Saturday, December 03, 2005

The idea of Europe

Talking about Demos is never going to be an easy topic. The idea of the European Demos is one which has been floating around for a good number of years, although by and large nobody seems to really understand it, myself included.

The idea of Demos is usually tied up with the German terms Gemeinschaft and Gessellschaft, which relate to differing ideas of community and community association. Gemeinschaft is the very tight, communitarian style of social understanding based around family and personal relationships, Gessellschaft the wider, shared understandings idea, somewhat like a company model where individuals are very different but pull together for the common good. Obviously the parallels here can be drawn between communitarianism and cosmopolitanism, although the terms are not perfect corrolaries. Neither Gemeinschaft or Gessellschaft really speak about political involvement, more simply a state of mind amongst certain people.

In this way they are very similar to Demos, which is obviously about the people, (hence the name) but more importantly about the idea of a wider ranging community of people. The European Demos, for example, relates to all the citizens of Europe, regardless of whether they actively feel European, but simply through the fact that Europe has had a shared history and ties between European people are easy to see. Europeans have something in common, and the demos describes that (slight) unity whenever these people come together as, well, effectively some sort of proto-community.

So where's the actual politics of this? Well the idea of a European demos has been used to try and highlight some of the more obvious links between Europeans in order to promote the idea that Europe is already a community and that further integration along these lines is not as bizarre an idea as one may first think. The problem of course, is in trying to define whether there really is a 'European people', or whether in fact, there are simply many 'European Peoples' - Brits and Germans and Spaniards and so on who might live and work in Europe but only involve themselves in community at a state level.

Now to me, it seems pretty clear that we're somewhere in the middle. There are Europe-wide communities, and some people do feel genuinely European and feel for Europe as something more than a vague idea. On the other hand, it is far easier to relate to nation and state than the wider community and there is nothing wrong with that either as these ties are undoubtedly stronger, clearer and more readily accessible. The real question of course is whether or not this balance is shifting, and if it is, which way? Are we becoming more of a demos? Are all those 'Europe by proxy' events like the collective building of the Airbus or a shared currency actually making people feel more European? It's difficult to say - in the UK, maybe not, on the continent, maybe so. I guess only time will tell. The important issue for me though, is that there is a European community out there, however small, and whether we like it or not, we are a part of it. Even before the politics gets involved, we are still European through our common goals and ideas. Maybe that alone counts for something.

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