Europe has existed during many centuries and will hopefully be around for many more.
It emerged in the West’s history as an extension of Asia and has been, after centuries of cultural, economic and political expansion, at the centre of the world for a long time. Today it has become the small extension of Asia again, because of the continents’ tumultuous development and as a victim of itself and the suicide act that was the First World War, 100 years ago.
After centuries of “civil” wars, between countries which were more in conflict united, Europe seems to have repented after the two tragic world conflicts, which left dozens dead on their lands. Halfway through the last century marked a censoring in this endless violent history, provoked by different economic interests and political rivalries, sometimes accompanied by religious conflicts.
On the 9th of May 1950, after only five years since the end of World War Two, the memory of the endless European conflicts and the knowledge of the perceptive politicians was made into a “Declaration” by the foreign minister, Robert Schuman who appealed to the countries at war (starting with France and Germany) to cooperate policies to rebuild Europe and bring peace.
A bid which until now they have been able to achieve a large section of, at least in the countries that have joined to the community integration one by one, but without forgetting the conflicts which erupted on Europe’s borders, such as ex-Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 90s, on a smaller scale in southern Caucasus and most recently and seriously in Ukraine.
Today, 100 years since the “useless bloodbath” of the Great War, not as a coincidence also referred to as “the European War” and after more than 60 years since Schuman’s “declaration”, Europe finds itself in the midst of worrying turbulences and has started feeling like they should give up on the common foundation, built with great patience, which grew over time from the first six founder countries up to the twenty-eight members today.
Nineteen of these have gone a step further and adopted the single currency, the Euro, which on one hand has established a strong political union but on the other has been accused of having paid out too much to weaker members which the Central Bank was trying to help during their last interventions during the financial crisis.
It’s been a history full of valuable experiences, lots of which are positive but others negative also. Making a new start for the adventure of the European constitution, by evaluating their strengths and weaknesses still today and asking themselves about future possible developments.
Without once again going over Europe’s rich history, but also not forgetting its cultural origins that have seen it grow into the great Eurasian continent, we need to let go of the difficulties of the last century so that they become tragic memories and so that there is a rebirth for this broken up region of the world and a hunt for the new cohesion.
Europe, a result of many strict cultures and identities, entered the 20th century with an economic boost from the industrialisation of the prior century and with a strong development of businesses and financial services: It is little wonder that they talk about this time as the “first globalisation”.
National states lived together with political tensions, fed by the colonization pushes after the distribution of the world according to the Berlin conference in 1884. This is why they became allies and were exposed to the outbursts of possible conflicts. It was years before the Belle Epoque Europe seemed to live in a time of harmony, which was quickly torn by a pistol shot in Sarajevo on the 8th of June 1914. The detonator for the First World War must have been “Blitzkrieg” (lightening war) but it went on for four years. It ended with 10 million dead, a changed course of world politics and a European suicide.
In the small European continent, a relatively limited territory, they fought until the four empires were dissolved. The treaty of Versailles, signed in Paris in 1919, wasn’t enough to repair the continent. The mending of Europe was based on ethnicity, the change of the borders, and above all the harsh punishment imposed on Germany along with the emerging nationalisms who were the beginning of the disconcerting politics, especially from the totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy and Russia, which contributed to the trigger to the Second World War, barely 20 years later.
The war theatre had extended from the West to the East, with 60 million dead on the battlefields, in the concentration camps and the demolished cities, from London until Dresden passing by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A new peace treaty was then signed again in Paris in 1947 by, on one side, the potential winners, such as France, the UK, the USA and the Soviet Union, and on the other side, the defeated, Italy was amongst those. Germany did not have to sign anything, they were practically expelled as a sovereign State and international representative, and there wasn’t even approval from the American Administration, who had chosen an isolationist policy.
A new round of international relations opened in Yalta. The great three: USA, UK and Soviet Union (France was not invited) divided up the influential areas in Europe and started up the United Nations on the 24th of October 1945 with the Treaty of San Francisco. It was created to replace the “ghost” of the League of Nations, created from the treaty of Paris in 1919 and became extinct without great remorse in 1946.
New indicatives and international unions rose in this climate. One of the main ones being, the adoption in 1948 of the Charter of Universal Rights and the creation of the European Council in 1949, based in Strasbourg, now composed of 47 countries, all of the EU, Turkey and Russia.
