Where exactly is Europe?

"We have needs, and you must meet them" is the basic thought process of much of Europe today. Where does that leave it as a continent?

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Has the dawn of the euro marked the beginning of taking prosperity for granted?
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Charles Crawford
On 14 June 2012 22:05

This witty EU neo-geography list has just arrived. The references look plausible:

'Spain is not Greece'

Elena Salgado, Spanish Finance minister, Feb 2010

'Portugal is not Greece'

The Economist, April 2010

'Ireland is not in Greek Territory'

Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan

'Greece is not Ireland'

George Papaconstantinou, Greek Finance Minister, November, 2010

'Spain is neither Ireland nor Portugal'

Elena Salgado, Spanish Finance Minister, November 2010

'Neither Spain nor Portugal is Ireland'

Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary-General, 18 November, 2010

'Spain is not Uganda'

Prime Minister Rajoy last weekend

'Italy is not Spain'

Ed Parker, Fitch MD, June 2012

The BBC has taken up the challenge of trying to distinguish Spain from Uganda.

These quotes serve a purpose. They make us think about where we stand in the great scheme of things.

All these different countries are territories with varying geographical features and natural resources, plus people. Not that long ago the people living in each place would have been subsistence farmers or hunters. What distinguishes them these days is what has been done by people living there down the centuries to improve things: investing time and effort literally to build a better future.

The problem facing modern European societies is that they take for granted their prosperity. One of the very greatest failings of our education system here in the United Kingdom is that it does not bring home to children where everything they see comes from. They are living on the compounding results of the accumulated wisdom and intellectual momentum created by the toil of earlier generations. The school buildings, their desks, the lights, the chemicals, the machine tooling needed to make any of these things, the machines that made the machine tools, the machines that made those machines – they get them all, in effect, for free. They just ‘are’.

In fact all these things were created and paid for by an astonishing invention: the modern market economy. And the Eurozone crisis is helpful insofar as it forces us to confront our deepest ignorance about the way wealth is created, and think very hard indeed about how it is going to be created in the future.

At the core of European complacency has been the fetishization of ‘solidarity’ – the notion that all Europeans ‘deserve’ certain standards and thereby have a moral claim on other Europeans’ generosity. “Greece is not Germany – but Greece solely by virtue of being an EU member state has the right to be helped to move towards German living standards”. Part of the drama we see unfolding is the abrupt collapse of this principle, now no longer affordable in economic or political terms.

The ‘solidarity’ principle is dying because it is all about redistribution, not about wealth creation. It simply assumes that wealth exists and must be handed to the ‘needy’ via collectivist centralised institutions. Take Gabi Zimmer of the ‘Europe United Left / Nordic Green Left’ tendency in the European Parliament, who has managed to get into a Tweetable length quote every single wrong idea ever about economics and personal responsibility:

What we need is sustainable growth based on strengthening the public sector and public responsibility

Don’t forget the usual clamour to increase the EU Budget:

Eleven of Europe's poorest nations defended a proposal to increase the 2013 EU budget on Tuesday, pitting them against richer states seeking to limit the bloc's joint spending. The group, all former communist bloc countries except Portugal and Malta, issued a joint statement backing the European Commission's proposal to increase the budget by 6.8 percent to €138 billion.

"We support this justified and strongly needed increase … any cuts in this area would be artificial and not based on the real needs"

Don’t you get it yet? We have needs. Someone else must meet them.

The opening quotes above are a vivid example of this way of thinking taking a desperate new form. We have needs, and you must meet them, if only because our attempts to help ourselves are better than those idlers over there. Not a way to improve the atmosphere at top EU meetings. And in any case irrelevant to the basic problems.

In one distinguished European capital there is an elegant EU Ambassador's residence in a 20s/30s style. As you enter on the left is a fine internal tall stained glass window. It depicts the glories of that country's colonial history, with well turned images of Trade, Industry, Justice, Peace and so on. Right at the bottom of the window, unnoticed except by nosy people like me who like to look at things, are two cramped Africans holding the whole thing up. The imagery is staggeringly explicit.

Yes, Europe is not Africa. And luckily for Africa, Africa is no longer European.

Charles Crawford is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw, he is now a private consultant and writer: www.charlescrawford.biz. He tweets @charlescrawford

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