Essay about Europe – dreams, needs, possibilities
24 March 2017
Saturday, 25 March 2017, will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome by 6 countries, which countries,… in fact, started the history of the European Union. The history covering the period of those 60 years is the history of a dream about Europe bringing peace and guaranteeing development. It is the history of a dream confronted with the political realities of the changing continent and the world. It is the history of a project which has skilfully effected self-corrections. It is the history of a project which, with all its past, present and forthcoming problems, is a success. I would like to share with you my reflections on that project. I will present to you four parts of an essay about Europe, every day adding each subsequent fragment.
A POST-WAR DREAM
It is believed that before the signing of the Treaty of Rome, when the British diplomats had received invitations to a working meeting on Sicily regarding the future of the most important countries in Europe, according to how the continent was perceived at that time, they expressed their lack of interest in those “archaeological” works on Sicily. The British distance was the British distance based on the sense of their own mission, still an imperial one. In the paroxysm of history it returned as Brexit in 2016. However, in the course of events, the British distance was changed by 3 French vetoes of general de Gaulle into the French distance, supported by the restraint of the European Community of that time. And as late as in 1973 Great Britain became the formal member of the EEC.
The impulse to start works on the Treaty of Rome was the feeling of hope mixed with fear. It was, to some extent, similar to many today’s political processes. The two world wars of the XX century, Hitler elected democratically yet violating all the democratic obligations, totalitarianism and the Holocaust, death and destruction – brought about the sense of long-remembered suffering, tragedy and fear to the post-war generation. Still, such memories also gave people strength to dream. It was the strength to create a vision of peace in Europe and to dream about stable development, based on the co-operation between nations, countries and economies.
The historical paradox consisted in the fact that Europe, as the original Coal and Steel Community, in a group of 6 countries was to supervise the sustainable development and competitiveness among business entities and not among national entities. Simultaneously, however, it was supposed to keep an eye, just in case, on the development of Germany and to restrain that country, so that what happened at the and of 1920s and at the beginning of 1930s in Germany and with Germany would not repeat itself. And what happened in the past was the re-militarization of Germany, contrary to the arrangements of the Treaty of Versailles, which started with the great expansion of industry.
For Germany after World War II the participation in a European project was a test of credibility, which, by the way, with time, succeeded and gave Germany the position of a leader.
The Treaty of Rome brought about the first version of the model of politics of the new European project. Never before in history has the catalogue of the principles of reaching agreements on positions and of co-operating in order to find common solutions been applied on such a large scale, and the principles in question were based on the respect for the identity of the particular states and on the compromise, which compromise curbed the importance of seeing exclusively the interests of the given nation. In that journey the principles, such as the principle of subsidiarity and the rule of searching for the common economic interest, became more precise. And the same regarded even the rules of competitive advantages of what is European with respect to the rest of the continent and the world, including the United States. In Europe it was well known that the post-war beginning and the restoration were possible thanks to the US. And all the more so, the Europeans wanted to repay that debt symbolically, by showing the strength of the European economy.
The Treaty of Rome was a living document and it built living institutions. In practice – it became clear that the genuine defence of peace must lead through the defence of democracy. And in the contemporary world the defence of democracy consists in protecting the freedom of a citizen against the potential designs of the state. Namely, of each state which might feel the temptation of authoritarianism. So that the police would not be able to enter people’s homes without a warrant and keep people under arrest. So that we would have the efficiently functioning separation of powers: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – guaranteed by the Constitutional Tribunals. So that the impartiality of the public media would be the obligation of the democratic governance. So that nobody would be discriminated against because of his or her different political views, religion, skin colour, origin or disability. With time, other characteristics, important for an individual, were added, such as gender and sexual orientation.
Today, after many years, it is clear that the motifs connected with the canons of the European values, focusing on the defence of freedom and liberties, have been present in the concept of the European project since the very beginning.
They are not and they have never been a mere decoration added in the recent years – which nationalists and populists attempt to persuade today the disorientated part of the Europeans. Since the beginning of the debate about the common Europe two sets of political views have been constantly clashing with one another: the views of the Christian Democracy (a key fundament of the new Europe) with the socialist views, sensitive to social matters.
In this European dream there was space for the market economy, which built its competitive advantages thanks to the common international framework, and which framework, step by step, led to the single market – a concept elaborated as early as in the 1990s of the XX century. There had to be some space for the guarantees for democracy. That is why at first there was no place in that project for the Francoist Spain or for Salazar’s Portugal. And in this dream there was space for a development model which assumed that the well-being of an individual was the central point of the development-oriented efforts. Here, the experiences of the German Christian Democrats, with their concept of the social market economy, met those of the European Socialists, liberating themselves more and more from the Soviet pressure, who ceased to talk about the prosperity of the masses and started to talk, with greater precision, about the good living conditions of individuals.
