From Tue Nov 11 10:15:08 2003
From: Le Monde diplomatique <>
To: Le Monde diplomatique <>
Subject: Continental drift
Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2003 13:21:08 +0100 (CET)

A need for the best of Europe: Continental Drift

By Carlos Fuentes, Le Monde diplomatique, November 2003

A SOCIALIST member of the European parliament recently compared the project of European union to that great emblem of Western civilisation, the cathedral. Building a cathedral can take decades, even centuries—that of Mexico City, on the Zocalo, was begun in 1573 but not completed until 1813. A political project can take just as long: that of Europe has been in the pipeline since the fall of the Roman Empire in 433.

The end of the unity imposed by Rome shattered Europe politically. The Carolingian era briefly restored the semblance of unity but failed to control the church, which was the only constant in medieval life. The struggles between temporal power—Emperor Henry IV and King Philip the Fair of France—and spiritual power—Popes Gregory VII and Boniface VIII—sowed the seeds of European democracy. This spared the continent the fate of such places as Russia, where the tsarist-religious autocracy blurred the distinction between temporal and spiritual realms, a confusion that metamorphosed into the conflation of party and state after 1917, lasting throughout the Soviet period. In Europe the conflict between church and state allowed the emergence of national authorities that subjected all political players to state law. With a legal framework of nation and state, Europe laid the foundations of international law.

Five hundred years ago the Western world made a series of enormous conceptual leaps. The world was no longer flat, but round. It orbited the sun. It needed to be explored and unified to make it understandable: 16th-century Europe began to think globally, and the problems of that era are not so different from our own. Early in the period of global development Europe had similar aims to those who are now attempting to institute the global market that was so fiercely opposed in the streets of Seattle and Genoa.

What was needed then and now is a rulebook for a new reality. Renaissance Europe invented human rights, with the norms of international coexistence defined by the Dutchman Hugo Grotius and refined by the Spaniards Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suárez, who went beyond relations between European nations into the rights of aboriginal peoples and relations with the peoples of European colonies.

During that era Europe and the Americas, especially Spain and Latin America, united their political and legal destinies. De Vitoria granted native peoples the same rights as the citizens of Seville and made the universality of human rights the founding principle of international law. (The same reasoning underpins contemporary judge Baltasar Garzón's recent prosecution of the dictator General Augusto Pinochet, and prosecutions of other illegal rulers who believe themselves above the law.) Colonialism had many failings but it never questioned the judicial power of this system, the jus gentium (law of nations). It was often distorted or avoided, but it upheld principles of humanity and legality that many indigenous peoples of the Americas still invoke today.

When independence arrived in the early 19th century, Latin America lost its connection with Europe and its peoples often fell victim to the continent's new hegemonic power, the United States. The reappearance in the entourage of President George Bush Jnr of some of the most sinister protagonists of 1960s and 1970s US imperialism, including Richard Perle, Otto Reich and Eliott Abrams, makes it imperative for Latin America to change its international relations and find new backers, trading partners and opportu nities. Where should the most European contin ent outside Europe turn, other than to Europe?

Latin Americans know all about geographical pressures. We have to cohabit with the US and to do that we must negotiate astutely and with dignity. With Europe we have the opportunity to collaborate and learn healthily, undisturbed by major tensions or arguments. We must look to Europe because its current economic models, although far from perfect, are superior to the model that neoliberals claim is universal, notwithstanding the havoc it has caused in Latin America. Europe shows us there is more to capitalist wisdom than the trickle-down model even President George Bush Sr once called voodoo economics.

Latin Americans felt the effects of unbridled capitalism in the 19th century and know that it concentrates wealth at the top while denying it to the roots. We need a model closer to that advocated by the European Union, incorporating a social chapter, worker participation, collective bargaining and the conviction that, if work, remuneration and productivity are not closely linked, a community becomes unjust and unequal, and ultimately poorer for it. Latin America needs to find a balance between its public and private sectors. Civil society, through NGOs and other organisations, provides a third force that can campaign for this.

Europe again offers an alternative to the selfish, oppressive model of neoliberalism. It should be a source of diversification for us, an alternative to the dogma that makes the market an end rather than the means to an end. If the market becomes the enemy of the people, the people will become hostile to the market.

We have inherited the best of Europe. European civilisation, says former Italian premier Massimo D'Alema, produced a political world based on nation-states, institutions, parties and rules, and a moral world of culture, art, intelligence and talent. This mix makes Europe unique and has enabled it to recover from the deep wounds of the 20th century: two internecine wars and the tragedy of the Holocaust.

This Europe is our Europe, so it hurts us directly to see it betray its own values and yield to the temptation of xenophobia, chauvinism, racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, religious fanaticism, nationalism and—worst of all—the persecution of migrant workers. In Spain especially, antagonism towards Latin American immigrants is a widespread, depressing phenomenon. Yet Latino workers in Europe are only giving much and taking little—giving back to old imperial Europe the conquest the Americas never wanted and from which Europe derived great benefits. The former colonies of Latin America are renewing the human and cultural potential of Europe's ageing population, bringing back what Europe gave to South America: métissage, cross-fertilisation between races and cultures. As partners in a world system, Europe and Latin America must set an example. Freedom of movement must not be limited to capital and goods. The global market will not live up to its name until it includes freedom of movement for everyone and work distributed, regardless of borders, to the equal benefit of employers and employees.

As Jacques Derrida wrote, Europe needs to provide what has always been promised in her name: the best of Europe, which means ending tensions left by the cold war and opening up to that which is not European, to a world that does not want a Europe of colonialist, fascist or xenophobic relics. What the world wants is for Europe to propose a new plan for economic cooperation on an international scale, with an intensification of cultural exchanges and the creation of a new judicial order for the third millennium.