A question for the EU: ‘Why, why, why Delilah?’

A question for the EU: ‘Why, why, why Delilah?’

More than 40 years ago, as America waged its Vietnam War and Europe stood divided between two ideological camps armed to the nuclear teeth, a leading voice for radical change was student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

In recent days, as Greece swallowed a deficit-cutting deal imposed by the European Union and the IMF, a leading voice for a radical alternative was, well, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, now in the European Parliament.
Somehow, I fear, this is the problem -- with all due respect to the remarkable career of Cohn-Bendit. Just where are the new voices, the new ideas and proposed solutions to new problems?

As so many centrifugal forces tear the E.U. apart, the intellectual debate resembles being trapped in an elevator with the piped in music repeating Tom Jones’ famous hit “Delilah.” Don’t get me wrong. I liked Delilah when it first hit the charts back in 1968. It’s great that now-septuagenarian Jones can still hold audiences rapt in Las Vegas with what must be the millionth rendition. But we’re not moving forward.
Even our terms of debate, “the left” and “the right” could use an update. But proceeding with that old taxonomy, the “right” has moved on from 1968, giving us neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. But where’s the “neo” on the left?

I have combed the various reform platforms in Europe such as “Open Democracy.” I read the papers submitted to the London School of Economics symposium this week: “Taking on the technocrats: paths toward a new Europe.”

Again, I’m in the elevator with “Delilah.” A 75 percent tax on Europe’s rich? A new rating agency for Europe? More power to the European Parliament? 

“Now, in the midst of the crisis of finance, markets and bureaucracies, we must commence to practice an egalitarian, peaceful, green and democratic Europe,” read one brave call to arms. “We must reclaim the dignity of Europeans and our fellow world citizens.”

That’s nice. And I’m all for more wind energy too. Or yoga. But these are goals, and laudable ones. They fall short, however, of innovative means. Which is why I yearn for a real new idea.

The “founding fathers” of the E.U. were all really from the margins. The Roman Atiero Spinelli, in and out of jail for opposing Mussolini and shunned by his fellow communists when he denounced Stalin. The Alsatian Robert Schumann, a product of the borderlands between France and Germany, much like Cohn-Bendit. Or Jean Monet, an aristocrat born in the tiny city of Cognac and reared between England and France.
All were European “federalists” long before there was really a notion of European federalism. They went on to compose truly original political music.

So perhaps today, as the fruits of their labor shrivel before our eyes, it is those in the new borderlands of Europe who will write the new narrative. Not the “E.U.-peans” who have been acculturated into Brussels. No, I’m expecting greatness from the ethnic Russian in Latvia. Or a compelling new vision from a Transylvanian theorist in Romania. Or a treatise on the future from a Portuguese whose family emigrated from Angola.

Europe needs the equivalent of “Indie Pop” with its diverse rhythms. It’s time to yank the power cord on the speakers blaring “Delilah.”

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