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Europa, quidnam es vos?

Thoughts on what Europe is, leading me to think again about why I am here.

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I am a Canadian living in the United Kingdom. I am a Canadian living in Europe. I am not a European citizen. I am not a British citizen. In fact, I haven’t even really been here long enough to be a British resident, but I will be by the end of the year.

I recently went to a event which was a discussion led by Simon Glendinning, the director of the Forum for European Philosophy at the European Institute within the London School of Economics. The discussion, entitled Is Europe a Place or an Idea?, put on by Big Ideas, who host events that are set up as a casual discussion, starting with someone with knowledge setting up the subject, and then the floor open for discussion.

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Mr. Glendinning started off by setting three possible ways to define Europe.

The first was geographic. It seems a simple way to define the continent, but is a surprisingly complex definition. The oldest known map of Europe, the Noachide map from the 7th century, defines Europe as being bounded in the east by the River Don in Russia. Nowadays, most folks would define it as being at the Ural Mountains, further to the east of that definition. How far off-shore does Europe reach? Is Iceland European? Greenland? The Azores? It’s fuzzier than one would think.

The second definition was based on a cultural progression, that Europe is a group of national states that have been and continue to be working towards a better world, that Europe is a global leader and the vanguard of human society. I’m probably not giving this idea a very good explanation, as reading that back it sounds very arrogant, but if you look at this definition within the historical context of moving from barbarism towards enlightened free societies, you can see what the definition was trying to communicate.

The final definition looks at the history, and defines Europe as being the areas where the main base of thought, laws and morality are based on the amalgam of Christianity and Greek rational thought. In fact, prior to the Reformation, it was easy to define Europe as those places where intellectuals all spoke Latin.

(An aside: the title of this blog is, I think, Latin for “Europe, who are you?” But I don’t speak Latin, so it was translated using an online translator. It might actually say, “Europe, pork yellow chariot.” I wouldn’t make a very good pre-Reformation intellectual.)

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What is interesting about the last two definitions is that without the bounds of geography, there are suddenly lots of nations that could be considered “European” without being anywhere close to geographic Europe. Most every country in the Americas, as well as New Zealand and Australia, are “European” when you consider that their populations and governments are based on the systems and people put in place during the period of European colonialism.

After the floor was opened for discussion, a few other potential definitions came out, including a political definition (i.e. whoever the EU says is European), places where there was an intermarrying of Royal families and even a definition based on any place that takes place in the Eurovision song contest, though I think that last definition might have been a joke.

Some may ask why this question is important. The answer has to do with Russia and Turkey. Both are being considered for inclusion into the European Union. Geographically, both have small regions within Europe. Turkey is especially controversial, because despite having a secular government, they have a large Muslim population. Turkey’s inclusion has become a major point of debate. One of the key criteria for joining the European Union, known as the Copenhagen Criteria, and set out originally in the Maastricht Treaty, states that “Any European State may apply to become a Member of the Union”

About half way through the discussion, we had a quick break to use the facilities and refill our glasses. Upon return to the discussion, Mr. Glendinning asked a question to the group.

“How many of you would have defined yourself as primarily European?”

Interestingly, I’d say most of the folks put up their hands, though people who come out to a discussion entitled “Is Europe a Place or an Idea?” probably aren’t a representative sample of the entire population of Britain, especially seeing as a number of the people there weren’t British, but rather from other places in Europe.

While the sample may not have been representative, Europe is a place that does define itself as more than a collection of countries. I think you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of people who would say “I am a North American,” whereas here in Europe you’d find that close to half of the people would define themselves as “European”.

Mr. Glendinning went around the room and asked those who didn’t put up their hands how they would have identified themselves. Some defined themselves are British or English. One guy defined himself as being from London, dismissing the idea of national identities altogether.

When he asked me why I didn’t identify as European, I answered, obviously that I am Canadian.

Secretly, though, I really did want to say that I was European.

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As I said in my entry back in September on Brussels, “...one of the reasons I moved out of Canada was to be part of something larger. I wanted to be part of the international community, be part of something that was happening. Europe seemed to be that place.”

I moved to the United Kingdom for expediency and ease, but really I would have been happy to have moved anywhere in Europe. One of the good things about the UK Ancestry Visa which I have is that after a 6 year period of residency in the UK, I can get a UK passport which will then allow me to work and live anywhere in the EU.

I have a definition of Europe. Not what it is, but what it isn’t. It isn’t Canada and it isn’t North America. It isn’t, in short, where I have lived before.

In my entry back in September, I said that, “Europe is coming together. The European Union is growing, the coming together of nations to form a larger community, an international meeting place.”

I was sitting in a pub last night, eating dinner, ruminating on the talk on Europe, and I heard something that made me realize that it was that last point that was the real driver of why I came here.

There was an Aussie and his girlfriend sitting at the bar, chatting with the bartender. I overheard him say, “...and so I wanted an international experience, and what is more international than London?”

That thought triggered in me a realization that is why I am here as well, for the international experience. Not just living in a place that isn’t my home country, but living in a place that is an important international city.

My old home of Toronto is very multicultural, but it isn’t very international. Toronto is important in Canadian business and politics, and has a mild importance to North American business, but a lot of it doesn’t look out beyond the borders of North America. That happens in other places in North America - New York for finance, Houston for energy, Los Angeles for shipping, etc.

Living in London, you don’t just have a meeting place for international citizens, but you also have a lot of international business and politics interacted from here. I realized that London is not just my gateway to Europe, not just my chance to live abroad, but it is my chance to look further afield too. It is my chance to be an international citizen.

I am a Canadian. And some day I hope to say I am a European, and I am international.

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Posted by GregW 06:08 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences migration_philosophy

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