In April 1951 the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was created within the Treaty of Paris. It was inaugurated by great statesmen at the time: Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet in France, Konrad Adenauer in Germany, Alcide De Gasperi in Italy and Paul-Henri Spaak in Belgium. A big adventure began, a unique project in the world to create a “democracy between nations, after the negative results of the political regimes based on an unexpected idea of “nation” and led to the tragedy of the two World Wars that had destroyed Europe and troubled the world”.
A complex history then started in Europe, with moments of crisis followed by revivals, yet without a significant progress towards that political union desired by its founding fathers. A dream that became more difficult with its 28 member countries and a widespread climate of mistrust or a declared hostility against present institutions of the EU.
A DIFFICULT PRESENT
In recent years a string of difficult events occurred in Europe, marked by an incomparable financial and economic crisis, with massive migratory flows and with armed conflicts in their boundaries that had a big social and political impact on the EU.
The impact of the financial and economic crisis
The financial crisis had come about above all through an imbalance of public accounts in many of the European states: some found themselves out of the threshold permitted by the deficit, such as Ireland, the UK and Spain, but also France and Italy had a relatively contained imbalance. More alarming is the public debt situation, in particular in Belgium, Ireland and Portugal, but above all in Italy and Greece. Imbalances have made worrying risks of bankruptcy and have kept the EU and its single currency on alert. The consequences of the financial crisis in the real economy have been disastrous. Within the Euro zone only Germany has achieved significant growth while all the other countries have recorded substantial immobility, in some cases followed by times of recession and recently by weak signs of improvement.
The impact of the crisis has especially affected the social sector. Unemployment has increased, exceeding the threshold of 10% in the Euro zone, and with high and troubling levels for youth employment. In Spain, one young person out of two does not have a job, and in Italy, one out of three.
In Europe, the number of people living in poor conditions has exceeded the threshold of 60 million. According to Eurostat, one person out of four finds themselves at risk of poverty in Europe.
It was clear that so many crises would lead to political crises, not only in some countries of the Euro zone, but also in the summits of the European Union.
In recent years, the governments of Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Italy have collapsed with the crisis, (twice in Italy). In Greece and Italy, the “technicians” need to replace politics that take the risk of trying new forms of delegation which create perplexities based on the health of our democracy and in the political ability to assume its responsibilities.
The financial and economic crisis of Greece was very serious. They needed to redo elections and create severe austerity policies which brought the country to its knees, which, in the summer 2015, could breathe because of an agreement with the EU and the International Monetary Fund, whose application is still fragile.
The fragility of European Institutions
What is also interesting – and under worrying aspects – is what happened to the European institutions and their surroundings. The daily work of the European Commission has continued without finding, until recently, this initiative ability given by the Treaties to make the European integration progress. It always ends up in a conflict because of different interests, taking place in the European Council and insufficiently fed by the good intentions of the European Parliament.
In this institutional emptiness – hardly moderate by the activism of the European Central Bank – two governments (France and Germany) have been left out. They have decided to “use the crisis” to take the command of an uncertain and divided Union. The one who would have compared this “duo” with the legendary “French-German” axis there used to be, would have been in the wrong historic period. After German Unification in 1990 the new leaders that ruled Germany and France, the impacts caused by the financial crisis, the political and economic landscape from the one side and the other of the Rhine have deeply changed.
Germany has become the most important country of the EU. It is different from the other countries regarding not only its demographic size, but also its economic power and its inclusion in the European and global market. It has clearly become the new political ambition for the EU and it also has expanded itself to the Eastern boundaries of Germany which still politely refuses to show the example for the EU.
It was different for France, a country who has more difficulties at national and international level. Its role is now less important. However, they still maintain some positions they gained in the War, like their position in the Security Council of the United Nations and in the International Monetary Fund, after the sad events for the French pride worsened by their approach to direct the European Central Bank, in which Mario Draghi replaced the French Jean-Claude Trichet.
In this context, we have to interpret differently the image we have of the French-German “duo” for what it really is: pedalling between both of them and with a different determination, but with only one in command, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She is being more and more criticised not only by the EU, but also, and quite recently, by her own country, because of the position she took regarding the welcoming of the Syrian refugees.
The European elections of June 2014 confirmed the problems that the EU is facing, giving great consensus to the Eurosceptic political parties with a populist domination, but without negatively penalising the two major European parties: the European People’s Party and the European Socialist Party, directed respectively by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, and the current President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.
