Letter: Cruel ironies of the European dream

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The Independent Online
Sir: Both my countries - Britain and Switzerland - are in disarray over European unity. Divisions are causing ever deeper wounds that may take a very long time to heal. Indeed, they may never heal fully. It is a cruel irony, but European unity is a dream that divides Europeans.

This paradox raises questions about the nature of European unity and the ideas on which this notion is based. At the end of the Second World War the vast majority of Europeans sought peace, stability, prosperity and democracy. Some European countries also yearned to regain respectability with the world community. However, very few Europeans were in search of a completely new identity or doctrine to which they could adhere.

None the less, compared with the nation state, the notion of European unity and the related concept of Europeanism were both unsoiled. Hence they came to symbolise increasingly the said desire for peace, stability, prosperity, democracy and, in some cases, respectability. However, a symbol is not an ideology and provides very few guidelines as to how the desired outcome is to be achieved. This conceptual inadequacy is at the root of the continued and divisive debates over European unity.

European unity is first and foremost about achieving peace, stability, prosperity, democracy and respectability, and not about creating a political and economic framework for an ideological or cultural commitment.

If the concepts of European unity and Europeanism are interpreted in this way, it becomes quickly obvious that the divisive debate is set to continue for many more decades.

This particular interpretation also helps to explain the comparatively greater reluctance of Britain and Switzerland to follow the path of European integration.

Until relatively recently, both countries have experienced peace, stability, prosperity, democracy and respectability without being involved directly in European integration. Hence, many British and Swiss people continue to have more faith in their historical heritage than in the open-ended venture of European integration.

This is an understandable but potentially dangerous attitude in a fast-moving and globalising world.

Yours faithfully,



8 December