Europe Has A Problem

Perhaps one of the strongest messages our esteemed professor has stressed is that there is not a single European perspective.  There is a European Union, sure, but it is no where near a One Nation movement towards a United Europe that a communications professional can approach strategically.

In fact, in many of these countries, there isn’t even one nation. For example, I’ll point to the elections this past weekend in Belgium. A Flemish separatist party became Belgium’s largest on a platform calling for reform of French and Dutch speaking factions that, if not resolved, will result in the Dutch faction splintering off.

[New Flemish Alliance Leader Bart De Weaver] has made no secret of his belief that this is only a step to full Flemish independence, but his genius was to position himself as the most radical of the mainstream leaders, pushing the status quo as far as it can possibly go without triggering an existential crisis. He dangled before Flemish voters the idea that, armed with a thumping mandate from them, he would have the power to demand a constitutional structure that finally reflected the Flemish view of reality: that Belgium is made up of two societies, in which a thrifty, centre-right, Dutch-speaking north should no longer have to subsidise a poorer, welfare addicted French-speaking, socialist south.

Internal division rearing its head seems to be a trend. In elections last week  Slovakia produced moderate gains for their center-right parties, but produced a huge backlash of nationalism. Jan Slota, the head of the country’s nationalist party warned that “Homosexuals and Hungarians will begin to rule this state.” Similarly, Geert Wilders anti-Islam Freedom party showed strong gains in a recent election that nearly ended with the controversial extremist who wants to end all Islamic immigration to the Netherlands in a prominent ministerial position.

To keep with the tone of personal experience we have flourishing on this blog, I’ll point to three examples I have seen in the three weeks I have been in Italy.  In Florence, my travel companion and I were approached in a butcher shop by a woman who began a long and protracted declaration- in Italian – of the heartbreaking sadness she has witnessed in Florence over the past two decades.

My companion – who understands Italian quite well – and myself – who does not – can conceivably pass as Italian, so we nodded our heads politely and added the occasionally sympathetic “si” and “perche?” Afterwords, my companion explained that the woman complained that the tourists and foreigners have taken her once beautiful city and overrun and destroyed it – with graffiti, excrement and general filth.

At a hotel along my journey the proprietor explained a run-in with a German customer. “From now on, no Germans. No!”

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, I add a simple observation. Who are the beggars is Italian cities? I have seen no obvious Italians – only Indians, Africans and Roma (Gypsies to be un-PC). I found this startling.

Contrast this with the homeless or those asking for money in the United States. It is largely African American and Caucasian. I can not, for the life of me, ever remember an instance of a Hispanic, Asian or African asking for money in the United States.

My observation is that immigrants (both legal and illegal) have a status in the US that doesn’t appear to transfer to Italy. And their presence in Italy seems to put a strain on traditional Italians.

Now, any good sociologist will tell you that the plural of anecdote is not data. And I’ll agree. But this is a trend. And taken with the political gains (votes, however, are quantifiable) in Belgium, Slovakia and the Netherlands it adds up to a very real and very significant problem that must be taken into account when dealing with Europe from a public relations standpoint.

It would appear that there isn’t one Italy, one Belgium, one Slovakia or one Netherlands. So how could there possibly be one Europe. If there isn’t one Europe, there certainly isn’t one European Perspective.

So while I have learned a lot about Europe and its individual countries in this class, and a lot about public relations and corporate communication, I can honestly say that I haven’t learned a lot about the European perspective on anything (short of football). Except that it is more intricate and has vastly more layers than the countries themselves. And maybe that’s the lesson after all.


Bonn-EU Flag courtesy Revers via Flickr CC


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