Monday, January 03, 2011

How Much European is Someone Else's Country?

Estonia has joined the Euro zone on the 1st of January of 2011.

"It has finally become a part of Europe as I apparently implicitly conceive it" writes this blogger. Does he think that, when and if Sweden (for instance) joins the euro, he will write the same about Sweden? That Sweden, then and finally deciding to join the Euro, has finally become European? What is it that makes, say, Sweden more European than Estonia, even though the former is not in the Euro area and the latter is? Is it that the communist past has, at least temporarily, washed away the European essence of such countries as Estonia or perhaps Poland?

The perception of "how much European" a country is depends more on "how much ignorant" someone is than on the culture, history and institutions of the country under appreciation. Doubting about the "Europeanness" of any former "Eastern Europe" country says more about the lack of knowledge among "West Europeans" (and that INCLUDES PhD students from any prestigious European university...) than about the essence of those "East European" countries.

A PhD research topic on European issues could very well be how much do mass media in such big powerful "west Europe" countries like UK, France, Germany contribute to misinform, spread and fuel old prejudices about, say, countries from the former communist block.

Prejudice against countries and their people is very similar, almost fully coincidental with any type of discrimination and racism. Just like women, people from ethnic minorities, homossexuals - countries themselves have very often to outperform the dominant countries in order to get the same level of respect.

At present, there are only two European countries that conform with the Stability and Growth Pact criteria for accession to the Euro area. They are Luxembourg and Estonia. Not only in terms of monetary and public finance issues, but on many others, Estonia outperforms countries that, according to prejudices, are supposed to be "more European than Estonia".

Consider the past and present performance of Estonia on the PISA studies (compares 15 year old people in terms of literary, mathematical and scientific abilities). Consider electronic elections. Consider efficiency and organization, simplicity of institutions, low levels of corruption, high level of freedoms (information, entrepreneurial, etc., etc.). Consider low levels of bureaucracy. In all these and many other aspects, Estonia is above the European average - or is even leading Europe (again the example of electronic elections or flat taxation, availability of free internet, etc., etc.).

Still, and due to plain and simple hard discrimination (or maybe it is just pure and simple ignorance and nationalism) the perception from "old Europe"/"west Europe" is that Estonia still has to prove its Europeanness.

Now, it would actually be interesting to "scientifically" compare perceptions, hopes and identities towards Europe in different countries. It might as well be that those countries considered themselves the core of Europe have less attachment to the construction of the European Union than, say, an Estonia or a Poland.

Two notes: this post is not a personal attack on the supra mentioned blogger, who I don't know and never met. Second, the argument in this post could as well apply to, say, Czech Republic, Slovenia or any other of those countries that are as European as any other (and this should be obvious) but that, unfortunately, are quite often deemed as somehow less European in both "west Europe" public and published oppinions.


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