Europe Day

4 years ago

Tomorrow - Saturday, 9th May 2015 - is the 30th Europe Day, an annual celebration proposed by the European Union to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of its predecessor, the EEC. Europe in Autumn's Dave Hutchinson writes a few words about the current state of the continent.

On April 13 this year, a small group of people travelled to a patch of land beside the River Danube in what used, once upon a time, to be Yugoslavia.

When they got there, they performed a little ceremony involving the declaration of the birth of The Free Republic of Liberland, Europe’s newest state.

Liberland is the brainchild of Vit Jedlicka, a Czech politician and economist who has spent years campaigning at home for lower taxes and smaller government, and it started out as something of a stunt, a roughly triangular piece of unclaimed land of about seven square kilometres between Serbia and Croatia with the flag of a new nation on it.

It didn’t stay a stunt for long. As I write this, Liberland has received in the region of 300,000 citizenship applications. Not bad for a country whose capital city is basically a shed.

There are really two Europes. The first is the geographical Continent, stretching from the Atlantic coast of Portugal to the Urals, and from Lampedusa to Scandinavia. The second is Europe, the political monolith whose peace and unity we celebrate today.

(Actually, and because this is Europe, there are two Europe Days – one on May 5 celebrating the establishment of the Council of Europe in 1949, and May 9, celebrating the day the European Union’s predecessor, the EEC, was proposed in 1950.)

Europe’s roots are in the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community, which came into being in 1951 and 1958, and in the beginning it consisted of just six countries – France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

It’s grown a bit since then, of course. The European Union enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty now has 28 member states, and the Schengen Agreement has turned the Union into what is, in effect, a single country.

Quite how long this will last is anyone’s guess. If you google ‘europe animation history,’ you’ll be presented with any number of animated maps of Europe which show the swelling and shrinking, the appearance and disappearance, of European states down the centuries. It’s actually quite hypnotic to watch, and it brings home one realisation – the history of Europe is about flux, about evolution. It never stays still.

Many of the countries we regard as historical monoliths are nothing of the sort. Germany is a relatively recent innovation, as is Italy as we know it today. Poland was one of the dominant nations in Europe at one time, then for a long time it didn’t exist at all as a national entity. Even when it reappeared on the European map its borders were bodily shifted East and West by outside forces.

There’s no reason to believe this will stop. The European Union may be a passing affectation, a shining ideal of a single borderless Continental state that was just too idealistic to last.

There are already signs that the things are changing again. Ukraine has begun constructing a ‘wall’ between itself and Russia. At the moment, the Wall is just a stretch of fencing in Kharkiv, but the plan is to extend it until it stretches for 1,500 miles, complete with trenches, watchtowers and guards.

In Bulgaria, a three-metre-high fence, topped with razor wire, is being put up along the border with Turkey to stop the flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa and curb the risk of Islamic militants entering the country. The plan is that eventually this new fence will be patrolled by one and a half thousand border police.

“The wall is back,” Professor David Priestland, who lectures in Soviet history at Oxford told The Independent recently. “There were lots of them in the Cold War. We thought we’d got rid of them, now they’re cropping up again. We’re partly seeing a militarisation of borders, and we’re also seeing walls going up to stem the movement or people. We are not in a wonderful world of trading with each other and moving freely, as it looked like we might be getting towards in the Nineties. That has not happened.”

The danger with fences is that everyone will start wanting one.

At the same time, there seems a genuine taste for new nations. Certainly, a percentage of the 300,000 people who have applied to live in Liberland may have been attracted by its apparent aim to be a tax haven, but many more have been attracted by the novelty of it.

Whether Liberland succeeds or fails, it seems to indicate that the map of Europe has not finished changing yet.