April 6, 2014
Social practices, and indeed cultural behaviour, evolve with passing time. It was once customary for a gentleman who loved a young lady to consult with parents first, gain permission to date the daughter and then tie the knot. In the same way, it was a fact of honour – and widely accepted – that quarrels between gentlemen were settled by a sword fighting…in the presence of a second, of course!
Thankfully, civilization brought all that to an end. Men today date a woman without an interposition of third parties and quarrels are settled in a civil manner by a tribunal, although the old “second” is still the consuetude, today we call him a “solicitor”.
In Medieval periods, after the Roman Empire, various kingdoms were formed in the European Continent, often born out of a reaction to former extra-European invaders; cultural demeanour was influenced by the Viking in the North, the Magyars in the East, the Carolingians/Francs in the West and the Saracens from the South. The solid imprint originally left by the Christian Church on the whole Continent evolved in a combination of this religion with the original local cultures, opening the way to specific faiths with distinguished custom, traditions and conventions. Renaissance and Enlightenment brought forward the concept of Secularism and the importance of Science.
The Nineteen and Twentieth centuries saw the 1st and 2nd World wars causing a re-assorted division of countries whose borders were set according to winners and losers if not –worse- according to where the position of the garrison was on the day when the armistice was signed. All that happened without the least consideration for the ethnicity of the population, their culture and their belongings.
In the present context, the 21st Century, we should not be surprised if separatist groups here and there in Europe rise their voice sometimes reclaiming their autonomy or independence; it is the outcome of former political errors. Miscalculations due to old strategic schemes were done when territorial size coincided with political power, irrespective of the kind and quantity of citizens who populated the land.
Nowadays we live in a European Union composed of countries sometimes bruised by old happenings but all associated to the typical –I would say exclusive- European Social Democracy and welfare. Most member countries (9-11) have declared their interest for a still closer union leading to a Federation of Countries without borders. In this set-up regions and towns will be democratically administered and free to hold referenda with the objective of rearranging their administrative boundaries; no more acts of force, battles or wars. The Federal Government will only be responsible for the Euro, Foreign Relations, Defence and global matters. It means that former (pre-World Wars) communities will have the opportunity to reunite with their distinctive cultures and lifestyle. The Flemish, Basque, Tyrolese, Scottish, Venetian …you name them, will all have the opportunity to form their proper regions while giving the enlarged EU the minor hassle may be, to rearrange the NUTs (Nomenclature of territorial units for statistics). Inexplicably, the present separatist/independentist groups have not grasped this opportunity and continue to fight the philosophy of a Federal Europe.
In this time frame we have two concurrent facts depicting an approach to the future and one belonging to the past: the UK referendum accorded to Scotland (September 14) whose citizens will decide either to separate or stay within Great Britain – an example of modern democracy – and the rushed referendum in Ukraine, arranged in a single week by Crimea in arms! That saw the incorporation of this region within the Russian Confederation – an example of old pseudo-democracy. It is not to commend, however, the European Commission’s decision to instantly cancel the incumbent investment projects with Switzerland as a response to their referendum having opted out of the free circulation of citizens to take effect from end 2017, possibly an emotional decision with an unexpected effect; the Swiss are now pondering if it would be beneficial for them to join the EU as a member. This is unlikely in the short term but the chance, although slim, has been tabled down.
Next European election is due on 24-25 May and the new Commission President will be elected – for the first time by the new Parliament – at the end of July. The future composition will be more accountable to the citizen and, hopefully, dedicated more to the good of the Union rather than the interest of the single countries, at least for the Federalists whose objective is the build-up of a common house where citizens will be free to look after themselves and to govern their proper future.Elio Pennisi