Gret Haller
The Limits of Atlanticism
Perceptions of state, nation and religion in Europe and the United States
Published in German under the title DIE GRENZEN DER SOLIDARITÄT Europa and die USA im Umgang mit Staat, Nation und Religion By Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin, 2002

Abstract by Hans-Peter Furrer *)

Mrs Gret Haller's book about the "The Limits of Atlanticism" was published in the summer 2002 in Berlin (Aufbau-Verlag). It is a thought-provoking book dealing with an important theme, both topical and crucial for our future: the relations between Europe and the United States of America, and the manifestly sharpening transatlantic dissensions. Key references: the fight against terrorism after 11.9.01, the threat of war against Iraq, problems relating to human rights practice and the political instrumentalisation of human rights, US opposition to the International Criminal Court, the death penalty, extraterritorial effects of law enforcement (ex. class actions) etc.

This book was prompted by personal observations and practical experience which Mrs Haller made during her work from 1996 to 2000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in an international context, as Ombudsperson for human rights complaints nominated by the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) in the framework of implementation of the US sponsored Dayton Agreement. During that period I had the opportunity, in my position within the General Secretariat of the Council of Europe, to lend our support to Mrs Haller, besides our own endeavours to establish for the country a supreme judicial body for human rights, equally composed of local and international judges (Human Rights Chamber), which was also foreseen in the Dayton Agreement. After her mission in Sarajevo the author attempted through scientific studies and her own reflections about the historical background of divergent developments inside Europe and above all in relation with the USA, to understand more deeply and to explain adequately the impressions and misgivings stemming from her contacts, on the one hand, with ethno-nationalistic patterns of thought about the Law, the State and Politics and the political instrumentalisation of ethnical differences, and on the other, with the lack of concepts of many of the international actors in the country and the not always helpful US-American exertion of influence there. In this respect, there is not so much question of the evident divergences in the economic field or in matters of security, but rather of deep-rooted oppositions in understanding the Law, the State and Democracy. Therefore the book has become an instructive and worth reading excursus in political philosophy.

Mrs Haller develops her comparisons in a spiralling movement of thinking over four interlacing circles: 1.Europe and the USA; 2.Western and Central-Eastern Europe; 3.France and Germany; 5.Europe and the World. Each of these circles touches repeatedly on the same parameters: State, Religion, Community, Nation, Law, Morals, Freedom, Social Attachment, Democracy, Sovereignty.

In a first attempt, Mrs Haller explains the different evolutions in Europe and the USA since the 17th century. In Europe, the emergence of a number of territorial political structures (States) with progressive separation of church and state and the guarantee of freedom, including freedom of religion, within the frame and the limits of the legal order of the State – in the USA, the creation of a national community (Nation) on the basis of religious or quasi-religious declarations of belief, and distrust of state power and resistance to any restriction of religion by the State. In Europe, an understanding of the State according to which living together and the reconciliation of interests are being regulated via public and parliamentary debate by general laws, i.e. the "strength of the law" – in the USA, the originally religious solidarity in the "American Way of Life" and the settlement of conflicts of interests through judicial litigation, in which minority interests can get recognition and where moral values can be brought directly to prevail, but where all too often the "right of the stronger" appears to apply. Against this background it is possible to explain some specific features such as the US-American sense of mission, the tendency to put into the forefront the "national interest" and to define it along the distinction between "good" and "bad" , with the conviction of being entrusted with the punishment of the "bad" all over the world, but also the pragmatism which is directed towards the short-term solution of problems at the cost of longer-term perspectives and the refusal to renounce or waive sovereignty under international law.

In the second circle, Mrs Haller describes the process of the emergence of "Nation States" within Europe, as the key for understanding present problems in Central-Eastern Europe, especially in South-Eastern Europe. Following the "Enlightenment" and with the French Revolution as the turning point, democracies have in Europe taken the place of monarchies, subjects have become State citizens, with equal rights for each of them and their equal participation in democratic decision-making procedures. Whilst in France, this move turned directly, and with a claim to universality, into the republican identity of the "State Nation" , elsewhere romanticism, with its particularistic concept of national roots and traditions and ensuing cultural identity, contributed to social and political cohesion in "Nation States" , which became every now and again aggressive since they operated as much by exclusion as by inclusion. In Central-Eastern Europe, despotism has brought the State into disrepute in recent history, so that the new beginning in shaping identity based on a common State-citizenship (civil identity) with the corresponding equal rights and commitment of all citizens, is being complicated and delayed by abusive recourse to exclusive ethnical identity and solidarity. The USA, present and active in Europe, does not always lend a helping hand in this contention, due to their lack of understanding of the European legal and political culture, its underlying conditions and the risks threatening it.

In this connection great importance attaches to Mrs Haller's subtle considerations about the different preconditions and perspectives in France and in Germany for the present-day historic European process through which identity based on citizenship is being detached from cultural identity, upwards on the path of European integration, downwards by decentralisation and regionalisation in the name of subsidiarity. Together they will be able to succeed, France with the help of its republican (but not of its Jacobin) tradition, Germany with its respect ­ without separatist and exclusive overemphasis – for regional cultural differences.

All these considerations converge in an impressive plea in favour of a specific role for Europe in the world. Europe should set against the Manichean US sense of mission its competence in terms of universally valid ­ because equally recognising and committing all human beings ­ fundamental rules for a free and democratic legal order based on the respect for indivisible human rights. And Europe should attempt to win support for these principles by offering concepts and models for their promotion and implementation. In this way, Europe can contribute in combination with like-minded allies to a more peaceful world at large.

There remains the challenge of coping with the prospect of a US-dominated world. This applies also within Europe itself because the USA are present and active also in Europe since the end of the 2nd world war, not only in the military field. One may indeed be tempted to put the question (by analogy to the one put to Faust by Gretchen.?): "Now tell me how you are as to Europe?" There is one thing which Gret Haller would certainly not expect: a declaration of belief, of belief in Europe! What is needed is one own's thinking and resistance: not allowing oneself to be carried away by the trends of the day or by the temptation of power, but keeping the liberty to say no, to opt for other solutions. For solidarity, also transatlantic solidarity, is never blind, never without conditions, indeed not without limits.

Luzern, 21. Januar 2003

*) Hans-Peter FURRER
Former Director General of Political Affairs
Council of Europe (Strasbourg)
Theaterstrasse 1
CH - 6003 Luzern