European integration is obviously impeded by the national and nation-state idea that is still vigorous and motivates European Union (EU) member states’ refusals to cede powers to the EU or subnational levels. Recent events like the global economic crisis, the Euro crisis, the migration crisis and the coronavirus pandemic have, however, demonstrated that it is not just the national idea and the nation state that appear to seriously hinder further integration, but that fundamental differences in cultural attitudes in different parts of Europe are also responsible. They can be traced back to earlier periods of history and a Europe that consisted of parts with very divergent economic, social and political attitudes. These disparities are difficult to equalize. The article highlights Europe's major cultural differentiation processes in history, hints at their current traces in economic, social and political attitudes and relates those attitudes to problems in European integration.
- European integration
- European Union
- cultural macro-regions
- cultural factors
- cultural diversity
This paper may be regarded as somewhat provocative, since it is not especially in line with the intellectual mainstream, which is usually very optimistic as regards bridging cultural gaps. It could also be misunderstood when it addresses cultural diversity as a problem. Indeed, cultural diversity is a wealth. Every individual culture is a microcosm with its own view of the world. And Europe can count itself fortunate to be so culturally diverse.
But cultural diversity also has its disadvantages, and we should not shut our eyes to them. One is that it results in politically and economically relevant differences in attitudes – differences that are thus also relevant to the project of European integration.
European integration is obviously impeded by the national and nation-state ideas, which are still vigorous and motivate European Union (EU) member states’ refusals to cede powers to the EU or subnational levels (see Beer 2004; Boia 2003; Bufon et al. 2006; Calic 2016; Glatz 2002; Hall and Danta 1996; Harris 1993; Ivanišević et al. 2002; Johnson 2011; Jordan 2006; Jordan et al. 2001; Kraas and Stadelbauer 2002; Lukan and Moissi 1991; Meier 2001; Paulston and Peckham 1998; Sanguin et al. 2005; Scheffer 2006; Schwarcz and Suppan 2008; Seewann 1995; Smith et al. 1998; Solarz 2018; Sundhaussen 1973, 1993; Suppan 2011; Suttner 1997; White 2000). Recent events like the global economic crisis, the Euro crisis, as well as the migration crisis or the Covid-19 pandemic have, however, demonstrated that it is not just the national idea and the nation state that make further integration appear very difficult, but that fundamental differences in cultural attitudes in different parts of Europe are also responsible.
These attitudes can be traced back to earlier periods of history and have their roots in the fact that Western Europe began in the early Middle Ages (the Franconian Empire) to function as the core of several innovation waves that reached other parts of Europe only to a minor extent or not all. In a cumulative way (one wave preconditioning the next), they diversified Europe into parts with very divergent economic, social, and political attitudes. These disparities are difficult to equalize, and they are not mitigated – but rather accentuated – by modern migration (see Bosl 1975; Calic 2016; Carter 1977; Curta 2021; Foucher 1998; Fuerst-Bjeliš and Glamuzina 2021; Hösch 1995; Jordan 2015; Kahl et al. 2006; Lichtenberger 2005; Magocsi 2002; Mahieu and Naumescu 2008; Maner and Spannenberger 2007; Rey 1998; Rumpler and Seger 2010; Sterbling 2006; Suttner 1997; Turnock 2005).
This paper builds on the hypotheses that (1) fundamental differences in cultural attitudes in different parts of Europe impede European integration and (2) these differences are difficult to equalise and pose a serious danger to the European project. The paper will highlight Europe's major cultural differentiation processes in history that resulted in the formation of cultural macro-regions that in turn had long-term effects on economically and politically relevant attitudes, as well as investigating the meaning of these effects for European integration.
What, then, are the essential cultural factors that have for centuries shaped the face of Europe and will very likely shape it for centuries to come? All of them emerged in the European West (or Northwest) and resulted in the so-called European (or Western) model of society, which is actually the model of the European West and is spread far from homogeneously over all of Europe. Some parts of Europe (and even of the current EU) are only marginally affected by it. And this may very well be regarded as the main reason for socio-economic disparities in Europe and within the EU, and for the Euro crisis.
