July 15, 2003

Ethnic humor, EU style

On the surface, Europe has gone a bit ethno-crazy and bigoted. France's Chirac tells all of eastern Europe that they are poorly raised children, Italy and Germany are trading barbed insults and it seems only a matter of time before cries of 'perfidious Albion' enter into the fray (if I haven't missed it already being launched).

On reflection, the ethno follies seem to be more than just foolish expressions of national pride. These are serious thinkers, major movers and shakers that have guided their nations toward an ambitious european unity project that is breathtaking in breadth and depth. So what gives?

Ethnic name calling has a vast and storied existence in european culture on all sides. It has always been held in reserve by savvy politicians of all ideological persuasions who use it to create a diversion, an outside force to focus popular discontent on and safely vent without bringing down their own rule. So far, so good, and if the occasional war breaks out because of it, that's a growth opportunity if handled right. The EU project was in large part intended to cut out the wars because they ended up being bad for business as european states had gotten too good at it for the continent to survive another round.

But what about the need for a boogie man? The Turks, the US, non-EU european nations have all been good for awhile but life is getting tough for the EU politician.

The US is dangerous to trifle with post 9/11 as EU exporters and France's tourist sector are discovering. The Turks are toying with islamic politics and might possibly turn into a real threat for the first time in decades, and even non-EU states are starting to be tricky to insult as they enter the EU and gain international prestige as Poland has in Iraq (it will take some time for the germans to recover from the idea of sending troops to be under polish command). Russia is becoming all of Europe's energy supplier so kicking the bear, even when it's down, is not as risk free as it once was.

So we have cancelled vacations by Schroeder and "Spaghetti Head" headlines as the euro-press gets into the act. But why now? Frankly, the EU is in a spot of trouble and blowing off steam may save some politicians their jobs.

The ECB has announced it will no longer be dropping rates and criticized various EU states for not reforming their bloated social programs to something that might actually be sustainable given the EU's impending population implosion and relatively low economic growth rates compared to what they need to handle their greying population.

As tensions rise within EU nations because of needed reforms that betray social promises made in the past, look for infantile displays to have a renewed popularity. Let's just hope that the delicate task of distraction doesn't end up being taken too seriously.

Posted by TMLutas at July 15, 2003 08:29 PM