National loyalty”, and anything with “nation” in it, used to be as German as sauerkraut and knackwurst. But the Fatherland went the way of the Third Reich: never again! The New Germany would be open, virtuous, and ever more multicultural.
Hence the surprise sprung by Angela Merkel, chancellor, addressing Germany’s 3m-strong Turkish population: “We expect [them to] develop a high level of loyalty to our country.” The trigger was a report by the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s external intelligence service, that warned of 6,000 Turkish informants working for Turkish intelligence, spying on their compatriots and going after anti-Erdogan groups.
Across the Rhine, Nicolas Sarkozy launched his bid for the French presidency by calling for “resolute combat against multiculturalism”. For too long, he fumed, “the French have been subjected to the tyranny of minorities”.
What minorities? Officially, France does not recognise any, refusing to classify people by faith or ethnicity. There are only citoyens, unified by Bastille Day, secularism and la gloire de la patrie. But now the country has been shattered by the worst mayhem ever inflicted by homegrown jihadis anywhere in Europe.
The fact is that no EU state, perhaps with the exception of Britain, has excelled at assimilating its Muslim immigrants. Look across the Atlantic, and never mind Donald Trump. How do you become a “real” American? You salute the flag, declaim the oath of allegiance, and celebrate America’s civil religion on Thanksgiving and July 4.
But how do you avow “national loyalty” in Europe? It does not have a civil religion and, Islam aside, is forsaking real religion as it rapidly de-Christianises, signalled by falling church attendance. Nationalism once drove millions of Europeans into the trenches. Today, they wrap themselves in the flag only when winning Olympic medals, and they wave it only when cheering their national football teams.
After the second world war, denationalisation and integration guaranteed peace and soaring prosperity in Europe. Britain, again, was an exception, emerging from the slaughter with its sense of nationhood intact. The other outliers are the eastern Europeans who celebrate their nationalism because it was suppressed by the Habsburg, Nazi and Soviet empires for most of the 20th century.
Yet across Europe today renationalisation is back — whether soft-pedalled, as in Ms Merkel’s case, or in boots, as in Mr Sarkozy’s. France has outlawed the burka, while Germany is proposing to implement a partial ban. Meanwhile, the Schengen free travel area is under pressure from hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.
For many in Europe, the euro was a bridge too far into supranationality. Why should rich Germans subsidise Greece? Why should France and Italy obey the Teutonic diktat of fiscal probity when they battle double-digit unemployment? Britain, though it never signed on to Schengen and the single currency, is on the way out.
Gather these straws in the wind, and they become sheaves. They signal that Europe is a set of institutions that lacks the emotional underpinnings of a patrie or fatherland. There is no identity that could be rooted in a common language, history and fate. Nor is there a demos that would endow Brussels with legitimacy, let alone affection. Democratic politics unfolds in the national arena.
Voters across Europe may not like burkas and mosques, but that does not lead them back to their Judeo-Christian origins. If there is a common civilisation stretching from Portugal to Poland, it is Americanism, as manifested by what Europeans watch, eat, wear and listen to. The lingua franca is English with an American accent.
There was a time when Europe was bound together by the two civil religions of Christian democracy and social democracy. Christian Democrats like Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi laid the foundations of the EU, a project to which social democrats eventually reconciled themselves.
Today, Christian and social democratic parties in Europe are either dead, as in Italy, or declining, as in Germany and France. In Germany, the conservative CDU and left-of-centre SPD were once majority parties; now they score 30 and 20 per cent respectively
The EU’s quadruple crisis — over borders, immigrants, Brexit and monetary union — will not yield to invocations of its glorious post-1945 past. The nations of Europe are digging in under the flag of defensive nationalism, which is certainly nicer than the aggressive nationalism of yore. The battle cry is no longer “Rule Britannia” or “Deutschland über alles”, but “Keep jobs and investments at home, keep foreign goods and aliens out.”
Still, we should not count on an eventual break-up of the EU. It is not love but convenience that holds the bloc together. And what a powerful glue it is, given all the benefits that member states other than the UK want to keep enjoying. The EU will lumber on, although the march toward ever closer union has stopped.
The writer is editor of Die Zeit and a fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University
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