Europe With or Without Boundaries?

Article published on Jan. 24, 2003
community published
Article published on Jan. 24, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A resumé of the arguments against Turkey and their refutation - no, Europes boundaries, as far as they exist, do not stop at Turkey.

Things have not been right since Valérie Giscard d'Estaing made his position on Turkey clear.1 Europe, burgeoning since 1957, today finds itself confronted by its own borders geographical, ideological and, of course, economic. For some this clear definition of Europe is proving to be necessary;3 in keeping with centuries of Judaeo-Christian civilisation, their Europe has defined borders which above all guarantee a viable economic area. While this viewpoint would seem to promote European spirit by presenting a set of values and clear criteria to be adhered to, on closer examination it is a hastily assembled argument that bears little relation to reality.

The Geographical and Historical Boundary

Borders are one of Europes creations. They are, first and foremost, lines that separate the civilised (European) world from the barbarians. Borne out of conflict between the Greeks and the Persians, and subsequently the wars between Western powers and the Ottoman Empire, they were stigmatised by the celebrated founding victories of Marathon in 490 BC and Kalhenberg in 1683. They became geographical boundaries stopping at the Ural Mountains in compliance with the political will of the very Western Peter the great4.

This explanation may be brief, but it is accurate nonetheless - these internecine wars and the entangled history of the nation states that make it up forged the geographical entity known as Europe.

How else can the European continent be explained? Indeed, how can it be asserted that the Ural Mountains constitute a continental frontier? Their highest elevation at Mount Narodnaya stands at 1894 m and their central peaks are at an altitude of no higher than 800m. Meanwhile the Himalayas, which reach 8850 m at Mount Everest and whose mountains reach altitudes of between 2000 and 8000 m are only considered to be the frontier of the Indian sub-continent5! This shows that it is only in a relative manner that the effectiveness of Europes geographical borders may be considered.

This represents the most persuasive argument for a Judaeo-Christian Europe stopping at Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, the only part of Turkish territory on the right side of the Strait of the Bosphorus6.

The Ideological Boundary

A blow for Turkey! There is a rumour going round that Turkey is not Judaeo-Christian and therefore not European. This is not hot off the press. You have to go back to the Roman Empire of the East which fell in 1453 in order to prove the contrary. This is no joke. The argument for a Judaeo-Christian Europe is advanced in all seriousness by many politicians and journalists.

The touted reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism is, however, only a recent development. The Shoah serves as a tragic reminder of this. This, despite all that Judaism has contributed to Western thought (through Spinoza, Marx and Bergson among others). It was not until Vatican II and the Church Acts under Jean-Paul II such as Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and Past Mistakes, the Popes speech at the Mausoleum of Yad Vashem7, and texts such as that of the Pontifical Biblical Commission the Jewish People and Sacred Writings in the Christian Bible, that clear links between Christianity and Judaism, most notably in Europe, were acknowledged.

In the light of this, maybe it is time we decided against cultivating an ideology of rejection towards Turkey and Muslims as was the case with Judaism. Notable Muslim cultural contributions to Europe include the architectural masterpiece that is the Alhambra and the town of Cordoba. Not forgetting the contribution of philosophers such as Averroes. In the name of fairness we must not forget the cultural and religious open-mindedness that reigned in the Iberian peninsula in the 13th century or in Central and Western Europe under the Ottoman Empire of Mehmed II.

Past dangers are still present and religious arguments are formidable weapons, endangering the quest for peace between peoples. To resort to these arguments would be to take up old arms, and would not be worthy of our politicians, especially in a country like France where secularity is a sacred principle and where there is a strong Muslim community.

The Economic Boundary

Thus comes the final argument. When reason will not win an argument, let the wallet do the talking. Enlargement to include Turkey and later Russia would entail the risk of economic crises and unemployment in the officially sanctioned Europe that is the EU. This is a serious risk considering the current state of Putins Russia.

But what actually constitutes the biggest risk? Aiding those countries on our doorstep, or building a wall of money to protect against a social or even military war which will break out come what may if a climate of exclusion and economic imbalance is allowed to exist between neighbouring countries.

Are we forgetting that Turkey is the biggest non-EU economic power if the Mediterranean? That Russia is our energy reserve (gas) as is Norway (oil)? Can we allow ourselves to exist without these indispensable partners who could tomorrow turn to other horizons?8

This would make for an interesting debate if the subject was broached.

An Open Europe

Is a Europe with borders a model Europe for the 21st century? The Eastern block has just collapsed, should we still insist on thinking in terms of regional groups?

The pre-eminence of the United States and Europes retreat, since 1945 and even before, makes some see Europe with its economic, ideological and geographical boundaries as an alternative. Alternatively, it could result in a return to confrontation between conflicting value systems.

If Europe wants to be born again it should above all be ambitious, for itself and the world, not through a return to antagonism, but by the foundation of real world cohesion. Europe can have such an objective, having been through all stages, sometimes tragic, of a history which has made it the centre of the world. In order for this European renaissance to take place maybe it is time for Europe, land of emigration, to become a land of immigration of knowledge and culture, a land of tolerance. It is down to Europeans, wherever they are from, if they wish to appropriate the concept of an open Europe. Boundaries may then be obsolete

as people will finally coexist peacefully .9

Notes (Also see links)

1 Valerie Giscard DEstaing pronounced: Turkey is a country close to Europe, an important country with a real elite, but it is not a European country. Le Monde 09/12/2002.

3 See notably an article taken from Le Figaro in the opinions and debates section December 2002, which suggests that if Turkey entered the EU the result would be European civil war

4 Peter the Greats geographer designated the Ural Mountains as the border of Europe. The Tsar took radical Westernising measures such as banning beards.

5 See also Denis Retaillés article in l'impératif territorial issue Cultures et conflits September 1996

6 An anecdote: Bosphore means, etymologically, the cow pass. It was crossed by two women turned into cows, one, Europa, towards the west, and one, Lo, towards the east. Is it not time that history made these women meet?

8 To gain a better understanding of these issues see Géographie de la mondialisation.


I have not glossed the associations of which the author is a member.