The Cultures of Germany, Italy, and France

December 11, 2008

I did a post a couple of days ago that was prompted by a question someone had asked on BlogCatalog and which I just randomly happened to see on there. The question was “What comes to mind when you think of Sweden?”

Well, I was thinking a bit more about this, and I decided to do a similar thing for all the other countries of the European Union, and in that way, I can compile my own personal view of the EU. To keep this a bit manageable, I will start with just a few of the 27 countries. I’ll start by looking at the bigger countries, and the ones I know most about, the larger countries of Western Europe. These are Germany, Italy and France.

When I think of Germany, it is music that comes to mind. Among my favourite classical composers are Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler. This is cheating slightly because two of these were from Austria, and another spent most of his life in Austria, but as Germany and Austria are both in the EU it doesn’t matter, because in a sense, they are now both part of the same country.

When I think of Italy, it is food and painting that comes to mind. I love Leonardo and Michelangelo, and also Botticelli and Masaccio and Caravaggio and Tintoretto and many others. I also like pizza and pasta and ice cream.

When I think of France, it is science and mathematics that comes to mind. The list of French scientists is much too long to be contained in one blog post. I also think of Paris, which is the greatest city on earth.

My aim is to post in detail on all of the above topics in the coming weeks. Also, I intend to look at all the other countries of the European Union in the same kind of way.

So I suggest that you bookmark or favourite or follow or subscribe to this blog, to partake of the delights that are to come! And I will welcome any comments (nice polite ones please) with any thoughts you may have about the EU and its amazing culture, or about any of the individual countries.


EU Energy Targets Agreement is Welcome

December 10, 2008

The latest agreement of EU states on targets for 2020 for renewable energy will have a very positive impact on energy consumption across the EU, and on the reduction of carbon emissions. It will also reduce the dependence of some regions of the EU on oil and gas from the increasingly unpredictable country of Russia.

See timesonline – Europe agrees energy targets for 2020 and You Tube – Europe energy highlights reliance on Russia


An Expansion of the Horizon

December 9, 2008

Sometimes things happen in a flash. One minute you’re thinking one way, and then all of a sudden everything seems to turn upside down, or semms to turn inside out, or seems to expand to new and larger limits, an expansion of the horizon. No, I’m not talking about some new kind of drug on the market!

I’m going to tell you about the first time when I suddenly realised that I’m a European. Well of course I’ve always been that, because of being born in that continent, but I’m talking about something more than that. I was born in London and that’s where I now live. So that makes me English, or British, depending on how you define it.

But one day not long ago, I was in a car that was belting along on a motorway in Spain, doing about 120 km/h, and I remember that the track playing on the car stereo (loud) was Bodyrock by Moby. (I don’t know if the music is relevant to this but I include it because it was part of the experience.) All of a sudden I just felt that I wasn’t in a foreign country, that Spain was MY country, or at least, it was a PART of my country. I knew that whenever I want, I can travel to Spain and nobody can stop me, there are no checkpoints. I can buy a house there, I can get a job and I don’t need a work permit, I can get free health care, I can claim state benefits, I can even vote in the elections for the Spanish government. How cool is that?

And it’s not just Spain, I can do the same thing anywhere from Ireland to Estonia. In other words, anywhere in my country, the European Union. Many people now are coming to this realisation. Nationalism is on the way out for those people. They might live in Seville, or Edinburgh, or Vienna, but they are citizens of Europe.

Here’s the link to the track that was playing, if you want to hear it. Maybe it’ll do the same for you as it did for me! Bodyrock by Moby


Dulce et Decorum Est

December 8, 2008

There’s a lot of debate around at the moment as to why the Europeans have made the European Union. Are they fools to willingly surrender their sovereignty? Is it a giving up of democratic rights? Is the EU just a big business conspiracy? Will the EU challenge the USA to a duel?

But if you want to know the real reason, deep down, why the Europeans have made the EU, I think you’ll find it’s very simple. The Europeans are sick to death of war. That’s why, however much we may criticize, however Eurosceptic we may profess to be, if we really think hard about it, we love the European Union. Because it guarantees peace in Europe. In fact it makes war in Europe impossible.

Below is one of the most influential pieces of writing that set the Europeans on the road to creating peace. It was written by an English soldier, Wilfred Owen, during World War One. If you read this, why will you need to ask again why we made the European Union?

