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jueves 30 noviembre 2017

A disunited Europe: The North-South and East-West divides

Beyond Brexit, the European project is doubly weakened by the North-South divide, which is essentially economic (the "cicadas" against the "ants") and by the East-West divide, which is both economic and political (contestation of Western values by some Central and Eastern European countries). It is up to France and Germany, which are at the crossroads of these two cleavages, to jointly reinvent the European compromise in order to overcome them.

The whole of Europe has been divided throughout history between East and West and between North and South of the continent. It is from the East that civilization was transmitted to the West - the Neolithic Revolution, the colonization of the Phoenicians and the Greeks,"our" Judeo-Christian roots. Then it was the North-South divide that was decisive, with the destruction of the Roman Empire of the West by the Germanic "Barbarians", leading to its regeneration by a Christian Romano-Germanic syncretism, until it was finally the Germanic or Anglo-Saxon North that took a step ahead - printing, the Reformation, literacy and then the industrial revolution. 

The East-West divide has also remained prevalent, opposing Catholic or Protestant Christianity to Orthodoxy or Islam, Western individualism to the weight of Eastern communities, nation-states to Empires, liberalism to authoritarianism, industrial society to agrarian societies - a divide that continues to this day.

These two cleavages - historical and cultural - seem to be reappearing and hitting the European construction head-on. The North-South divide is not an internal division within the European Union, the Brexit is merely prolonging the distance between the countries of the North and the European project. And if the East-West divide pits the European Union against its eastern margins (Balkans, Russia, Turkey), the recent estrangement of several Central and Eastern European countries from "Western" values also shows that westernisation through accession to the Union is reaching its limits. 

In this general context, the Franco-German relationship, at the crossroads of these North-South and East-West antagonisms, is more than ever the indispensable link for this Europe threatened by disunity.


Maxime Lefebvre is co-director of the European and International Institute, a diplomat and a professor at ESCP Europe and Sciences Po Paris. He has published
La Construction de l' Europe et l'avenir des nations (Armand Colin, 2013) and La Politique étrangères européenne (coll."Que sais-je?", PUF, reprinted, 2016).

Reproduced with permission from Questions Internationales. The author speaks in a personal capacity. 

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