At Large

Is Europe Finished?

Who else could give new meaning to the term "Latin lover"?

By 7.10.06

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What does one do with Europe these days?

Taxicab drivers strike in Italy, leaving stranded travelers strewn about the place. Poland's president jilts the leaders of France and Germany before a meeting because a German paper compares him to a potato. Torrents of state-subsidized plonk send tsunamis through European wine markets, while France prosecutes one of its most successful vintners for trying to improve his product.

And then there's that little Nordic wonderland, Finland, which is now in the driver's seat of the European Union for the next six months. What innovative new policies will be pushed by the home of Nokia, Linux, and Santa Claus?

Finland is sobering up the EU's upcoming gathering of finance ministers with a proposed hike in the continent's booze taxes. "It is necessary to harmonize the tax rates to even out the price levels of alcohol," explained the office of the Finnish EU presidency. (It probably doesn't hurt that Finland's prime minister is a notorious teetotaler.)

That Finland would obsess on this sort of equity is no surprise. Finland has such a fairness fetish that it bases its fines for highway speeding on the offender's income level -- that's right, progressive traffic tickets.

But with all the problems facing Europe right now, a universal price tag for a finger of scotch seems a bit silly. Europe has:

  • economic dry heaves that regularly cause strikes and riots; and
  • growing Muslim communities with the violent tendencies of Mike Tyson and the emotional stability to match.

Clearly now is the time to get tough on under-priced drinking.

Finland is also planning to tackle tough issues like the EU membership of Turkey and the possible addition of backwaters like Bulgaria and Romania, but it is introducing one enormous complication to the mix. Finland has announced that it will be reporting on its progress in a language so nonstandard that only cadres of classicists can muddle through it.

Finland plans to publish weekly EU news bulletins in Latin.

Finish scholar Reijo Pitkaranta defends the move by saying, "it is still very much in use in different forms across the world today. Italians, French and Spaniards all speak a new form of Latin." Which is a bit like saying we should publish the Congressional Record in Anglo Saxon because it's a parent tongue to modern day English.

Government documents are already hard enough to read without publishing them in a language that peaked with medieval monks -- which seems pretty close to the direction they're going with it.

"Using Latin is a way of paying tribute to European civilization and it serves to remind people of European society's roots, stretching back to ancient times," explains another supporter.

That's a nice sentiment, but otherwise pretty useless. If Finland wants to pay tribute to European civilization, it should tackle the issues that are actually jeopardizing it right now. Besides, I've misplaced my Cassell's.

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About the Author

Joel J. Miller is the author of The Revolutionary Paul Revere and vice president of editorial and acquisitions for the Thomas Nelson nonfiction group. Contact him at JoelJMiller.com.