Today, a question may arise: may the idea of Europe dating back to the time of the Treaty of Rome and to the sixties of the XX century still be valid? And – in what manner did it respond then and has it responded for the last 60 years to the needs of the inhabitants of the European countries?
CRISES IN THE EUROPEAN UNION VERSUS THE NEEDS OF THE EUROPEANS
It is probably true to say that at the end of the 1960s the European project went through its first crisis, resulting from the conflict between generations.
The revolution of The Beatles and Twiggy, the riots in the streets of Paris in May 1968, the awakening of the Prague Spring in 1968 or even the March events in Poland in 1968 – although of a different nature, they clearly demonstrated that the post-war twenty-year-olds started to perceive themselves and the surrounding reality differently. They demanded the transparency of democracy and of governance. They fought against the shell of old moral patterns. They demanded equal rights for all, both in terms of the respect for Everyone and in terms of the access for Everyone to the goods and services, which sector had been growing fast and dynamically. Paradoxically, the counterculture of the 1960s was an opposition towards the excess of consumption patterns (“One-Dimensional Man” by Marcuse) and, simultaneously, a voice demanding equal access to consumption. All those events unfolded in the particular cities and countries and it is the national governments that had to face up to those challenges.
Nonetheless, a part of the answers to the arising problems had something in common. That regarded, of course, the Western Europe.
It was the sensibility to democratic needs, to the desire of many regarding the universal access to all the fruits of the development, as well as the sensitivity to the matters connected with equal treatment. From then on also the awareness of the ecological matters started to increase significantly. The slogans from students’ barricades of that time found their place in the mainstream of the European values.
In the history of the last 60 years, perceived from the perspective of different generations, there were, however, other important turning points.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the development of the community power of Europe. More and more countries of the Western world joined the European Union, adjusting themselves to the principles accepted as common, both in the area of the economic liberties and in that of recognizing the principles of the rule of law, with all the consequences. That did not mean that there were no disagreements. However, the parties always managed to reach a compromise – either with regard to the solutions of the „opt-out” type, giving others the right to have a different opinion, or the UK corrections or the pressure of the technological competition, emerging in the context of the cold war and the relations between the US and the USSR.
The process of building lasting peace in Europe was not disturbed even by the tragic events of the European terrorism of the 1970s – neither the Italian “Red Brigades” nor the German “Baader Mainhof” managed to make the main European current be led astray towards radicalism. That is owed to the European states and not directly to the European Community. However, without that Community it would not have been possible to become aware of what values should be defended in Europe. Everything that had been worked out since the 1960s until the end of the XX century demonstrated more and more clearly with the passing time how important as a reference point for the development of the particular European countries became the structures of the European Community and the growing readiness of the European leaders to cooperate further than within the bilateral diplomacy.
Still before the global situation in the 1980s became exacerbated, it had been possible, by some stroke of luck, to sign the Helsinki Final Act and to start the process of cherishing together the fundamental values, such as civil rights and human rights. That “cherishing” differed from one place to another.
On the one hand, in Poland in 1976 the Workers’ Defence Committee (KOR) was founded and in Czechoslovakia the civil movement “Charter 77” appeared, however, on the other hand, that did not protect the dissidents from persecutions in the countries of the Soviet bloc.
Nonetheless, the Helsinki Final Act made a big difference: the network of exchanging information regarding the Helsinki arrangements sprang to life and gradually developed.
The young generation starting their professional and public life in the mid-eighties of the XX century could have an impression that the European project had lost its attractiveness. That it had been accomplished what there was to be accomplished. The standard of living was improving. Efforts continued to be made in order to equalize the development opportunities for the different countries. The cohesion policy, which had started to be implemented only recently, increased the number of possibilities for Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece of catching up with other countries in terms of economy and civilization. Motorways and new transport routes came into existence, the energy sector was being modernized and the agriculture, thanks to the European Common Agriculture Policy and the subsidies – thrived.
However, a broader sense and a purpose seemed to have escaped people’s attention. The European Community of that time satisfied the needs of its citizens, but it was lacking dreams for the future. The future had no shape nor direction.
TOWARDS A GREAT, WIDE UNION
In the period in which people seemed to be a bit tired with the European project – the History brought Europe a winning ticket. The Polish “Solidarity”, the weakening of the USSR, Pope John Paul II, who spoke about the entire Europe as about the Europe of values, the firm policy of the US demanding freedom for nations – as a result caused the Berlin War to collapse.
For strong Germany that meant an imperative to unify. It meant starting the great process of reuniting the East Germany with the West Germany, reuniting the compatriots, building an identity, which, in an obvious manner, was German, but at the same time it was open to the Europeanism. What was local, regional and national – by no means had to stand in contradiction to the European universalism.
