Europe – Dreams, Needs, Possibilities #2

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.

Michał Boni

March 2017

On the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome