Europe's Invisibles

In a historic turnabout, the new German government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is poised to offer citizenship to four million of its foreign (mostly Turkish) residents. Germany, of all European countries, by basing its citizenship laws on blood, has been Europe's most difficult place for foreigners to acquire citizenship. So does this move, taken with similar actions in France, bespeak a new European attitude towards immigrants? Should immigrants embrace the offer? History and present practices suggest they should think twice before doing so.

Europe, once identified as "the West" as a whole, once held a noble vision of its mission: to deliver the fruits of the Enlightenment and the practice of democracy to the world. Born of the American and French Revolutions, that vision linked Europe to North America in a wider Atlantic civilization. Through Voltaire and Kant the idea of Europe was broadened to mean cosmopolitanism and the ideal of global citizenship. Not only were East European countries such as Russia not excluded, but the prospect was held out of a world community held together by the liberality of the Enlightenment.

Today, as Western Europe unites behind its new currency, the euro, that inspirational is being progressively narrowed. The Cold War, of course, cut Europe in two. The European Union is now cutting off not just Eastern Europe but also the United States, seen now as one of Europe's main rivals.

Europe now effectively means only "Western Europe", with member states of the EU policing their borders, both actually and conceptually, against aliens and the threat of aliens. Should Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic be allowed in? Perhaps - but Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria are dubious; even more so the idea of Russia as part of this new Europe. Turkey is, of course, highly problematic. Europe, indeed, has resurrected some of the oldest and most exclusionary of its stigmas of isolation - not just those against Islam but also against the countries of Orthodox Christianity.