For the European Union – that created, for the first time, the chance to perceive Europe as a project which could become a whole: not only the unity of the North and the South, but also of the West and the East.
It was not that everybody accepted that common path towards the European expansion. The discussion itself on the subject revealed one of the key problems of that broader European Union: diversity, variety and many paces of development.
However, yet another generation of the Europeans could acknowledge that they had a common, multidimensional goal.
It was worth taking the risk in order to create the conditions for the massive market of 500 million inhabitants (at the starting point in 1957 the “European Union” of that time had a population of 186 m) and in order to initiate the free movement of goods and services: from Italian pasta, Spanish olives, German cars, French cheeses through to Polish furniture, Czech beer and Hungarian Tokay wines. It was worth taking the risk in order to create security from Gibraltar to the Bug River, although the immense lack of efficiency of the European Union was visible at the time of solving the problems during the Balkan war. On the other hand, only the European perspective, which was offered to the Balkan countries after the end of that war, could set for them a horizon of reforms and create a framework for peace. It was worth taking the risk in order to give the Europeans the comfortable right to move around in Europe without borders, albeit with the Schengen regulations, and in order to offer young people the Erasmus programme. It was worth taking the risk in order for the European Union to become a real partner, when entering the relations with the US and with Russia, as well as with China – a country which continued to gain importance.
For the countries aspiring to join the European Union the 1990s meant hard work on forming an alliance.
And for the countries of the European Union of that time, which had already incorporated Austria, Sweden and Finland, the 1990s meant a common effort to build the European Union in the form which is close to the one we are experiencing now. The first stage of that effort was the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which set the framework of the economic principles.
And the culmination of that effort, if we may say so, was the introduction of the euro, although due to the uneven pace at which various countries joined the project (as well as due to the option of remaining outside the common currency) a separate non-euro zone was created. It was, however, to a greater extent the result of the process of the economic integration than the result of the completion of the political vision, which today, at times, takes its toll.
Because it is the currency, apart from the language and the national heritage, that in many parts of Europe is the distinctive feature of the nation’s identity and of its sense of independence. And those who demand independence, irrespective of the rightness of such demands, through organizing themselves against the euro are closing ranks against the European Union as such. They also add accusations – of the bureaucratic ossification of the European Union or a paranoia connected with the will to regulate everything. The real weaknesses of the European Union are being mixed with the mythologization of its absurdities. That provided fuel to “fake information”, which dominated the debate before Brexit.
The Great Enlargement of the European Union took place in 2004 – 10 countries. Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007 and Croatia in 2013. It was and still is a success. It is enough to examine the tables of convergence indicators and to observe the acceleration of growth and development, with still existing, nonetheless, many deficits and weaknesses. It is enough to assess how the tools of the European policy of solidarity worked. It is because the fact that 13 new states entered the European family and the institutions of the European family brought about the need to redefine the principles of the European solidarity and the manner of the functioning of its structural policies. In order for that success to become possible, it is the richer states that had to take on the burden of the costs of the policy of solidarity, especially in the years 2004-2020.
But that success clashed in 2008 with the economic crisis and its dramatic consequences for several countries, the increase in the unemployment and the collapse in the euro zone. However, despite the stereotypes and the myth of the ineffectual Union – the European Union and the member states succeeded in overcoming that crisis. As a result, the Banking Union was created and, after the experiences with Ukraine and Russia, a concept of the Energy Union emerged.
Now the EU is making efforts to cope with the refugee crisis and with the threat of terrorism. Simultaneously, it undertakes a big project of the Digital Single Market and of developing the 5G infrastructure – the technology changing the economy and the everyday life of people, i.e. the ultra-fast Internet.
At the very beginning, in 1957, the value of the European economy in GDP, expressed with the values from 2015, amounted to 2 trillions EUR, and at the moment it is: 7 times more – 15 trillions EUR.
It is in such a manner that the European Union responds to the needs of its citizens. So far, as it seems, the European Union has succeeded in solving all its crises. The basis for that was the key principle for the Union: managing crises through the strong cooperation.
It goes without saying that it was easier in the smaller European Union and it is more difficult in the European Union encompassing, in the nearest future, 27 countries: their governments, political arrangements, traditions, political cultures and social customs.
AT THE EUROPEAN CROSSROADS
For some time it has been visible that it is more and more difficult to maintain the efficiency of action of the European Union. Generally, not so much in the area of the responsibility of the European Commission or of the European Parliament, but in that of the responsibility of the Council of Europe, that is, in the domain of the co-operation among the member states. And such cooperation is crucial.
