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In Search of Europe

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Mia Rodriguez-Salgado goes in search of an idea that has puzzled people from Charlemagne to Adenauer.

'The meaning of the word Europe has never changed', wrote Yan Brekilien confidently in 1965, adding: 'everyone knows what it is, and has the same notion of [Europe] as someone from the Middle Ages, or the Enlightenment'. Nothing could be further from the truth. The meaning of 'Europe' has changed radically over the centuries. Emphasis on its seemingly eternal existence is a salient characteristic of the many works produced in the 1950s and more recently to promote European unity. These have sought to demonstrate a common identity and history dating back many centuries, and that those who enunciated some form of unity had loved Europe most.

Due to their efforts, and also to the practical need for brevity in media headlines, the word 'Europe' has become associated not only with a unified continent, but specifically with the union of countries under the European Community. 'Europe' and 'European' are now terms almost wholly appropriated by the alliance of powers under the EC banner, and used to designate their political, cultural and economic systems. Consequently, it is habitual to hear of Central or Eastern European states asking for support 'from Europe', or wishing to 'join Europe'; and that 'Europe' is taking decisions, for example, to impose sanctions against other (European) states. More recently, accusations of being 'anti-European' and 'non-European' have been bandied about by supporters and opponents of greater unity within Europe and the EC. Anti-federalists claim it is anti-European to seek greater unification as that would undermine national sovereignty, which they consider essential to the identity of European states. Those in favour of union point to the devastation caused by nationalism, particularly in this century, and tend to regard most forms of separatism as destructive and thus inherently anti-European.

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