Europe – Dreams, Needs, Possibilities #3




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.

TOWARDS A GREAT, WIDE UNION

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.
Michał Boni

March 2017

On the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome