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The New Europe
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The New Europe

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By T. R. Reid Photographs by Stuart Franklin

With its own parliament and currency and a common aspiration for peace, the European Union declares itself—in 11 official languages—open for business.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

As the continent’s 40-odd countries move toward tighter and tighter networks, though, there are Europeans who don’t value the momentum toward unification. There is outright disdain in some quarters for the legion of Eurocrats in Brussels and their steady output of rules and regulations. In England the struggle between Europhiles and Euroskeptics is now a central element of national politics. That’s why a hardworking greengrocer named Steve Thoburn became a national hero.

An intense 36-year-old with curly hair and a gold ring in his right ear, Steve was caught red-handed weighing and selling bananas by the pound at his shop in the old shipbuilding town of Sunderland. This was a violation of EU Directive 80-181-EEC, requiring that fresh produce in any EU country must be sold in metric measures—i.e., liters and kilograms. Thoburn was convicted of this crime in the city court. Britain’s national newspapers had a field day with the story—they dubbed Steve the Metric Martyr—and the Euroskeptics adopted him as the poster boy of their cause.

Steve’s tiny market stall, Thoburn’s Fruit & Veg, is a veritable EU of greenery: Dutch leeks, Spanish peppers, French apples, British spinach, and, of course, Brussels sprouts. When I stopped by to see the Metric Martyr, he told me he was thoroughly uncomfortable with that title and with the way his case had been turned into a political football. “I don’t give a toss about politics,” he said. “I’ve never cast a vote. I have nothing against metrics. If somebody comes into me premises and says, ‘C’mon, love, give us a kilo of bananas,’ I’ll sell it to her. But nobody ever asks for that.” His message for the EU regulators was simple: “Leave a bloke alone so he can give his customers what they want. ”


While some people want to get out of the European Union, there are many on the outside pushing to get in. Currently there are 12 formal applicant countries on the waiting list, plus Turkey, which has a special status because it has not yet convinced the EU that it meets the required human rights standards. Most of the applicant nations spent half a century on the communist side of the Iron Curtain; they see EU membership as a key step in their transition to free government and free markets.

The transformation is already manifest in Estonia, a green, flat land of lakes and forests just across the Baltic from Finland. Barely a decade ago it was a neglected Soviet province that sent timber, taxes, and military draftees to Moscow, receiving little in return. Today, the 1.4 million Estonians have embraced capitalism so eagerly that the streets of Tallinn, the capital, are lit up all night long with the neon portals of a dozen casinos.

I ventured inside the Casino Victoria on Lauteri Street, a lavish red-carpeted palace of a place with Monaco-style baccarat dealers in tuxedos and Vegas-style waitresses in sequined minis and fishnet stockings. The croupiers spoke Estonian, Russian, Finnish, and German; my luck proved rotten in every language, and I lost a pile of the nation’s currency, Estonian kroons, at the roulette table.

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Sights and Sounds
Experience an old place from a new angle with this tour of the European Union.

The New Europe
VIDEO Author T. R. Reid talks about the European perspective on September 11, being outwitted by a Greek taxi driver, and more. Click Here.

AUDIO (recommended for low-speed connections)
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How will the melding of territory and currency affect the individuality of different countries? What might they lose—or gain—by becoming a new Europe? Share your thoughts.

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

If the 14.5 billion euro banknotes that are being minted for circulation in January were laid end to end, they would stretch to the moon and back two and a half times.

—Jennifer L. Fox

The European Union (EU)
This site can be read in all 11 official EU languages. It is a good starting point for basic information on how the EU works.

The Euro
The European Central Bank’s official site on the euro offers a wealth of information, including press releases, advertisements, and facts and figures on the new banknotes and coins.

In Flanders Fields Museum
Learn more about World War I and the battles fought in Flanders, Belgium.

Slow Food
Not only can you find out more about the Slow Food movement on this website, but it also offers recipes.

Metric Martyrs
Read the Metric Martyrs’ opinions of their cases, or voice your own opinion on their forum.


Cole, John, and Francis Cole. A Geography of the European Union, 2nd ed. Routledge, 1997.

Davies, Norman. Europe: A History. Oxford University Press, 1996.

Guéguen, Daniel. A Practical Guide to the EU. Labyrinth, 4th ed. Éditions Apogée, 2000.

Mazower, Mark. Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century. Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.


Range, Peter Ross. “Europe Faces an Immigrant Tide,” National Geographic (May 1993), 94-125.

“Europe, a Restless Continent Remapped,” National Geographic (June 1969), 778-779.

Nettis, Joseph. “Europe Via the Hostel Route: With a Bicycle for Transport and a Pack on His Back, a Young Photographer Finds Friends and Adventure Abroad,” National Geographic (July 1955), 124-154.

Walker, John. “Europe’s Looted Art,” National Geographic (January 1946), 39-52.


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