The foundations of this Western model can be traced back to the early Middle Ages, and its evolution can roughly be described by four steps, with many borrowings from Max Weber (see Baier et al. 2021).
While the hitherto dominant East Rome (later called ‘the Byzantine Empire’) continued the late Roman tradition of an unconditioned union of Church and state (‘symphonia’, see, e.g., Suttner 1997), two parallel systems emerged in the zone of influence of the Franconian Empire (Christianised by the Irish-Scottish and Anglo-Saxon mission) (Fig. 1). State and Church were separate systems – of course, frequently cooperating and sometimes even forming personal unions (ecclesiastical principalities), but in principle in competition. Certainly, the Church was not subordinated to the state as a ‘branch’ of the state like in East Rome. This resulted in fertile competition, while in East Rome all power remained in one hand.
From the 8th century onward, this system gained ground also in Central Europe (Fig. 2), at first in the territories of the new Slavonic kingdoms and the principalities of the Poles, Czechs, Alpine and Pannonian Slavs, and Croats; later in the Hungarian Kingdom; still later in Venice, which had changed sides. All of them accepted Latin (Western) Christianity and were at least politically allied with the Franconian Empire.
The Byzantine Empire, however, stuck to the principle of a union between Church and state that resulted in the concentration of power in one hand, steep hierarchies, strong authority of leaders – all in all, weak competition. Later, this principle was inherited by the Ottoman Empire (an Islamic state) and Orthodoxy, where it was even enforced by the emergence of the national idea. Some church communities defined themselves as nations (such as the Serbian nation). Some national ideas (as the Romanian) prompted the establishing of national churches. This system of national churches exists to the present day in Orthodox nations and is expanded by every new national idea (like the Macedonian national idea after World War II or the Montenegrin in the late 1990s).
Free burghers, able to administrate and defend themselves and no longer subjected to landlords, led to economic diversification (craftsmen and traders, in addition to farmers) and an early end to the existence of an agrarian system without alternatives. The agrarian system persisted only where the nobility remained dominant. Independent cities became a fourth power in the state (alongside the ruler, the Church and the nobility) exerting some influence on society at large.
The first independent cities developed in Northern Italy and Flanders. Central Europe followed suit, especially in the 13th and 14th centuries. Up to the late Middle Ages and early Modern Age, strong, independent cities existed west of the black line on Figure 3, but, east of it, only as isolated pockets (Spiš, Transylvania [Ardeal]) or with legal restrictions: the nobility or the Church could interfere in the civil rights of independent cities; civil rights were limited to certain fields.
This meant a further enforcement of the Western competition principle quite in contrast to the East, Southeast and the deep South of Europe.
With the exception of smaller territories (Bavaria [Bayern], Tyrol [Tirol], Croatia), all of West, North and Central Europe was affected by the Lutheran and other religious reform movements (see, e.g., Magocsi 2002). The Bohemian Lands had already seen the reformation by Jan Hus. They had been preconditioned upon the dichotomy between political power and the Church, and by subsidiarity in the political sphere. The emperor or king was frequently merely
In contrast, in the part of Europe shaped by the Byzantine system, all power was held in one hand. A reformation would have had no political support (not even if similar malversations had occurred as in the Roman-Catholic Church).
The Reformation may be regarded as a predecessor of the Enlightenment, since it questioned the aspiration of the Church to possess the ultimate truth and be the ultimate power. Reformation may also be regarded as a first step in a secularisation process, since it gave up the spiritual, contemplative, unworldly attitude of the hitherto Roman (and even more so) Byzantine Church. Thus, it is very likely not by chance that the Protestant parts of Europe today host the highest shares of people declaring no religious affiliation, at between 60 and 80%.
The Reformation re-validated economic success, too – by its conversion towards the world: “It pleases God, if somebody has economic success and devotes his life to work.” Protestantism advocated a worldly (not an unworldly) askesis: “Work hard and you will please God.” A kind of Protestant work ethic evolved that was most radical and explicit with Calvin in Geneva [Genève].
