East - West: The New Search For Balance
The changing faces of
What is Europe? Where does it
start? Where does it end? How many countries are there in
Europe? Who can claim to be a European? Is there a European
culture? Who cares? Attempting to answer such questions
has become much more complicated since the end of 1989.
No more Soviet Union; years of war in what was Yugoslavia;
the unification of Germany; independence for the Czech Republic
and the Slovak Republic; enlargement of the European Union
to 25 members - the consequences of these transitions have
What have been the most important changes in the country
where you live since 1989?
Although Strasbourg is geographically
closer to Prague than to Paris it will take time to reduce
the distances in our minds. Such monumental changes
provoke many emotions: hopes for a "Common European
House" with open borders; fears of massive waves
of migration; hopes for new nations; fears of more conflict.
Relationships between states and peoples which once seemed
fixed now have to be re-negotiated. (Even that statement
can be pulled to pieces if you look, for example, at the
history of Cyprus, or Northern Ireland since the 1960s).
How we see each other is made more complicated by the different
versions of "Europe" which are being constructed.
It is no secret that the forces
in favour of European integration are facing great difficulties.
There is a growing realisation that countries are made up
of people, with differing histories and values. They are
not just economic units to be brought together for the benefit
of economies of scale. Enlargement, for example, of the
European Union has not proved to be as simple as had once
A majority of voters in Norway (1972 and 1994) and Switzerland
(1997 and 2001) have rejected membership of the European
Union in referenda - why do you think they did this?
The Council of Europe is now a
truly Europe-wide organisation; its membership jumped from
23 to 45 States between 1989 and 2003. Serbia and Montenegro
is the most recent member, having joined in April 2003.
These changes produced a new political climate and a rethink
of the organisation's role. So, at the Vienna Summit in
October 1993, the Heads of State and Government cast the
Council of Europe as the guardian of democratic security
- founded on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Democratic security is an essential complement to military
security, and is a pre-requisite for the continent's stability
What do you think are the reasons for the USA, Canada and
some Central Asian republics belonging to the Organisation
for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which now
has 55 members?
Not only governments and industry
are increasing the intensity and forms of their co-operation
across Europe. Trade unions, youth organisations and cultural
projects work with their members to bring a human face to
What other forms of European co-operation do you know? What
successes and what problems do they have?
Interestingly enough, not every
inhabitant feels like a European. We will talk about identity
later in Chapter Two, but here it is worth posing the question:
is it possible to have a European identity? The co-operation
referred to earlier between some countries leads logically
to the exclusion of others.
As the border controls disappear between
certain European countries, the barriers increase to those
outside of these areas. An example can be seen in the immediate
effects of the Schengen Accord: this is an inter-governmental
agreement which seeks to abolish border controls between
the countries concerned, harmonise policy on visas, co-ordinate
crime prevention and search operations, and exchange information
on asylum seekers. At the time of writing the agreement
had been ratified by the parliaments of Austria, Belgium,
Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy,
Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden,
with the ten new members of the EU preparing to join. On
the day when the Accord came into force early in 1995 there
were 24-hour queues at the German-Polish border.
As the external borders of Europe are strengthened it could
be argued that a form of "fortress Europe" is
being built. How far do you agree with this analysis?
Having sketched some of the major
developments on our continent and its relations with other
parts of the world, it is time to examine closer what is
happening on the ground.