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Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Europe's intolerable identities

Even the initially supportive President of the European Commission, Jose Barraso, has responded to controversy over the putative appointment of Rocco Buttiglioni as Italy's Euro-Commissioner by backing down. As a Bible-believing Christian, Buttiglioni's mainstream Catholic views on the benefits of marriage to children and the morality of homosexual acts were too much for the European Parliament, which is now threatening to vote down the entire European Commission - tossing Peter Mandelson out of high office for a third time - if Rocco Buttiglioni is not withdrawn.

Rather than make the obvious political points, as are made so well in the above Telegraph link, I wanted to reflect a moment on the folly of taking this sort of approach to a set of values that might remind Europeans' of those things they do have in common. Rod Liddle had a rather good Sunday Times column at the weekend touching on this same issue, noting that a great many people across the continent would agree with Buttiglioni, but will now find that their views and attitudes have essentially been excluded from the key institutions of European governance.

Hardened, Bible-thumping Christianity would not be a competent recruiting sergeant for the European project. There just aren't that many people who go in for it. But the European continent does have a common Christian heritage and culture, the values of the Bible still largely reflected in some of the mores and laws of each member state. It's ironic that those keenest to promote the notion that these separate nation states should essentially be parts of one larger country called Europe are also the ones to reject these binds and bonds, rather than using these similarities to make their case.

Even most of the Europeans who are basically secular would not be alienated by such an appeal. Few are conscious and arrogant rejectors of God in the Dawkinsian sense; instead they tend to be agnostics who feel not a little guilt at using nearby churches for baptisms, weddings and funerals but nought else. As they get older - which Europe's population as a whole conspicuously is - they also follow that tried and tested course of nostalgia for the values and traditions they dimly remember from their earlier days. A Europe that appealed to this nostalgia and the security and identity it offers would have a real resonance for the largely irreligious, too.

As eurosceptics from Enoch Powell onwards have said again and again, and as even most British europhiles now accept, whatever the particulars of the European institutions, you will not see an effective European democracy until there is a European demos - a people with enough sense of common feeling that they will accept government at each others' hands. A deliberate rejection of any Christian identity to Europe, part of what the Telegraph describes as a "bid by militant secularists to monopolise the mainstream, while marginalising Judaeo-Christian morality" also marginalises perhaps the most significant commonality European nations share.

There are others. Europe's distinct cultural achievement along with its legacy of civilisation to the world through colonialism could also form such a basis. Similarly, history offers overwhelming testament to the appeal of ethnic kinship. But of course, any notion of cultural imperialism is out of the question. And only minorities are allowed to think and identify in terms of an ethnic identity. For every feint hope of utilising something meaningful and enduring to unite Europe, there are political reasons for the continent's liberal elite to rule it out of the question.

Those few federalists like Giscard D'Estaing who appear to recognise the problem of building a superstate on nothing more solid than the principles of over-government and transnational bureaucracy, and who wish to establish firmer foundations, are ignored when they make this point. If this means that ultimately an obstacle to a federal European superstate will long go unresolved, then for once Tory eurosceptics can be sincere in their gratitude at leftist folly, and relieved to see that at least occasionally the damage it wreaks comes around as well as goes around.

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