At last, after the obligatory summer break, the European Union (EU) has some new faces to fill the top vacancies on the team that began to emerge from the May 25 parliamentary elections.
A few decades ago, even before the end of the Cold War and before and after Ronald Reagan’s election to the White House, analyses regularly referred to U.S. decadence. At other times, it was Europe’s turn for pessimistic descriptions, especially when it could not overcome its ambivalence over deepening integration, and above all because of the failure of its constitutional project.
The growing importance of the Pacific rim has been a dominant narrative of recent years. One reason is the entrance of Chinese interests into Latin America and growing economic ties between Asia and the U.S. and Europe. The feverish mythology of globalisation also contributed to advancing this transformational tale. The Pentagon is positioning the bulk of its fleet in Pacific ports as if it expected another Pearl Harbour.
Not in the last three generations has Spain experienced a crisis as total, devastating, and incomprehensible as the current one. Francisco Silvela, a thinker of the late 19th century and president of the Spanish government, said in August 1898 after the country was stripped of its colonies that Spain "had no pulse". To a certain degree, the same is true today, especially of those in the government, despite the cuts. Only the protests contradict this feeling. The rest of the country is simply reeling from the financial crisis.
A year ago the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was greeted with general satisfaction and considerable relief. Was it already possible to glimpse (for example, in the spectacle of the Egyptian leader being judged bedridden in a cage) the difficulties that lay ahead for North Africa and the Middle East fulfilling the promise of the "Arab Spring"?
The official end of the Iraq war is an admission of defeat. It will serve as a bitter reminder of all that everyone loses in wars, victors included. From the foundation of the republic, war has been a constant feature of US history but produced a clear victory only on a few occasions.
The apparently eternal problem of Turkey's entry into the European Union seems even further from resolution. Istanbul, its largest city, is sending mixed signals. The call to prayer from the minarets mixes with the roar of rush hour traffic. The hawking and bargaining in the monumental grand bazaar is thoroughly infiltrated by Western "civilisation".
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) results for the final quarter of 2010 are an unreliable gauge of recovery and progress in Europe, the US, China, Brazil, and most other countries. A new survey by GlobeScan and Ethical Markets, titled "Beyond GDP", reaffirms that large majorities favour reforming the money-based GDP economic yardstick and adopting many of the available indicators of health, education, infrastructure, poverty gaps, and environmental quality found in their 2007 survey for the European Commission (www.beyond-gdp.eu). The new survey was conducted in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Kenya, Russia, the UK, and the US and released on January 21.
Any examination of the current state of Germany must keep in mind the past of this country, which has forced itself to banish the ghosts of its tormented history. A new exposition on the age of Hitler and German society of his day has become the centrepiece of any meditation on the national fabric of the country, the most important in Europe and the focus of the most wrenching events of the 20th century on the Old Continent.
A recent European summit degenerated into an unfortunate confrontation within the context of European integration. There was a heated exchange between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission president and former Portuguese prime minister Jose Manuel Barroso over the expulsion of EU citizens -in this case Romanian citizens (gypsies, 'Roma')- from French territory. The EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, compared the act to deportations during World War II. Sarkozy bluntly responded that she could receive in her native Luxembourg all the gypsies she wished. Reding admitted her language was rather exaggerated, but the scandal did not subside.
A recent editorial of the Financial Times floated the thesis that the prospects for a permanent peace in the Basque country would be strengthened by the execution of two basic acts by the Spanish government: first, lifting the ban preventing the pro-ETA political group Batasuna from participating in elections; and second, transferring incarcerated ETA agents to prisons closer to their homes. The FT argues that delaying restoration of electoral credentials to Batasuna serves only to "prop up ETA's dwindling support" while "the perceived injustice" of imprisonment far from home is "a money spinner for ETA's fundraisers".
On Sunday May 9, the European Union (EU) turns 60. Decades ago, to become a sexagenarian meant to cross the line towards old age. Today it is simply to start a third act of a professional and personal life, in which one cannot afford to make a fool of one's self. At 60, one has to be serious and responsible. The EU has to honour its birthday.
Washington seems rather uninterested or at least unconcerned with what Europe, collectively as the European Union or country by country, could do in its relations with the rest of the Americas. In reality, this attitude is a reflection of a drop in US interest in what lies to its south as a result of the urgency of action in other areas, like the Middle East and China, and terrorism in general.
It is said that a French politician, asked whether Brazil had a good future, answered with scorn and knowing irony, "Brazil has always had, still has, and will always have a magnificent future." It would seem that the country has suffered for decades under this sort of stigma.
Not long ago the people on this planet lived without the anguish of insecurity. This is because they assumed that insecurity was the natural state of things, for everyone, rich and poor, powerful and weak, for the colonised and the imperialist occupiers. Life seemed comparatively more normal, and people were more fatalistic and resigned. The world was, you might say, predominantly conservative. Only a minority of bold visionaries, idealists, and renegades took the risk of seeking change, frequently at a high cost to themselves (repression, imprisonment, execution, exile).