STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Europe: Agony of Agglomeration
By Staff News & Analysis - June 28, 2013

Viva la Siesta Should Southern Europe Really Be More German? In the wake of the euro crisis, Southern Europeans have increasingly traded their traditions of leisure for more work and more consumption often at Germany's prodding. As backlash sets in, this logic must be questioned. Europe is groaning under German hegemony, but that isn't something we in Germany like to hear. From the perspective of most Germans, when it comes to saving the euro, Berlin more or less selflessly comes to the aid of bankrupt euro countries by spending vast sums of money. This explains why they find it so incomprehensible when Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben proposes the creation of a sort of "Latin Empire," consisting of France, Italy and Spain, as a bulwark against the north. – Der Spiegel

Free-Market Analysis: It's the South versus the North. Surprised?

Dominant Social Theme: Because this is a Der Spiegel article, it avoids the main issue regarding Southern Europe, which is that countries like Greece and Spain in particular are not cohesive entities.

This point is verboten because it would bring this article into the realm of political analysis: It is much better to speculate about siestas than social constructs. But that ought to be the focus of this article, in our view, and would make it much more sensible.

True, Germany was developed out of principalities but other parts of Northern Europe are culturally cohesive. The Danes, Swedes, Finns and other Northern European entities are built from particular tribal entities.

Spain, on the other hand, is a cultural contradiction; its tribes have wanted to go their own way for centuries. Nobody who has visited Spain would ever argue that the Castilians, Basques, Catalans and Galicians have created for themselves a happy, ethnic quilt. They haven't. The Greeks have been fractious for millennia and Italy, too, was composed of warring city-states for centuries.

The Southern compromise seems simple to us. The central government pretends to govern and the tribes pretend to cooperate.

The government pretends to be competent; the tribes pretend that it is. The government pretends to collect taxes; the tribes pretend to pay them. The government passes laws; the tribes acknowledge them (but do not necessarily abide by them).

It is different in Northern Europe where by an accident of history, the cultures are more coordinated and the leadership is seen, at least to a degree, as being developed out of the culture itself.

Like all generalities, those above are not, of course, fully accurate. But in our humble view, this viewpoint can explain some of the differences between Southern and Northern Europe, and also why a Northern European sociopolitical model is so difficult to apply to Southern Europe.

The real issue is the content of the culture, not how long people sleep during the day. Nonetheless, the Der Spiegel article natters on. Here's more:

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But Agamben is well received in France and Italy, where he apparently strikes an emotional chord. His central charge is that the euro crisis is forcing Southern Europeans "to live like Germans." He is concerned about nothing less than the "disappearance of cultural heritage," namely the "lifestyle" of the Latin nations, and about defending their way of life.

The debate, he says, has escalated into a battle of mentalities, of a Protestant work ethic against a Catholic savoir vivre. This isn't absurd. In fact, there is even concrete evidence that Agamben has a valid point. The siesta hasn't existed in Spain since the fall of 2012.

That was when the Spanish government, under pressure from the euro troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, eliminated the siesta. The country believed that it could no longer afford to "lounge about" in the midst of a national bankruptcy — not even in the searing midday heat.

For centuries, the people of Southern European countries observed a midday break from noon, the sixth hour after sunrise (sexta hora), until 4 p.m. They left the fields or their offices and went home to relax, eating meals together, engaging in conversation with friends and family members, and generally avoiding stress. Their midday naps were sacred. But now that idyllic aspect of southern life is over.

You see? The entire article is more or less about how the siesta represents Southern culture.

It doesn't. The actual issue is one of freedom.

Southern tribes like the Basques have retained their culture and customs for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years. The Basques in particular are a cohesive entity with much more in common with each other than the nation-states of France and Spain into which they have been arbitrarily deposited.

The problem with the imposition of Northern values on Southern Europe is that the elaborate and delicate social contract that has been developed is being crushed by the imposition of an artificial currency that doesn't respect the balances that have been negotiated over centuries.

These Southern countries are even more artificial constructs than Northern ones. And now those in Brussels want to enlarge these fractious regions further to create a European empire! Alternatively, as the article suggests, Europe ought to be divided into two blocks, North and South.

That's probably a non-starter, too. The issue, as we have been writing for years, is tribal. Many of these tribes have a warlike past and some of them participated in the undermining and defeat of Rome. We long ago predicted that when "Europe" ceased to be a profitable enterprise for these cultures, disappointment would set in and the violence would begin, as it has.

After Thoughts

Continued attempts at agglomeration are addressing exactly the wrong solution. It is devolution that Southern Europe needs, not continued efforts at a further faux unity.

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