Defining “Europe”

Europe MapWhat is Europe? It’s one of the seven continents, of course. Any third-grader can tell you that. The concept of “Europe” is a bit more complicated, and it has changed over time, writes Frank Jacobs in a New York Times blog post.

Jacobs touches on the geographic definitions and arbitrary boundaries used to create the continent of Europe but focuses on the changing concept of Europe—what is has meant, in different historic eras, to be European and what has motivated some countries to aspire to become part of Europe while others prefer to remain apart.

According to Jacobs, who is based in London, one contemporary notion equates “Europe” with the “European Union.” That would mean Switzerland—not an EU member due to its tradition of neutrality and nonalignment—is at the center of the European continent but not part of “Europe.”

At the same time Croatia, Serbia, and Albania have aspired to become part of “Europe” some who do belong see it as the source of many problems.

“Europe” has become the convenient scapegoat for anything too unpopular, expensive or painful to be defended by the individual member states. “We don’t like it either,” they can tell their electorates, “but Europe is making us do it.” Europe, long the defining inclusive quality uniting people from Spain to Finland, is now, ironically, the oppressive other.

This “Europe” is a misassembled, headless monster, owing less to Charlemagne than to Frankenstein. It stalks the bureaucratic labyrinth of Brussels, beying for tribute from the peoples of Europe. But this modern minotaur is also a petty, powerless bureaucrat, issuing directives on the correct curvature of cucumbers, but unable to save the euro from collapsing.

“What is Europe?” is a fascinating description of the historical, cultural, economic, and political characteristics that define a region.

–Tim Hill

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