This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the EU. What began with the signing of the Treaties of Rome and the European Community of Coal and Steel has developed in the biggest peace project the world has ever seen. In this year where for the first time the EU will not expand but will be smaller with the Brexit, we have to remind ourselves what the EU has brought to this continent. We have to remind ourselves that the promises of the single market are not the biggest unique selling proposition in its marketing but that we as European citizens have come together over the EU to make the European slogan true in its form. Indeed, its ‘unity in diversity’, where people, goods and services move over boundaries together with ideas that have made this Union stronger, more prosper and more stable than ever before. This is a good opportunity to look back at 60 years of European cooperation when all over Europe people come on the street to back or to be against the Union.
It happened at the end of First World War
What we now know as the European Union started with the circulation of ideas and papers of Kaudenhove-Kalergi with its Pan-Europe when 2 great empires were being built. Indeed, with the Soviet Union and the American Empire looming as the 2 biggest superpowers, the elite in Europe understood that something had to be done: it had to work together to hold its grandeur in the world that happened in the age of imperialism. France, Germany , Great- Britain and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire where depleted by an exhausting war in the world. The economy also was in peril.
But those ideas where put in the fridge in the roaring twenties when the victors and the vanquished grew again. The integration had to wait at the end of the Second World War, when Altiero Spinelli in 1941 as an exile, organized the first European Congress to plan the after war Europe. The European Congress was supranational and federal in its beginning and the same enthusiasm crossed the North Sea where Winston Churchill in 1946, spoke of an United Europe. The same idea as after the First World War came up: to counter the two superpowers, the USSR and the USA. But the Brits were more hesitating: indeed in their policy of splendid isolation they only wanted to establish the free trade agreement. The Brits have always celebrated this idea from the conception of empire to conquer markets. It was the driving force behind their ruling of 1/3 of the world.
The Brits were always against more federalization and with them leaving some more supra-nationalism will come again. With the last elections in the Netherlands and the reliance of the European economy, parties like D66 and Groenlinks, who tell a story of optimism and of Europe, were victors. The anti-Europe party PVV grew not that much as expected and that it is defeated is too strong a word but it is held in check.
The Treaties of Rome
With this mind, the European idea will be held and a new idea behind the Treaty of Rome was needed. On the 25th of March 2017 the European leaders adopted the Rome Declaration where they spoke of a 10 year horizon for the EU and that the EU will hold its centenary anniversary.
The Declaration also spoke of:
• ‘A safe and secure Europe: a Union where all citizens feel safe and can move freely, where our external borders are secured, with an efficient, responsible and sustainable migration policy, respecting international norms; a Europe determined to fight terrorism and organised crime.
• A prosperous and sustainable Europe: a Union which creates growth and jobs; a Union where a strong, connected and developing single market, embracing technological transformation, and a stable and further strengthened single currency open avenues for growth, cohesion, competitiveness, innovation and exchange, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises; a Union promoting sustained and sustainable growth, through investment, structural reforms and working towards completing the Economic and Monetary Union; a Union where economies converge; a Union where energy is secure and affordable and the environment clean and safe.
• A social Europe: a Union which, based on sustainable growth, promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence, while upholding the integrity of the internal market; a Union taking into account the diversity of national systems and the key role of social partners; a Union which promotes equality between women and men as well as rights and equal opportunities for all; a Union which fights unemployment, discrimination, social exclusion and poverty; a Union where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent; a Union which preserves our cultural heritage and promotes cultural diversity.
• A stronger Europe on the global scene: a Union further developing existing partnerships, building new ones and promoting stability and prosperity in its immediate neighbourhood to the east and south, but also in the Middle East and across Africa and globally; a Union ready to take more responsibilities and to assist in creating a more competitive and integrated defence industry; a Union committed to strengthening its common security and defence, also in cooperation and complementary with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, taking into account national circumstances and legal commitments; a Union engaged in the United Nations and standing for a rules-based multilateral system, proud of its values and protective of its people, promoting free and fair trade and a positive global climate policy.’
Wake – up call
In its 60 years, the EU has worked best when it was in the negative. It stopped Germany destroying itself, and Europe, yet again. It stopped central and eastern Europe from descending into chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It did not stop the horrendous civil wars in Yugoslavia, but it has offered a way out of them for Slovenia and Croatia and at least a roadmap for Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia. And now it is busy stopping its own destruction after the Brexit and with the re-balancing of its own economy.
The story of Europe where is not so much inscribed by idealism but more by fear. The history of this bloody continent shows nothing more than what will happen when the cooperation ends: chaos and despair. They are both the 29th members of the Union. And this is what makes the EU unique. Because of its plural identity as such and that it has no common identities but only its ‘unity by diversity’. There lies a paradox: the EU gives shelter to many kinds of identities where sub-nationalities can push for the break – up of their former national identity like the Scots will be doing after the Brexit. Or like the Catalans are doing since Spain joined the Union. Because of its schizophrenic identity the Union works best when it is in anxiety: it is both its faith and energy.
Conversely, when American style optimism prevailed, it failed worse. Like the misconceived attempts to build a United States of Europe. It is naïve to think that Europe will become everything like the Americans, however, cooperation is more key. Also, the optimism of the euro has brought anything but less: pay your debts and everything will be fine they said. It has brought less to those countries affected. Indeed, most countries recognize now that austerity has failed them. And the third misconception is that it has established a European ruling class that thinks to know best for its people. On March 26th, people were marching for and against Europe as understatement that they are not in agreement with what the rulers think. There is no such thing as a European demos that holds those rulers accountable.
If anything else it has to hold its realistic or pessimistic voice in the neo-liberal optimism of globalization. It does not have to believe that market forces will do everything that is for the best. Its inclination towards anxiety has made the continent also more progressive towards climate change than the Americans or the Chinese. Optimism is still in short supply but things are brightening up like those victories in the Netherlands. There are still things to be pessimistic about: there is the looming victory of Le Pen in France, the migration crisis which has split the Union in an East-West divide, the woes in the South of Europe and the rise of authoritarianism in Poland and Turkey.
But if anything, if Europe recognizes its own history and its awareness of potential disasters, it has many richness. No current threat has the potential of its threats like the Soviet Union or the postwar reconstruction posed. The Brexit and the Donald has been a wake- up call for that fear that the world can be a pretty bad place without cooperation and democracy.