The Reformation constituted a further enforcing of the competition principle. The power of the ruler and the Roman Church was broken manyfold. The Catholic counter reformation was also very successful, but also in regions regained by the Roman-Catholic Church at least some impacts of the Reformation remained. Also, the Roman Church itself was modified. It became less spiritual and assumed Protestant work ethics.
In light of this increased competition and difference in work ethic, it is very likely not by chance that the Protestant lands of Europe (and of the world: North America, Australia, New Zealand) became economically the most successful. Thus, the Reformation essentially differentiated West, North and Central Europe from (Catholic) South Europe (Southern Italy, Malta, Spain, Portugal), where the Roman Church was never challenged in such a way. This is still visible in the position of the Church in public life, the intensity of religious practice, work ethics and the economic spirit.
Ideas of enlightenment emerged at the middle of the 18th century, questioned the absolute position of secular power, advocated de-ideologization and rationalism. The ruler was no longer accepted as having been installed by divine decision, but had to legitimate his position to the people – ‘the nation’, as it was later called. This worked for a further levelling of social hierarchies and promoted the competition principle further. It could gain ground (and was successful) only there, where the three former steps had already been effectuated, and it did not proceed into Byzantine nor also (of course) Ottoman territories, while also affecting (the south of) South Europe only moderately.
On the basis of these four factors that, after Fernand Braudel, might be termed “facteurs de longue durée” (Braudel 1977) and some additional criteria (see Jordan 2005a; see also Bauer and Welker 2007; Berentsen 1997; Carter, Jordan and Rey 1998; Foucher 1998; Höpken 2009; Johnson 2011; Jordan 2015; Klemenčić 1997; Kocsis 2007; Lichtenberger 2005; Magocsi 2002; Mellor 1975; Merchiers and Siary 2011; Plaschka, Haselsteiner and Drabek 1997; Pounds 1969; Schenk 1995; Sinnhuber 1999), Europe may be subdivided into the cultural macro-regions depicted in Figure 4. These macro-regions can be conceived as structural regions in the geographical sense (i.e., regions shaped by common cultural characteristics), but are, of course, by no means homogeneous. For each criterion there exists a core (or several cores) and peripheries where this criterion is met less or not at all. Also, the boundaries are, of course, highly disputable. Northern Italy, for example, may with some justification also be attached to Central Europe. Furthermore, in most sections, what are indicated are in fact sliding transitions, not sudden changes. So, this map should be regarded more as a courageous but necessarily insufficient effort to relate the spatial dimensions of concepts, i.e., social constructs, to the material world than as a product of empirical evidence.
The cultural macro-regions as outlined here can roughly be characterized in the following way.
The four factors mentioned also result both in different attitudes of the population and in different societal structures between these cultural macro-regions – different in terms of economic engagement and efficiency, and opposing with regard to the state and other public authorities, hierarchy gradient in society, and migration – to mention only the most important dimensions.
Economic engagement and efficiency, also called productivity, are very unevenly distributed over Europe. The European East and Southeast clearly lag behind – as shown on the map of GDP
David Good's map for 2001 (and not a more recent state) is shown here, because he also calculated – based on comparable data – the situation for 1870 (Fig. 6), which is the earliest point in time for which a comparable result can be achieved. He also referenced it to the pattern of countries as of 2001. At that time, the already highly industrialised United Kingdom was the European leader. But otherwise, the situation is very similar. This shows that the reason for the difference between the West and the East of Europe is not – as it could be assumed – Communism: it is a much older phenomenon.
When we highlight here the example of Southeast Europe, it is because of some personal experience with this region and reference that can be made to the works of the geographer and cultural anthropologist Klaus Roth (2005) and the historian Wolfgang Höpken (2009).