An ambitious European Union
Europe’s structure has been deeply changed by the progressive expansion of the EU territory, from the six founding countries to the 28 present ones with the last arrival, Croatia. Europe has also been affected by a financial and economic crisis unequalled in history and has been shaken by nationalist and populist movements. The continent has to face a lot of obstacles to reach political integration, which is now developing faster. There are countries that have adopted the single currency, others that want to adopt it, those that are taking the risk to get rid of the single currency, and those that seem not to not want it at all. There are also those that have signed the Schengen Agreement, those that have not adopted it and those that have unilaterally suspended its application during the past months.
The structure of the EU has also changed the economic and political influence of the countries of the EU. Some “smaller” countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal have reached their limit. The Benelux countries do not launch any more initiatives, Spain finds itself in a difficult situation, Poland puts forward some ambitions, Italy tries to, once again, launch initiatives; and we have already talked about France and Germany. We still need to understand the model chosen by the United Kingdom by its current young Prime Minister, David Cameron, who promoted the reckless referendum that will take place in June to see whether the UK should remain within the EU.
The European Project in the new international context
The European Union should reconsider its future project in the international context, without hoping to be in the centre of the world like it was in the past, but without refusing new relations with their traditional allies and with the new emerging powers, especially with the East.
In its closest boundaries, the European Union should apply the European reunification model that started with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that has led ten EU countries out of the Soviet sphere. The European Union is still following the same path: Croatia has recently joined the EU, and negotiations are taking place with Macedonia and Montenegro. Other countries are waiting to be part of the EU: Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo. The expansion up to Iceland has been suspended.
However, the situation is more complicated for the EU in its eastern and southern boundaries.
In the East it is difficult for the EU to negotiate with Turkey, and in the North with the countries of the Southern Caucasus, connected with the EU in the political framework of proximity. The joining negotiations with Turkey have come to a halt because of economic, cultural and political reasons and worsened by the recent policy of the “sultan” Erdogan wanting to go back to the times of the Ottoman Empire and responsible for serious offences of fundamental rights, like the freedom of the press. But Turkey still has a political and military role in an area of great instability like in the Middle East, where Europe has difficulties managing massive migration flows. This is what is happening with the Syrian conflict that has resulted in hundreds of millions of victims and more than ten million refugees. The fragile truce which is currently in process is still far from consolidating peace where there are conflicts of interest between Iran and Saudi Arabia, where it is impossible to find a solution in the never-ending conflict between Israel and Palestine, and where there is still no transition to a democracy in the southern Mediterranean countries, especially in Libya, where we can notice the unclear interests of powers that are more interested by the Mediterranean, and sometimes in what the European Union can demonstrate.
A FUTURE TO RECONSTRUCT
In the last years, it was difficult for the European Union to manage the crisis it was going through and to maintain the economic and political union within the EU, but also to play its significant role in the world. If the EU continued this way, there would not be a lot to bid for its future, regarding the Euro and, maybe, for its pacifying search of a political union for a historically divided continent and constantly in - sometimes armed – conflicts within the EU.
The current agreements based on the “ordinary maintenance” will not be able to save the EU from the political and economic decline for much longer .
Europe faces the dilemma of creating a new valuable project or disappearing in the conflicts of it neighbouring countries, generally led by blind leaders without ambitions or too reluctant to take important initiatives. In the EU, there needs to be an “extraordinary maintenance” inspired by a new political project supported by deeply reformed Institutions and above all, in the hands of active citizens who have finally decided to build “their” Union, a Union that does not undervalue the union of the States, but represents it a lot better, even if it is a Union which is more difficult to create.
It is only under these conditions that peace will represent for the new Europe not only an objective, like it is today, but also a value to follow “without ifs or buts”. Europe will be united with the different European countries. It will be founded by justice before legality so that an inclusive society can be formed in which all cultures, inspired by tolerance and democracy will be able to communicate.
It is not as if we are trying to fix an old car because it has probably provided a lot of service, but because it cannot cope with the new challenges of the global world anymore. There needs to be new European citizens, a new Treaty, new Institutions, new policies, new leaders and new global horizons to be able to progress today.
New European citizens
The European Union was created 70 years ago by the visionary and courageous founding Fathers who knew that they had to save and consolidate a conquered peace after the tragic years of the Second World War and after centuries of conflict in all of the continent. The first project of European community was to connect economic and commercial interests with the neighbouring countries using complex rules to create a progressive path towards political integration.
