Europeans like to be different.
Not only as a group, but also as individual countries. This latter point is very much apparent in the general reluctance towards European integration. While the idealistic notion of a united Europe appeals on some level to all of those working at the European Union institutions, there is still an element of history and nationalistic sentiment at play. Europe has splattered the pages of history in the blood of warfare and brutal conquest. Yes, in the backdrop there have always been movements for a coalition or an alliance built on peace: the Concert of Vienna, to name a particularly poignant example. However, none of these alliances had the normative power the European Union wields today; or the grand designs of a European Union made by Europeans, where European means not French, not Belgian, but every person born on the European continent.
The movement towards European integration, spearheaded by the European Union, is a movement very characteristic of our century. It is a movement against the grain of old traditions which aims at a more open-minded, pluralist world. We can see a parallel in a more extreme situation: the movement towards a secular global society. As the world moves towards instituting religion as a private opinion, more and more extremists groups rise up. To fight the current, these groups stubbornly hold onto their fading ways of life by making them even more prominent. The same is happening with nationalism in Europe. As Europe moves slowly towards integration and the European Union progressively becomes stronger, the French become more French, the German become more German, and so on.
And where else would this be more apparent than in football?
The Commissioner of for the Environment managed to get the Slovenian's goalkeeper to sign his arm. Right before beginning his speech, he joked about how he had to wear long sleeves to protect and preserve the signature as long as possible. The German representative of the environment interests introduced himself in a Section hearing as a citizen of the country about to win the World Cup. The French allowed themselves a day of mourning after their lost hopes, excusing themselves from work. In a study group meeting, all the Germans - in other words, two-thirds of the people present at the meeting – abruptly got up and left promptly fifteen minutes before their game started at one-thirty.
Yes, football is the game of the people. And yes, people are passionate about football. But more than football fever, the EU seems to have caught the fever's twin: contented nationalism.
Individual A lives in Italy. Individual A lives in a country which happens to be a member state of the European Union – a steadily expanding supranational power that is slowly becoming an integral government body to the continent. Individual A's life and the government pressures on Individual A's life are becoming increasingly parallel to those of Individual B in Spain, or Individual C in France. In other words, Individual A is becoming European. Individual A may be much more similar to Individual C than to another individual in Italy. Individual A's Italian characteristics are becoming less and less defined as the European Union's influence steadily expands. And when Individual A realizes this, Individual A tries as hard as possible to make these remaining characteristics as strongly defined as possible.
Football has become a way to be different. A way to be Spanish, French, German, Slovenian, not just European like everyone else. Football is the perfectly politically correct manner in which a European can be proudly national, content with their small right at their home country.
And why not? ESPANA CAMPEONA! A POR ELLOS!