According to them, and to my own observations, a main difference between Southeast Europe and Central Europe in this respect is that people have little confidence in the functioning of public institutions. While in Central Europe we have, in principle, confidence in the impartial functioning of public institutions (“They will do it as well as they can!”) and can assume that one will be treated equally, to the best of the relevant officials’ competences, and in accordance with the law, irrespective who one is, such confidence is absent in Southeast Europe. Instead, people believe there that they need to have a ‘patron’ in an institution who will take special care of them and whom they will, in return, treat well with gifts and invitations. Much time is invested in cultivating these relations and networks with invitations, hospitality and sitting around in cafés just to meet and talk. This results in client networks/clientelism in all spheres of society (administration, health services, education …). Political parties also usually have this major function. Corruption in all dimensions is a widespread phenomenon (see Fig. 7).
The state and its institutions are regarded with scepticism, as agents from which it is advisable to protect oneself. The public sphere is avoided as much as possible. Personal engagement in public affairs is rare (there lack the voluntary associations so frequent and important in Central Europe). To deceive the state (e.g., by avoiding taxes) is not regarded as indecent (see Belev 2003). Participation in elections is low. Instead, security is found in the private sphere, in the wider family, in an extensive network of friends and acquaintances that is intensively and generously cultivated through great hospitality.
These attitudes are, in Southeast Europe, certainly a heritage of the Ottoman Empire, which was regarded as an illegitimate occupant by the Christian population. They remained functional in the post-Ottoman nation states that were the projects of a small bourgeois elite. They continued to function in the Communist period, where it was again the practice (except for a small Communist nomenclatura) to retreat to the private sphere and to show in one's private life a different face than that which one showed in public. They occur, of course, also outside Southeast Europe and have other historical reasons there. In southern Italy, for example, and on Sicily, they result from the feudal kingdoms that ruled for centuries.
For Southeast Europe, but also for East Europe, the hierarchy gradient in society is steeper than in Central Europe or the European West and North. This is very apparent at the political level, where strong leaders are a frequent phenomenon and well accepted and appreciated by the population at large. Sometimes even chiliastic expectations are invested into political leaders. A recent example is Alexis Zypras in Greece, the leader of the leftist party Siriza. An older example is the last Bulgarian Car, Simeon II Sakskoburgostki, who founded a party and ran for prime minister at elections in the 1990s. Both were elected by a vast majority but could (of course) never meet the unrealistic expectations. A steep hierarchy gradient is, however, also present in the society at large. University professors, for example, enjoy an authority that we would never dream of.
Another effect is the lack of political-administrative decentralization, including from the 1990s onward (see Jordan 2005b, 2010). The requirements for EU accession in this respect were met only reluctantly and rather formally
Attitudes towards migrants, too, vary considerably between the different parts of Europe. We witnessed this in the migration crisis of 2015 and 2016. While West Europe, South Europe and the western part of Central Europe were rather receptive and welcoming, strong opposition could be noticed in East-Central and Southeast Europe. This opposition would have been strong also in East Europe, if a larger number of migrants had headed for this region. This has to do with – at least in West and South Europe – traditions of migration from overseas, since these were colonial powers that were and remain in intensive exchange with their former overseas territories and are used to in-migration from overseas, though the integration of migrants is obviously a problem even there and has been neglected by public authorities.
In the western part of Central Europe and in North Europe, the receptive attitude in 2015 and 2016 can be associated with a tradition of ‘guest-workers’ from South and Southeast Europe from the 1960s onward resulting in a multicultural milieu and a certain openness towards further migration. Notwithstanding, the initial welcome was very soon no longer shared by most of the population – especially in eastern Germany, the former GDR, which lacked both a ‘guest-worker’ tradition and the systematic reappraisal of the Nazi past that West Germany had experienced. By contrast, East-Central, Southeast and East European societies have in more recent history remained rather homogeneous, with little inclination to modify this state and made additionally wary by ethnic and religious riots in multicultural hotspots of the European West, e.g., in Paris and Brussels.
All the attitudes mentioned have proven to function under various circumstances and in various historical periods and are passed on from generation to generation. They remain therefore bound to certain territories, although they are certainly not intrinsically connected with them. People feel comfortable with them and regard them as worth preserving. It is problematic to classify them as more or less valuable, as better or worse. Having time for oneself, for friends and neighbours, practising generous hospitality and caring for other people could be classified as superior to the hasty lifestyle and social distance of the West. These attitudes certainly enhance quality of life.
