Little Europes

Overseas countries and territories (OCT) and Outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union (by Alexrk2, via Wikipedia)

On a wide cobbled space on the sea front they found a guard of red-coated militia drawn up to receive them, and a crowd—attracted by their arrival—which in dress and manner differed little from a crowd in a seaport at home save that it contained fewer women and a great number of negroes.

The words above describe the arrival of a ship full of slaves – white slaves – to Bridgetown, the capital of the British colony Barbados, in late 1600’s. These lines are from one of my favourite books, “Captain Blood: His Odyssey”, a novel by Rafael Sabatini. “Home” refers to England, and today, crowds in most European seaports differ even less from the crowds in Bridgetown, Papeete or Paramaribo, as the ports of mainland Europe are rather diversified by the influx of immigrants from the (former) colonies. The colonial empires that were so dominant in the past 5 centuries are gone, most of the colonies have gained independence years, or even centuries ago. But a few remain attached to the “mother-country”, either too small to be able to stand on their own or too valuable as a honey-moon destination to be let go. Most of these bits and peaces of Europe scattered around the globe are French, as France has had the most difficulties ditching the notion of it being destined to rule the world (most French still cherish the thought that one day, the world will call upon them). But quite a few are British, some are Dutch, and even Norway has “colonies” in the southern seas.

For the most part though the so-called Outermost regions and Overseas countries and territories of the EU are either a rock in the ocean, like the famous Saint Helena where Napoleon was banned to, or a tropical paradise, making a living of newly weds and smuggling. The effect of these “little Europes” is rather unique. You fly out of the frozen European winter for 10 or even 20 hours, and suddenly you’re on the French Riviera, but on the other side of the globe. The heat, the white-washed buildings, the magnolias – its as if you’ve driven to Nice or Marseille. Even the number plates on some of these islands have the EU flag. And, as immigrants from Aruba and Martinique are drawn to Europe, there is a steady trickle of white Europeans to the tropics, nowadays for the most part not buccaneers or white slaves, but retirees, searching for a better climate to warm their elderly bones.

So are the differences between Europe and “little Europes” really blurred? Are Reunion, Saba and the Cayman Islands as European as Bristol or Vilnus? Yes and no. Being “Europe” seems less and less about pure geography. Although by now, pretty much every colony that had a serious desire and capacity for independence has become independent, the political and economical ties of the remaining colonies with the “mother country” are too strong to endanger by such a radical move as a declaration of independence. Its not the whole story though. Slower changes are simmering under the surface. Semi-dormant independence movements exist in most French overseas territories. The Dutch Antilles have been dissolved, some becoming states within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while others have become direct parts of the Netherlands. And regional ties are becoming more important than ties to the distant mainland Europe, as evidenced by the recent Samoa time zone change.

One thing is certain – these specks of Europe in tropical seas will remain a prized tourist destination, regardless of the geopolitics. Check out the map – Europe may be closer to you than you thought it is!

Curacao 9 Curacao 8 Curacao 7 Curacao 6 Curacao 5 Curacao 4 Curacao 3 Curacao 2 Curacao 1

All of the photos below were taken at Curaçao, a constituent country within The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which is a member of the European Union. However, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten have the status of overseas countries and territories (OCTs) and are not part of the EU. Nevertheless, only one type of citizenship exists within the Kingdom (Dutch), and all Dutch citizens, including the Curaçaoans, are EU citizens. Got it? Me neither. But it somehow works.

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