Last Friday evening (27 July) I sat in the Royal Albert Hall listening to the greatest composition of Western music, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, directed by Daniel Barenbiom, the world’s greatest conductor, performed by the West Eastern Divan Orchestra (musicians from Palestine, Israel and Arab countries). As the performance entered into the final movement and the sublime Ode to Joy, I recalled with shock that this was the anthem of the Europe Union (adopted in 1993).
Consider the Europe which claims this magnificent composition as its theme song. The central committee of this Europe, the European Commission, is as far from democratic accountability as the advisory boards in the colonies of the British Empire. The true power in this European Union lies not with this misbegotten Commission and its thread-bare claim of an indirectly elected legitimacy. Power lies with the government of the country which now contains the birth place of Beethoven (Bonn) as part of its territory, Germany.
In 1993 the European Council established the Copenhagen Criteria, in which we find the requirement that all members of the Union must have “stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”. Reflect on this requirement in context of the following members of the European Union: Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. In the 1990s all three of the Baltic members legally made the “national” language the only official one, linking this closely to citizenship (see links at bottom of this article). Those who dismiss this as a growing pain of new democracies, might reflect on its popular base, manifested in a march of over one thousand Waffen-SS veterans in Latvia in 2010, a similar march in Lithuania on the anniversary of independence, and the annual meeting of Nazi veterans in Estonia, with the last described as follows:
Veterans of Hitler’s elite troops who fought against the Soviet Army in World War II have travelled from around Europe to hold their annual rally in Estonia. Former members of the Nazi Waffen-SS, referred to as “fighters for freedom”, were joined by neo-Nazi groups from [Estonia]. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvG3ReSVxCs)
Further south, the new democracies in Bulgaria and Romania seem so incorrigibly corrupt that even the European Commission is alarmed:
In both countries, the judiciary is too slow and often lets high level corruption cases drag on for so long that the suspects walk free as their alleged deeds reach the statute of limitations, the EU commission said in its latest reports under the so-called Co-operation and Verification Mechanism.
The Netherlands minister for Europe, in a memorable understatement, observed that, “The rule of law has not yet reached the desired level in either Bulgaria or Romania” (Ben Knapen, July 2011).
As for nearby Hungary, the [new] constitution pledges to “protect” the unique Hungarian language, Hungarian identity and national culture. It is a thinly veiled throwback to the spirit of the interwar period, when the country was ruled by Miklós Horthy, who established an authoritarian, ultraconservative nationalist and revisionist regime.
The current Hungarian government has formalized the return to ultra-nationalism, anti-Jewish slander, and Romania discrimination by changing the national school curriculum. That curriculum now includes the writings of World War II fascists József Nyírö and Albert Wass, the latter sentenced to death in absentia in Romania for war crimes.
All is not bleak among the new members of the European Union. For example, the massive defeat of an emerging authoritarian regime in Slovakia offers a source of optimism, though in Slovenia the right-wing government uses the rhetoric of Euro-austerity to attack all forms of public provision of goods and services.
And these are just the newest members. The waxing of the far right in Poland (accession 2004) and among the old timers (most notably Denmark and the Netherlands) foretells of an uncertain future for democracy in “Europe”. Much more serious than the far right, and considerably more damaging to a harmonious and peaceful union is the callous austerity policy enforced so ruthlessly by the government of Germany and its hangers-on, Austria, Belgium, Finland and Luxemburg (plus the Netherlands until the government lost its majority earlier this year).
The union of equals in Europe foreseen in the late 1940s by Robert Schuman, foreign minister of France, has become in our time the uncertain vessel of the strong over the weak. As the philosopher Jürgen Habermas has written, the European Union has passed into “post-democratic rule” (see his new book, The Crisis of the European Union, Polity). In the 1930s there was a more succinct term for the phenomenon of emerging right wing authoritarianism.
A European Union for peace, with a small membership, the countries that engaged in almost continuous warfare among themselves for seventy-five years (1870-1945), might have proved a viable and sustainable contribution to a stable Europe. An association rife with economic competition in which the strong can dominate has not. With the introduction of the common currency the logic of that base competition ran its course.
I began with a reference to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Relevant also to the European Union is the Third, the Eroica. Schindler in his nineteenth century biography of the great composer wrote,
The fair copy of the score [of the Eroica] with the dedication to the First Consul of the French Republic, which consisted of the two words Napaleon Bonaparte, was ready to be given to General Bernadotte [one of Napoleon's generals] for transmission to Paris, when the news was received in Vienna that Napaleon had proclaimed himself Emperor of the French… No sooner had [Beethoven] heard the news than he seized the score, tore off the title page and threw it on the floor.
Beethoven As I Knew Him, A. Schindler, 1860, the spelling “Napaleon” as in source.]
I suspect that if the spirit of Beethoven were to haunt Europe, the dedication of “Ode to Joy” to the European Union would suffer the same fate.