Europe Big and Little

WILLIAM PFAFF

June 28, 1993|By WILLIAM PFAFF

Barcelona. -- Europe currently is battered by the turbulence created by its Yugoslav fiasco, popular resistance to the Maastricht Treaty's proposals for closer European political integration and a continuing recession worse than anything since the Great Depression. Most endangered by this are the smaller European states, which have made the biggest investment in the European Community's success.

The latest meeting of the European heads of government ended in Copenhagen last week with little gained. The leaders of the Twelve recognized that they cannot go on subordinating their own currencies and economies to a German economy in crisis, which is a step forward. But on Bosnia they produced only further contradiction: that Europe would defend the security of ''Muslim'' enclaves (which are not simply Muslim, but include those Bosnian Serbs and Croats who -- as the novelist Miroslav Karaulac has bitterly remarked -- had ''acquired the fatal habit of living together''), but without saying how Europe expects to do this.

It is common now for Americans to say that Europe's 1992 Single Market is a failure, since unemployment remains extremely high and economic activity low -- certainly much below what is happening in the United States, fragile as the American recovery may be. This is blamed on Europe's generous social policies, which some Europeans themselves are questioning. Yet a fundamental point in creating the European Community has been to generalize high standards of living, not to impose low ones. That certainly has been the purpose of the Community's expansion to include the poorer countries. What is happening now has an unmistakably depressing effect in Spain, whose transformation over the last decade and a half has been premised upon membership in the European Community, which it joined in 1986.

''Europe'' is what brought Spain out of the isolation and defeatism that had lasted from the year of its defeat by the United States and loss of both Caribbean and Pacific empires in 1898, to the end of the Franco period. The internal transformation was buttressed by the European transformation, confidence in the one created by belief that the other -- the European movement, led by Germany and France, with Italy and Britain -- could not fail.

There was practical support from the European Community, of course, which continues. The Copenhagen meeting of the chiefs of state decided on a further financial injection of trans-European investment and the release of new development funds for Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland, totaling (for 1994-1999) three times the volume Marshall Plan investment reached in the 1950s.

However the politico-psychological support ''Europe'' has given to Spain's transformation has been more important than the economic. This has overcome the established hostility to European liberalism and democracy that Franco and Francoism represented and that produced the attempted military coup of 1981. Membership in Europe has also been a powerful counter to the fissiparous tendencies which still exist in Spain, which has undergone repeated civil struggles since the beginning of the 19th century.

The world got a good-humored lesson in Spanish separatism during the Barcelona Olympics last summer. The visitor or television viewer was left in no doubt that Catalonia was host to the games, with Spain incidental to the affair -- the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, accepting this with good grace.

There would have been less grace to the matter if both Catalans and non-Catalan Spaniards did not today see themselves in the European as well as Spanish contexts. Catalonia's new identity as a European region offsets its traditional resistance to subordination to Madrid.

Catalonia, after all, is a European nation of distinct language and individual history, which happens to fall within the borders of Spain and France, with whom it must coexist. It has a powerful and distinct cultural tradition: Miro, Dali, the cellist Pablo Casals, the great medieval philosopher Ramon Llull, the architect Antoni Gaudi, the singers Victoria de los Angeles and Montserrat Caballe, all are Catalans.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu has since 1847 been one of the world's major opera houses. Barcelona, with Vienna, was the center and progenitor of the crucial turn-of-the-century architectural and artistic movement known as art nouveau -- ''modernismo'' in Spain. Robert Hughes' recent book on Barcelona deals with all of this.

The success of the European Community is that it has not only reconciled the major European powers who in the past made a habit of war with one another. It has reconciled and pacified the minor ones. It has quelled regional, nationalist, ''ethnic'' tensions inside Western Europe in a way that one might have hoped would be an example to Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Soviet successor states, places where people still pursue their separatisms with an imposing barbarism.

Thus the intellectual as well as politico-economic impasse in which the West Europeans today find themselves caught is more than a block to their progress. It is a signal of retrogression. Nineteen ninety-two was a year of European frustration, but 1993 threatens to become the year of Europe's deconstruction.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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