The View of Europe Abroad | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 30.03.2005
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The View of Europe Abroad

The US economist Jeremy Rifkin has called the European unification process "a silver lining on the dark cloud of our world." But how is the bloc perceived in the rest of the world?


The European Union: more than just coexistence?

Even if Brussels is proud of having moved closer together under the European Union's starry flag, this message has hardly reached many other parts of the world.

In Asia, a major problem is that local media can't afford to intensively cover the European Union, said Indian media researcher Keval Kumar.

"India looks up to Europe -- for its industrialization, its affluence, its literature and culture," said Kumar. He said Indians were very interested in Europe, but couldn't afford extensive coverage.

According to Kumar, there are only four Indian newspaper correspondents in Europe -- and they're all based in London.

"I don't think that any of our television channels even has a single correspondent in the whole of Europe," he said. "But the fact that Europe is not much represented in media does not mean that Indians do not have an interest in Europe."

Europe as a stronghold of cultivation

For Africans, Europe is simply too varied, said British media researcher Graham Mytton.

Internet Café in Nairobi

Not all Africans have such access to information online, like in this Internet cafe in Nairobi.

"Europe is not yet seen as an entity," said Mytton. The individual nations have a much stronger image on the African continent, especially Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, he said.

Africans consider Europe to be more a series of countries, but not representing one language and one culture, he said. "Europe isn't seen as having a culture the way that a country does," said Mytton.

For many Africans, Europe appears to be a stronghold of cultivation, with its historical cities, noteworthy artists and major explorers, said Mytton.

Europe's colonial influence

But in addition to the positive image of Europe, the memory of its colonial past runs deep.

"There is no part of Africa that hasn't been influenced by Europe through colonial rule, slavery and, today, through economic dominance," said Mytton. "This image is a kind of cognitive dissonance between resentment and love, from one extreme to the other, but both existing at the same time."

Herero Frauen bei einer Versammlung

Germany killed 65,000 ethnic Hereros during its colonial rule between 1904 and 1907

The colonial experience still impedes these countries' development today, because many people can't free themselves from this feeling of dependency, said Hans-Josef Dreckmann, the former Africa correspondent for German television ARD.

"Even today, many Africans think that white people know and do everything better, so they should leave everything up to them," said Dreckmann. "As long as this belief prevails, there will really be less independence, especially in the thinking."

The EU as a model for Latin America

The image of Europe in Latin America is also strongly focussed on the former colonial powers, said Hartmut Hentschel, who has lived in Argentina since 1989 and heads a polling institute there.

"Spain, for example, is called the mother-father-land," said Hentschel.

The EU's expansion has hardly attracted South Americans' attention to the eastern half of Europe. They observe the process of expansion mainly in terms of economic factors, as they view the EU as a model for the Latin American economic zone.

Treffen EU und Mercosur in Portugal

EU and Mercosur representatives met in Portugal last fall

"Many Latin Americans are somewhat envious of Europeans' success," said Hentschel, who pointed out the more modest progress of the South American trade bloc Mercosur.

But one thing is obvious: the interest in Europe is large, though the coverage in the media thin, said Hentschel.

"Over 50 percent of Argentinians would like to find out more about Europe and Germany," he said.

Europeans themselves poorly informed

But media researcher Mytton said that the question should be posed the other way around, too. How much do Europeans know, for example, about African countries?

"All my experience tells me that Africans know Europe better than Europeans know Africa," said Mytton. He attributes this to various factors.

"Generally speaking, I have a theory that people who lack information make better use of what information they get," he said. "So we spoiled, rich Europeans that have far too much information are less well-informed as a result."

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