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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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