For some countries the European Union has become something “tagged along” with them. The languages of the domestic politics and of the European politics have become separated. Some heads of governments use a kind of “double talk”: for the sake of peace and quiet they accept the common decisions of the EU, but in their own countries they oppose to them in their discourse on returning from summit talks.
On the one hand, the European Union is treated as a “milch cow” and, on the other hand, as a scapegoat, on which it is easy to put all the blame. That gives rise to the paralysis of decision-making. Its paradoxical essence is that of adopting decisions and then delaying implementing them.
Simultaneously, the list of subjects and matters about which it is known that it would be difficult to reach an agreement on is growing longer and longer. The openness to addressing difficult problems has diminished. The principles of solidarity have been weakened by the stronger emphasis placed by the particular member states on their own interests. The refugees seeking asylum in Europe have become a threat to religion and to national identity – in the language of some leaders opposing to the loyal actions of the member states in the face of that problem. In this manner the arguments and values are subordinated to the national political game, political marketing and potential election results. In many national communities there is a conviction that it is fitting to “take for oneself” from the European Union what is there to be taken in terms of ideas and the European practices, for instance, the financial support and the solutions meant to facilitate the lives of the Europeans. The rule that it would also be fitting to “give something from oneself” has died in the historic annals of the Treaty of Rome and all the subsequent treaties.
Is that maybe a sign of another generation crisis? And perhaps today the fourth generation of the Europeans after World War II has to cope with the problems of identity, vision, dreams, needs and the possibilities of fulfilling them?
And maybe it is that generation that has to exert pressure on the rulers? Will the young people be able to rescue Europe from disintegration, as they feel the European identity more strongly and more internally? Will they manage to stop being silent and uninvolved? In Austria and in the Netherlands the young have already defended democracy and Europe. In Great Britain – unfortunately not.
Additionally, however, the idea of Europe in the model of the European Union is being undermined by the contemporary populism and nationalism.
The followers of those ideas are the real opponents of the spirit of the Treaty of Rome.
Their visions, propaganda, “fake information” and lies about the European Union’s interference in what should be ascribed only to the national governance wreak havoc and question the credibility of the European mission, which stems from the spirit of the Treaty of Rome. And that mission is: the co-operation of nations, states and economies. And that mission is: the rationality of the single European market, operating for the benefit of its citizens. And that mission is: the developing and cherishing the common values which protect the democracy and the citizens against the omnipotence of power, through the indisputability of the rule of law. It is the rule of law that protects the certainty of the conditions of governance.
That mission is: the orientation towards development and not towards slowing down and delaying. Towards development, which is understood as the European leap forward, which takes advantage of all the possible opportunities, the immense and variegated potential and the persuasion that “together” means “safer, more efficiently, faster”.
Such an approach, in order to lead to the real development, must assume the use of the appropriate tools and – metaphorically speaking – the optimum speeds. Europe has always been a multi-speed Europe. And it is like that also at the moment. It would be absurd if, contrary to the tradition of sixty years standing, dating back to the Treaty of Rome, we wanted to eliminate those whose today’s possibilities of obtaining the same pace of development are smaller than the possibilities of the current leaders. Those who walk more slowly should be helped. However, with one condition: that they want to go in the same direction as the leaders and that they want to talk about how to catch up with the leaders. The debate about the future of the euro should be attended. The discussion about the European Monetary Fund and about the new models of the financial assistance in different forms of economic crises – should be participated in.
Instead of turning one’s back on the new development goals set before the European Union, one should work honestly on them and build one’s own (i.e. of the particular countries) roadmap towards accomplishing them: be that with regard to the strengthening of the economic governance and developing the stability of the euro, or in the digital matters, or with regard to the European Defence Fund, or in the environmental matters, or on the safe modernization of the energy sector, or in the task of helping the refugees, or in the co-operation on counteracting terrorism, or in the defence of the democratic governance and civil rights.
The multi-speed Europe may be tamed if it becomes clear which trajectories are used by the particular partners. But the partners have to still want to remain partners.
What awareness do we have to acquire at these European crossroads? What is fundamental for the living stability of the European project?
The answer is both complicated and simple.
Populism and nationalism dictate a narrow, often stunted, understanding of the national interest. That cannot be reconciled with the tradition of the Treaty of Rome and with the future of the Common Europe. And only the Common Europe brings opportunities for Europe.
One should therefore understand the opportunities which are in front of Europe, all the more so, in the times of great uncertainties and threats. And those opportunities should be brought to the attention of all the Europeans. As should be the risks which losing the European project could bring. Then, we will return to the point of departure (although in a different form) with regard to the European emotions which accompanied the signing of the Treaty of Rome. To hope and fear.
Europe has not wasted the hopes of the year 1957. Let us not waste them now.
On the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome