Report Visions of Europe (1)
Europe, no longer a spring chicken. The abduction of Europa, by Rembrandt (1632)

Why no-one loves her

Disowned by voters, personified by pale politicians, and just plain unsexy: the EU has got an image problem. Philosopher Wolfram Eilenberger finds the real reasons for Euro-weariness in the gap between the reality and the myth of Europe.

Published on 28 December 2009 at 15:51
Europe, no longer a spring chicken. The abduction of Europa, by Rembrandt (1632)

The European Union has a serious image problem, no doubt about it. That is not for want of accomplishments: the people of Europe have never had it better than now, in 2009. And yet the Union hardly gets any respect, let alone heartfelt affection, from its own citizens. Why is that? The root of the scandal probably lies in the mythical image our continent has had of itself since the beginning. Nothing has harmed the EU’s public image more than the culturally-entrenched and politically-hyped identification of the Union with a skimpily-clad virgin (Europa) whose manifold charms even the mightiest gods cannot resist. It is this (male) mythological fantasy that inevitably yields a disappointing discrepancy to this day between the dream and the humdrum daily fulfilment thereof. After all, in so-called reality, Europe was born in 1957 with the Treaties of Rome, which makes her 52 years old now. Not an easy age – for a woman.

She is, to be sure, cultivated, well-groomed and fluent in several languages, she’s a financially independent, smart, cosmopolitan non-smoker, healthy and fond of travelling, with a sense of irony and beauty. But go ahead and put that in a personal ad, then add her age in at the end: 52, and the turnout will be worse than disappointing. As a woman of 52, you won’t make it onto a single Idols show. If anything, you might land another prime-time part as the tight-lipped detective with an alcohol problem – which is to be taken quite figuratively. And if you find this diagnosis cynical, it should be added that the criteria in question are not only the ones men use to put together their fantasies, but also editors their magazines, and above all the criteria you, esteemed public, use to choose what to buy at the news stand.

The end of love alla Berlusconi?

Public indifference is probably also due to the existential situation of the woman over 50. What’s left for her to dream of anyway? The kids have flown the coop, her relations to her partner are marked by serene disinterest at best, now that the exciting advantages of the Union have become all too familiar and, ultimately, lost their flavour. She has lost her figure a little too. The quantum leaps in her career lie far behind her as well. She’s the well-heeled auntie who slips a twenty in the pockets of younger family members now and again – which, indeed, aptly describes what most Europeans expect of their Community. She’s not entirely blameless, though. She confronts us in her deep-blue spinsterish dress, usually soberly and matter-of-factly admonishing us, and adding that she only wants what’s best for us: a mix of Pipi Longstocking’s well-meaning schoolmarm aunt and Angela Merkel. Needless to say, this is all a rank injustice, especially if you consider what pillars of our society middle-aged women actually are.

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And so we find ourselves continually thrown back upon the myth of Europa: Zeus, the lusty king of the gods and consort of Hera (the prototype of the middle-aged woman), goes after a willing young thing from the province in Berlusconiesque manner, seizes her, sires three sons by the vanquished wench, and thereupon offers her up as a wife to a childless regional potentate – to which Europa submits without a whimper, thenceforth to enjoy a peaceful, uneventful existence within her own borders. Well? Wouldn’t that be a successful prospect for the future of our EU too: peaceful coexistence with no more lusting after adventure and expansion, history without histrionics? It sure would. Only, to truly appreciate a mature Europe will require nothing less of us than to appreciate, and even learn to love, our own mostly uneventful everyday lives – which, as we all know, is the hardest challenge of all.

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