our continent.
Looking at our readers comments, we can see the pervasive influence of this atmosphere weighing on people's minds and in public discussion. Many of our readers feel obliged to defend, or even to justify, their vision of the world and their way of life. Some of them call into question the concept of Europe as it is constructed today. Others fret over the fact that our articles, and the discussions they engender, contribute to these divisions.
Europe, and in particular the European Union, is going through a difficult period. Disturbance caused by the shifting balance of world powers has been compounded by the destabilisation our political, economic and social models, and undermined our convictions about what Europeans have built since 1945. Reading the press each day is therefore in many ways like reading a chronicle of depression, featuring occasional fits of pessimism and anger.
The European press is increasingly marked by excessive pessimism and outbursts of anger that are a response to economic depression. But the underlying evil, which Europeans have overlooked for decades, is an ignorance and incomprehension of altnernative points of view, sentiments and lived experience in other European countries.
Of course, it is irksome to have to contend with what are more often than not unjust stereotypes and denigratory attitudes with regard to other countries. But an awareness of this negativity is probably necessary if we are to overcome the crisis of confidence that is undermining the Union. If we choose to deliberately the ignore the symptoms of a lack of mutual awareness, we will only deprive ourselves of the means to counter it. Notwithstanding these divisions, we continue to share a common destiny.