November 15, 2004

EUro Facts 

In recent times, I realized that, while many Europeans have their facts about America quite wrong, the same is true for many Americans.

I can understand the hostility of the Americans vs the French, after France took a policy of thinly-veiled hostility towards the USA and Israel, and Germany followed closely. But then, the same Americans made the mistake of considering all of the EU (maybe except the UK) as a bigger France/Germany, and that's plainly wrong.

But it's difficult to explain, to whom has no direct knowledge, the differencies in culture and society between one country and the other. For example, French and Italian have never been such close friends; French chauvinism and vacuous nationalist pride (note that all these are, necessarily, generalizations) are an object of contempt from as long as I can remember. During the 80s, French and Italian wine producers engaged in a struggle which reached fairly violent peaks.

Another problem is the structure of the EU itself: a centralistic bureocracy, that often seems basically an attempt at putting all of Europe under French/German/Belgian hegemony (yes, the dreaded word): the European electoral system, with only one branch of parliament, does not resolve the problem of representativness of small and big states.

The European Parliament, Council and Commission (roughly, the three branches of power) have each a single President or High Representative, and when they express any opinion, it is supposed to be the opinion of the whole Europe. But it's not, really. The member states have often greatly diverging opinions on the same matter: Italy and Poland, and initially Spain, joined the USA in Iraq (Italy not for offensive operations, but Italian soldiers are working hard and well in Nassiriya), while France and Germany maintain that they will never, ever, even with John Kerry as president, even if begged by the UN and Iraq itself, send troops over there. Months ago, Berlusconi met Sharon in Israel, but not Arafat, much to the horror of the filo-arabs (then Berlusconi, in his usual fashion, flip-flopped several times).

Despite the pretenses to the contrary, the EU is by no means monolithic - and indeed, if the strain increases, there could be serious surprises: the last European elections brought an increase in the importance of the so-called Euro-skeptical parties.

Yes, it's true that Tranzism is running rampant in Europe, and it is the most fashionable line of thought among the ruling elite. I think that's one of the most serious problems of Europe: elitism. I look at the political scene in Italy, and I see the same faces from almost decades, and it's quite the same in the other countries. The particular guy/gal who is elected is only a different card from the same deck. Some new parties emerged, but most of them have a more than discutible basis, like quasi-racism and empty populist rethoric.
And only few of the political parties don't have one form or another of socialism in their programs.

One common misconception is that European workers all work 35 hours per week and have something like 12 weeks of paid leave. Well, no. Maybe that's the situation in France.

Surely not in the UK - not many holidays here. Also in Italy, the working time is usually 42 hours per week, with about 4 weeks of paid leave - we have several public holidays, too. Still quite a lot, you may think, but much less than rumored. Some people work even more, not to mention sefl-employers and farmers. While Italy's economy is by no means bustling, in 2004 it went better than the economy of France and Germany. Not all of the workers have the same contract, as well: when I worked in a tomato processing factory as a seasonal worker, I did 6 six-hours shifts per week, no paid leave, no lunch break, but all converted in money, so I got a hefty salary. That's good for 3 or 4 weeks in the summer, but not for long-term employment.

Italy is also plagued by strikes (not as much as France, hower) and strongly unionized workers, tho, split in innumerable tiny unions, the smallest the most radical. Not that worker unionions are a bad thing by themselves, but they become obnoxious when unions still drag on the obsolete concept of class warfare, and use strikes as to obtain privileges.
This happened with train drivers in what once was the state railway company: given that when they strike trains cannot circulate (while workers of other branches, like maintenance cannot stop trains), the drivers - and to a lesser extent staionmasters - made their own unions and asked for more and more privileges. Now they earn loads of money, and if there's an accident, drivers always shift blame on someone else. Not on those of them who voluntarily work long hours overtime, and end up exhausted, for example.

Hmm, I'm digressing. However, I think I'll write more of European affairs in future.


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