To create this model they called upon an organised and effective technocracy that made the Institutions move forward thus reaching their goals, even sometimes before the deadline, like in the customs Union created in 1968. The protagonists of the first integration chapter were “visionary” politicians of the institutional technocracy period. They were avant-garde and “elites” inspired by a political vision and by new economic and commercial interests that could derive from this model.
During the first years of the post-war period, the active participation of the citizens was more restrained because, according to them, the necessities of everyday life prevailed and its social organisation led to disputes to reconquer the rights denied for a long time. In Italy, for example, the first trade union opposed itself during many years to the community project in which the capital interests were more important than those of the workers. And this is how, in opposing, different and unenthusiastic popular unions, that the fulfilment of the community project progressed without having great popular participation. The situation did not improve until 1979 when the European citizens voted to elect, for the first time by direct universal suffrage, the European Parliament. Moreover, with passing years and the new expansions, electoral participation was reduced until it reached, a bit less than 40 years later, peaks of abstentionism of around 50%.
With the conditions changing today and with a Union we need to rebuild after the numerous crises it was a victim of but also responsible for, everyone knows that it will be an illusion to reopen the European integration project without connecting it directly with the citizens. First concerning the elaboration of the new EU project and then in its daily management. It is a difficult but necessary great deed that needs to become a patient pedagogy to explain the complexity of the European adventure and to mobilise the citizens to support a project in which they recognise themselves.
Jean Monnet, the father and architect of the first European communities, would have declared in the last moments of his life that if “he had to start again, he would begin with the culture”. Maybe, in the European Union of today, he would say that it is necessary to “start with the cultures”, the culture of many European and non-European people, that live and still arrive in Europe and that need a new multicultural Europe.
A new Community Treaty
The Community Treaties have deeply left their mark on European integration history: from the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, to the current Treaty of Lisbon that came into force at the end of 2009. All of the Treaties have made the European model progress. It is the case for the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 up to the present Treaty. However, the promises have not all been kept because some State members did not agree or because they were blocked by the economic and political situation that has made the neighbouring countries more independent, putting their interests before the ones of the Union.
A significant radical political change could have occurred with the Treaty regarding a European Community of defence that was not ratified by France in 1954, nor was the “European Constitution project” later that turned out to be a failure by France and then Holland in 2005. In the last example, not everything was lost because some important elements were taken from this project to the Treaty of Lisbon signed in 2007 and that came into force two years later, after many unwelcomed events.
Today, barely two years after it entered into force, a lot of competent voices like Chancellor Angela Merkel's demanded a new Treaty. She imposed in 2012, an Intergovernmental Agreement (called the “Fiscal Pact” or “Union of balance”) that should have been able to work on a provisional basis in a European Union where there is a single currency, but not in a European Union that does not have a common government for the economy and even less for the tax policy, or at least coordinated between the member States.
If this Agreement succeeded, there would need to be a lot of legal actions to introduce it in the current Treaty and offer it operational support from the EU Institutions.
Another temporary expedient reminds us of the memorable speech of Altiero Spinelli in the European Parliament to convince the Union to radically change its Treaties. At that moment, Spinelli (whom a lot of people quote), talked about the book of Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea. It tells us the adventure of an old fisherman who sails out into the open sea in a small boat whose “sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled: It looked like the “flag of permanent defeat”. According to Spinelli, this was the image he had of Europe at that time and, unfortunately, it also is the one we have today.
New European Institutions
From the beginning of the European Communities to the current European Union, the European Treaties have been created based on the institutional model whose originality and complexity are valuable to reach the European integration, but are inadequate to be carried out. The first attempt consisted of looking for a balance between the Institutions which mainly had a sovereign vocation, and those protected from legitimate national interests. This system should have progressively reached an innovative and unprecedented “democracy between nations”, with different aspects of the already experimented “democracy in the nations”, belonging to each of the member States individually”.
The model worked better when the European Union was composed only of a small number of countries that were more united. All changed with the increasing number of member states, that all had different integration projects and were jealous of the sovereignty. For example France, Great Britain and other countries of Central-Eastern Europe, whose sovereignty was conquered not long ago, which is why they are jealous.
Today, we need to find a more advanced balance that reinforces the sovereignty vocation of Europe’s institutional order:
- a European Commission, having the power to take initiatives being the future executive power of the EU. It needs to be a real government whose President would benefit from a strong popular legitimacy because of their direct election, as a result of the positive experiment done at the last European elections
- a European Parliament whose powers would be reinforced and a “House of Peoples” in communication with the European Council “Federal Court”, representing the Union territories
- a Court of Justice with a confirmed jurisdictional power, progressively playing the role of the European Constitutional Court.
