Shifting boundaries of Europe

“Europe” is a hot topic here in Britain these days, from the meltdown of the Euro to the bureaucracy of Brussels.  Americans might be surprised to know that across the pond, Britons speak of themselves as separate from “Europe”, a term that has evolved to mean continental Europe, and in particular, France and Germany.  While the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union, (which is, in itself, a political entity that is also separate from the idea of the “continent” of Europe), the United Kingdom is not apart of the Eurozone, as it chose to maintain its native currency, pounds sterling, instead of switching over to the Euro.

While the European Parliament and the European Commission (two of the governing bodies of the European Union) draft new legislation to deal with Europe’s debt crisis and install new powers within its governing agencies, the United Kingdom is bristling over bureaucratic measures it perceives as inefficient and heavy handed.

I heard a speaker attribute the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe’s very different approaches to governance to a divide in jurisprudence: the laws of England evolved from a common law system, whereby judgements and rules were made based on precedent and principle.  Most of Europe, including France, Germany and Spain harken from the tradition of civil law — rules, mandates, orders which must be followed to the letter.  (Perhaps a result of being conquered by Napoleon and thus adopting Napoleonic code).

I enjoyed this opinion article in the New York Times which discusses the difficult and oscillating definitions of “Europe”.



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