Culture, Value and Identity as Elements in European Cohesion (ii): Culture and European Identity Today
Dr. Garret FitzGerald (Former Prime Minister of Ireland) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
An important part of the European basis today is thus a cultural one. At the individual level we do and can identify with our own locality or region as well as the state we belong to. In Ireland, people identify very strongly with their own locality, so strongly indeed that in practical terms for many Irish citizens, the interests of that locality takes precedence over the whole Irish community, represented by the Irish state. At times that can make governing Ireland at the national level pretty difficult. Within some states, there are at times marked cultural and linguistic differences as a result of which alliances to the state on the part of some people may be weak or even non-existent. But in most of Europe the state, in many but not all cases, is identical to the nation, the unitary level of authority requires real popular allegiance because with the state that the people most strongly identify culturally, they will participate.
It is true that a sense of a common interest against an external threat may bring together the governments and the peoples of our states. Between 1950 and 1990, most people in Western Europe were happy for their governments to bind themselves to work together with the US and Canada in NATO against the perceived Soviet threat. But that was an ad hoc arrangement and we could not say that the people feel an allegiance to NATO. They were not in any sense "NATO-ites."
The European Community, now the European Union, is a quite different kind of political animal. Drawing the peoples of Europe together, binding them in a most intimate way, sharing a common code of laws that binds all equally in respect of many dimensions of rights. This has been necessitated by the rapidity of the way the world around us is globalizing. It is only through such joint ventures that we can protect our commercial and cultural and industrial interests and our economic heritage, shaped as it is by pollution across boarders.
States and regions have had to tackle immigration issues together and most recently international terrorism. The new age of governmentalism as well as cooperation between governments has proved quite inadequate to secure a resolution to any of these issues. The resolution in many cases requires the application of a common system of European law, but equally clearly the creation and enforcement of community law in so many of the areas needs to be democratically controlled. The creation under a democratic system covering such a wide range of issues and bringing together within a single political structure states of greatly varying size, with different legal systems and people speaking different languages is an immensely difficult achievement.
This disparity in the rapid pace of what might be describe as a democratic need for common action and the much slower pace of the internalization of this European need at the level of the individual is at the heart of the political and cultural challenge now facing the European Union.
In England, and to a lesser degree Ireland, this problem is intensified by two cultural factors; one to do with law and the other linguistic. With having to start with the historic fact that the common law legal system, which we all regard and share, is only is only easy to marry with the civil law system as a compliment. People in both systems find it very difficult to understand what the common law system is or to reconcile or accommodate the two different systems. That is one of the difficulties in dealing with our colleagues across the [English] Channel. Secondly is the fact that the linguistic link that in some measure ties England with Ireland culturally closer to the United States than it is with Europe. Itís the element with which our two countries are building this economic union. In the case of Britain, it is something more deeply felt than in Ireland.
As was recently clear in the case of Iraq, the British establishment felt closer to the United States than it did to Europe. More generally in Northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, it remains culturally and intellectually somewhat separate from the rest of Europe. It is not just by water, but more by the heritage of the Reformation [in the 16th Century], which has left amongst these people a constant heritage, a residual discomfort about their relationship with the rest of the continent. A contract that predominantly, but not exclusively, of Protestant caring benevolence has resolved the cultural and religious differences selectively, before embarking on the great European political experiment. They do not have these problems in relating to Britain and more Southern and Central parts of Europe. The part of Ireland that Britain reluctantly conceded independence to in 1921, was that which had rejected the influences of the Reformation and they were unaffected by this otherwise pan-European phenomenon.
What factors might over time restore sufficient of Europe's Medieval period of the underlying unity to create an adequate cultural basis for an economic and legal superstructure that has emerged in the past half century? In the first place, the process will clearly be advanced if we could extend to a much wider part of our population the sense of a shared European high culture. Whether we like it or not, those who are engaged in European cultural activities have potentially an important role to play in this process. As have all those who are engaged in education for which our common European culture has been made accessible to a growing portion of our peoples.
Profile: Garret FitzGerald
He served three times as Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), heading two coalition governments, from July 1981 to February 1982, and from December 1982 to June 1987 as the seventh Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. He earlier severed as Irish Foreign Minister.
He was born on 9 February 1926. After studying economics and law at University College Dublin, he lectured (1959-73) in political economy at his alma mater. He was first elected to the Irish parliament (Dail) in 1969 as a member of the Fine Gael. He was minister of foreign affairs (1973-77), then became party leader and subsequently prime minister in 1981 as a result of a coalition with the Labour party. Although defeated in early 1982, FitzGerald regained power later that year and was again prime minister from late 1982 to 1987, when election losses caused him to resign as party leader. A moderate nationalist, he was the driving force behind the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.
He retired from parliament in 1992 and since then he has written a popular weekly column every Saturday in The Irish Times and been involved in many international activities. He came out of retirement to campaign for a yes vote in the second Nice Referendum, held in 2002.
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The above speech was made at Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London on 28 January 2005. It formed part of an event called Europe: United or Divided by Culture which was organized by The European Cultural Foundation (UK National Committee), the Chatham House European Programme and International Intelligence On Culture.
This is the second part of a four-part article. The first part can be found here.