A lot of time is needed to realize all of these reforms, but it is also urgent that we carry them out because history will not wait for the tortoise-Europe of the past.
New European policies
A new Treaty and new European institutions would not have been of any use if there were not any new EU policies to reform the ones that exist and face the new challenges Europe will have.
There is a lot to change in the current policies of the EU and the current crisis has demonstrated it by emphasizing the misfortunes of an unstable monetary and economic Union because of its money and obsessive austerity policies and because it does not have a European Economic Government. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi called it a “limp” that the EU is paying a lot for and which needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
To face the problem at the root, if Europe is to become important again in the world, there will need to be a revision of the EU’s responsibilities concerning taxes and more generally, the balance policies that cannot only be part of the “national sovereignties”. Moreover, more powers will have to be given to the EU concerning the foreign and security policy.
There will need to be more determination in the social policy aspect, including a progressive convergence of the welfare systems, to protect the rights and fight against exclusion.
In 1951, the common policy in the carbon and metal sector was a valuable choice. Today, it would be right to choose a common policy of research and energy: not only to increase the competitive adventure of the EU in the international markets, but also to foster a common environment policy to save the planet. In 2015, new steps were taken in that direction and it is fair to hope for new progress in the environment policy after the positive conclusions of the COP21 in Paris last December.
New European leaders
Treaties, institutions and new policies will not go very far if they are not carried out by determined men and women able to assume the responsibility to reach the common good, using their competences and their constant relations with the citizens and not only its electorate or those having the same nationality, but all citizens, being Europeans or not, that live in the Union territory.
The new leading class Europe needs, does not have to respect the original standards, so that it does not lose the valuable resources of those who, with the years, have contributed to the memory and experience of the common adventure and so that it trains teams that get the best they can so that they can pass it on to the next generations. What we really need are humble leaders who can listen, who are prepared to face problems, who are democratic to find solutions together and that can work in a team so that there isn’t just “one person commanding”. They also need to be ready to hear the voices of the “intermediate bodies” in which Montesquieu put his trust in to consolidate the democracy of the three independent powers.
We do not need to invent everything, but there is a lot to do with the political work of all of the citizens and not only the “elites”, because it is the only way that we will be able to create a “Union of people” and not just a Union of States, which was useful before but inadequate today.
New European horizons
When we look at the world map Europe is a small peninsula and it made Paul Valéry ask the next question: “Will Europe become what it really is, that is to say a small promontory of the Asian continent?”. If the geography was all that counted the answer to this question would have been clear, but because we also have to take into account history and what man has created, everything becomes a lot more complicated and different answers are therefore accepted to this question.
In its history Europe has been present in a lot of different regions of the world during centuries starting in the age of discoveries, after which the colonisation period started. This now belongs to the past of Europe and we hope that no one will ever have to feel nostalgic about it.
Today, the presence of Europe in the world is different: cultural deception, business and financial exchange, information networks, political and military capacity to control territories and direct the policies of the “supposedly sovereign” States.
Today, Europe is able to use the first influences on the world, without giving up this policy, without hoping to activate the military policy for which Europe is in reality less equipped, but it should probably reinforce the connections with its allies.
The new European horizons begin with its neighbouring countries that hope to enter the European Union or associate themselves. The answer is found in the expansion strategy that should follow the agreed conditions and in the proximity policy, especially in the Mediterranean, for those who today, do not reply to the expected conditions of expansion.
But Europe should consider larger horizons: in the North, it should find new opportunities to improve its relations with Russia and in the South, the obligation, even if it also is an interest, to be in charge of the development of Africa, its “bordering continent”. In the East, after the Atlantic, the political changes taking place in South America, in the former European colonies, concerning the European democracy “laboratory”, which they still have a lot to teach. Clarifications are also needed with the US, not only about the military alliances, but also about the agreement between two different societies that can represent an opportunity for them to learn from each other. The current negotiation taking place between the EU and the US about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), would be the right time for indispensable explications.
And finally, Asia, the next future of the world in which two great economic, trading and political powers emerge: China and India, two very different countries and playing an important part in the changes taking place in the world. They are not protected from any bad surprises relating to political or even military results, like we can see in China.
New world horizons are waiting for Europe: and it would be unacceptable for Europe to be late to meet them, as has happened often in recent times.
We, as citizens, need to take part of the great world match taking place so that we not end up being the spectators.