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Note: The phrase Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a quote from a poem by the Roman poet Horace. It means “How sweet and fitting it is to die for your country.” It was widely quoted at the beginning of the War to encourage young men and boys to join the army.


What comes to mind when you think of Sweden?

December 7, 2008

Someone asked on BlogCatalog, “What comes to mind when you think of Sweden?” There were loads of answers, like ABBA, IKEA, blondes etc. I must say that my first thought was ABBA. I think that possibly the greatest ABBA track is The Winner Takes It All.

Nobody on BlogCatalog mentioned Volvo cars (or if they did, I missed it) and also, nobody mentioned the group, Europe.
Their song The Final Countdown is considered by many to be the greatest pop song ever. I don’t think I would quite go that far. For one thing, the lyrics are totally absurd, even preposterous. The planet Venus would be a terrible choice as a place to emigrate to. It has an atmosphere that is lethal poison, and a runaway greenhouse effect. If there were life on Venus, it would have to be very weird in order to survive, and it would almost certainly be very unpleasant. Plus the distance to Venus is not measured in light years but in millions of kilometres; it is much too close for light year units.

However, you listen to The Final Countdown, not for its silly lyrics, but for the wonderful, anthemic theme tune.


The Schuman Declaration

December 6, 2008

In the previous post, I said that there is no one particular day when the European Union could be said to have been formed, and that is true. The essence almost of the EU and its formation is in its gradualism. As I said then, the ideas of a peaceful integration of the states of Europe has its origins as early as the First World War or even earlier.

But if you had to choose a day above all others which could act as the European counterpart to the American Declaration of Independence, which set that great nation on its path, then it would have to be May 9th 1950, the day of the so-called Schuman declaration. Many commentators agree that this was an historic day for Europe, and as such, May 9th is celebrated as a holiday (Europe Day) in many places within the borders of the EU.

The reason it is so momentous is that once the Schuman plan was put into effect, a process was begun which would not be easy to reverse, and as the years went by, became increasingly less likely to be reversed. Perhaps at the time, many of the participants in the plan were not aware of how irrevocable it was, but it has now become clear that the European Union as it is now is a direct result of that decision. So the Schuman Declaration, more than anything else, could be said to be the cause of the European Union.

It is true that the council of Europe, for example, had already been in existence since 1948, but it was the agreement to follow the Schuman plan which tied the Six together in an economic agreement. In particular, it meant that, ever after, France and Germany had no choice but to work in partnership.

On this link, you can watch the ceremony of the unveiling of a sculpture of Robert Schuman at the University of Cork in Ireland, and some beautiful readings by children from France and Ireland. http://eurofile/2008/12/robert-schuman


The European Union

December 5, 2008

The European Union is rapidly moving towards being a country in its own right. Some people are still resistant to the idea, but attitudes are gradually changing. This is because when people see the benefits to themselves and to those around them, they begin to come around to accepting the situation. This is always the way the European Union has worked, since it began.

Though really, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the time when it did begin. This is because the European Union was not inaugurated on any particular day, as the United States of America was. The European Union grew organically. The prime movers of the project were those people who had a vision of how things could be, and they gently began to work towards the fulfilment of those visions. The whole process had to be gradual, to give everyone the time to get used to the changes.

After all the events of Europe’s history, the people of the continent have a deep mistrust of anything that seems to them to be in any way dictatorial. Europe has had to suffer more than its fair share of dictators. So everything now has to be done by agreement, and by treaty, and by the democratic process.

So everything takes time. But over the last 50 years, the countries of Europe have moved inexorably towards what is termed “ever closer union” in the now famous phrase.

The original dream of the Union was to create a situation in which the European nations would never again go to war with one another. The dream actually began not long after the end of World War I, but because the punitive sanctions set upon Germany after that conflict were too severe, the continent had to endure the rise of Hitler and the Second World War before the dream of union and peace could at last be set in motion.

On this linkĀ http://eurofile1/2008/12/ode-to-joy you can hearĀ the famous “Ode To Joy” by Ludwig van Beethoven, which has been adopted as the anthem of the European Union. Beethoven incorporated the tune into the final movement of his Ninth Symphony, setting it to the lyrics of the poem by Schiller which gives the tune its name.