Europe on the couch: Proposal for a new EU psychology agency
The psychological aspects of attitudes and behavior in Europe are so numerous that only a few examples can be given here.
By Manfred Gerstenfeld
2 December 2015
Published in The Jerusalem Post
In view of the extensive confusion in the European Union it seems appropriate for the European parliament to establish a new office in the EU – the European Union Psychology Agency (EUPSYCH).
The head of this body would be independent. EUPSYCH would represent the interests of the public by investigating absurd and irrational attitudes as well as major perceptual anomalies in the Union from a psychological viewpoint.
Furthermore, the EU should legislate a requirement for all member countries to appoint a national psychologist tasked with specific focus on his particular country.
This idea did indeed start out as a parody. However the subject becomes more serious when one tries to view the EU response to the refugee inflow with some distance. The reactions to the Paris massacre have only strengthened the need for such an agency.
For decades, Germany’s society was characterized by fear, or “German Angst.” It was thought partly to result from the feeling that there was something inherently warped in their nation’s character, following the atrocities committed by their ancestors under Nazi rule. This angst has now returned, awoken by the incongruous open-door policy of the German government toward the refugees.
A poll this month in Germany found that 87 percent of the population is worried about the rise of right-wing parties. More than 75% expressed concern that the influence of Islam in Germany will be too strong, that the number of criminal acts will increase, and that the risk of terrorism in Germany will rise.
In France the Islamic State bombings have led to greatly increased levels of anxiety, shared to a lesser extent by the populations of other Western European countries.
This fearfulness is not entirely rational. The Islamic State movement does not have the ability or means to undertake regular attacks of that size in France, or in any other European country for that matter.
However heavy and horrific the toll of the dead and wounded is, the figure represents only 1:100,000 of France’s total population.
Yet the attacks have led many foreign tourists to cancel their bookings. There was far more logic involved when tourists canceled their bookings in Sharm el-Sheikh due to the local situation. The rational and irrational aspects of fear are typical subjects for psychological investigation.
The idea that countries can be put on the couch is not new. This concept emerged, for example, at the end of the previous century when after decades of silence, the issue of Holocaust restitution came to the fore again. It led to soul-searching in many countries occupied by the Germans in the Second World War. It could be explained as a desire on the part of those nations involved, during a relative quiet period at the end of the twentieth century, to take stock of where they had morally failed in the past decades.
The psychologist leads the patient to observe his own behavior, so that he begins to see its irrationality. Similarly Europe “on the couch” might observe the oddity of many of its actions and attitudes with more objectivity.
One often repeated statement which provides much fodder for psychologists is that Europe is an “economic giant, a political dwarf and a military worm.”
This expression was coined by the Belgian politician Mark Eyskens some 25 years ago, and is not only an issue for political analysts. The maintenance of such a reality, and particularly the mindset which has enabled it, fall within the psychologist’s domain of investigation. A far more pressing current matter for in-depth psychological evaluation is the way in which the leaders of an emotionally and mentally injured France now grandstand in a very incomplete effort toward a war against IS. This too requires a form of analysis which goes beyond the political and the social.
The issue of European values should also be looked into.
Safety of citizens versus human rights is but one theme among many for investigation. In France, the need to profile members of the Muslim community, home to the country’s most murderous ideological criminals, clashes with the national motto of “liberty, brotherhood and equality.”
Social psychologists could explore the influence of interpersonal relationships on EU behavior. Germany has underplayed its power for many years within the German-French axis which controlled the EU. The late German chancellor Helmut Schmidt warned that European resentment would result if Germany played a dominant role in the EU.
The psychological aspects of attitudes and behavior in Europe are so numerous that only a few examples can be given here. As Israel and the Jews take such a disproportionate place in the European public discourse this subject provides a wealth of initial subjects for investigation.
One prominent example is the fact that more than 40% of the European population believe that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians. In Poland the figure is much higher. This delusion belongs in the realm of psychiatry. It should be treated as a mental disorder, as it is a perceptual aberration. Should all these Europeans be prescribed medication? It would be a boon for the pharmaceutical industry.
There is far too much to say about this issue than can be contained in one article, but one can mention some of EU members’ significantly irrational moments to sharpen the point: Why has Belgium knowingly and recklessly ignored the development of a hotbed of extreme radical Muslims in the Brussels area? And of a very different but also irrational nature, why does the Netherlands remain the only Western country incapable of apologizing for its total neglect of the suffering of its Jews in the Second World War? Sweden is a prime candidate for the appointment of a national psychiatrist. Its prime minister, Olof Palme, compared Israel to Nazis. Several of its Social Democrat foreign ministers, the late Anna Lindh, Laila Freivalds and currently Margot Wallström suffer(ed) from negative obsessions concerning Israel. The same is true for the Moderate Party foreign minister Carl Bildt. Under the Social Democrat mayor Ilmar Reepalu Malmö has become the European capital of anti-Semitism.
This can only be explained by defining these phenomena as a mental disorder not limited to Swedish social democrats.
Psychologists often claim that their profession is improving the world. The proposed EUPSYCH agency will give them much food for thought, and plenty of work to do.