It is, however, a fact that societies structured in this way are not able to compete in economic terms with the Western model of society, which is actually the West European model that dominates the world and sets the benchmark in the socio-economic field. Migration as we have it from the European peripheries to the centre (see Fassmann 2009) does not change the situation fundamentally. It instead supports the existing system, since migrants are frequently those dissatisfied with what exists in their country and don’t see reasonable prospects there. Thus, it is the very people who would be able to change the system who depart. If migrants return, they are mostly the less successful. Rather than being carriers of innovations, they lament the situation in the West and praise the advantages of home. This could change with the growing number of transmigrants or circular migrants circulating between two quasi-permanent residences. In this case, successful migrants will perhaps also provide some knowledge and system transfer to their homeland.
What do these effects mean for European integration? First of all: every human being exists in space and time. It is not possible to eliminate the influences of local cultures. And cultural change and adaptation need a lot of time. Functional connection of the periphery to the (innovation) centre A common currency like the Euro is only sustainable in the long run if productivity within its geographical jurisdiction is uniform or can be expected to converge soon. This is obviously not the case. The common currency of the Euro, not only the symbol but also the precondition for further European integration, needs in the longer run to be accompanied by a common economic and social policy that is at least to some degree coordinated. This, despite all political rhetoric, is not within sight, and is in practice unimaginable considering the economically and socially relevant differences in culture mentioned above. The Western type of democracy, as practised in most of Europe and to be practised in an integrated Europe, needs an active civil society, citizen cooperation with and trust in public authorities, as well as transparent and unbiased bureaucracies and administrations. Major parts of Europe fail to offer such conditions. Responsibility for deciding about existential matters of life, such as peace or war, pandemic protection, healthcare systems, shaping one's own lifestyle, and culture will hardly ever be delegated to the European level, but will remain with communities bound by strong cultural identities and solidarity, such as nation states. For example, will any country or society voluntarily (absent political pressure or defeat in war) be prepared to delegate the power to decide about massive in-migration from Arab, African or Asian countries and thus about its future lifestyle and culture – and to delegate it to a political level where a majority of countries with a different cultural background decides? Will all European societies allow opinions on the protection (or non-protection) of unborn life or the emphasis on gender questions that are promoted by the European West (and the supreme EU authorities) and claimed to reflect fundamental European values to be imposed as norms in their realm also?
A common currency like the Euro is only sustainable in the long run if productivity within its geographical jurisdiction is uniform or can be expected to converge soon. This is obviously not the case. The common currency of the Euro, not only the symbol but also the precondition for further European integration, needs in the longer run to be accompanied by a common economic and social policy that is at least to some degree coordinated. This, despite all political rhetoric, is not within sight, and is in practice unimaginable considering the economically and socially relevant differences in culture mentioned above.
The Western type of democracy, as practised in most of Europe and to be practised in an integrated Europe, needs an active civil society, citizen cooperation with and trust in public authorities, as well as transparent and unbiased bureaucracies and administrations. Major parts of Europe fail to offer such conditions.
Responsibility for deciding about existential matters of life, such as peace or war, pandemic protection, healthcare systems, shaping one's own lifestyle, and culture will hardly ever be delegated to the European level, but will remain with communities bound by strong cultural identities and solidarity, such as nation states. For example, will any country or society voluntarily (absent political pressure or defeat in war) be prepared to delegate the power to decide about massive in-migration from Arab, African or Asian countries and thus about its future lifestyle and culture – and to delegate it to a political level where a majority of countries with a different cultural background decides? Will all European societies allow opinions on the protection (or non-protection) of unborn life or the emphasis on gender questions that are promoted by the European West (and the supreme EU authorities) and claimed to reflect fundamental European values to be imposed as norms in their realm also?
Finally, it may broadly be asked whether it is appropriate to impose upon other societies the Western model of society that ‘Westerners’ are so convinced is globally the best and that certainly sets the benchmarks in economic terms but that may have shortcomings in others, such as human aspects. Is this not a form of cultural imperialism?