Michalis Attalides, Retired Ambassador, Jean Monnet Professor.
In expressing some thoughts on the 60th anniversary of the European Union, I would like to start by saying that in order to see what was achieved between the 25th March 1957, when the first Treaty of Rome was signed, and March 2017, we could do worse than try and look back for an equivalent period of time, 70 years, in the period between 1870 and 1940. This is of course the period in European History which was marked by three wars between Germany and France, two of which became World Wars. This reminds us that before the formation of the European Union, Europe has not only exported the Enlightenment and democracy to the rest of the world, but also war, while destroying much of what it valued in Europe itself, twice.
The European Union was founded, as the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community, in Rome, in 1957, precisely because the European leaders of the time had a full awareness of this problem, while the ruins of the Second World War were still fresh. No one doubts that the European Union has indeed secured for the past 66 years, peace in Europe, though of course many now take peace for granted to such a degree that they do not recognize the signs of reawakening nationalism in many of the countries of our continent.
There is also no doubt that the European Union has, until the present, on the whole, secured unprecedented prosperity for the people of Europe, though some Europeans are now living in conditions which do not do our Union credit. It is also undoubted that the European Union has been a force for good in the world in three major ways. In the first place the Union and its individual governments are the most important donors of development aid in the world. It is also to their credit that this aid is used in order to promote as much as possible democracy, good governance and respect for human rights.
And finally, the European Union has clearly promoted two causes which are crucial for the future peace and welfare of the world: protection of the environment of the globe, and multilateral diplomacy, including invariable support for the United Nations Organization, its Charter, and its Resolutions.
We are celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Union, but the European Union process includes many milestones before the Treaty of Rome, one of the most important of which was the Schumann declaration on 9th May, 1950, initiating the European Coal and Steel Community, a crucial event which was clearly oriented to refuting revanchism as a motive force of history. It was a move that stated that France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries, refused to pursue their security through a method based on balance of power and terror, in an anarchic international environment, where zero sum games and competitions lead to the dominance of the most powerful, and where war is merely the continuation of diplomacy with other means. And this is why, with this declaration, they placed the main means of War, Coal and Steel, under the administration of the Community, led by the High Authority (the parent organisation of the Commission), which was responsible for representing the suprananational common European interest, for assuring adherence to the Treaty, and for promoting further integration. The whole edifice was supervised by a Parliamentary Assembly and a Court of Justice.
The new method of maintaining peace was interdependence, integration and the rule of law and came to be known as the Community Method. In 2012 the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to the European Union. This prize was not awarded as a reward for the shambles which already had appeared in Europe, and are alive today, but rather to remind today’s leaders of the imagination, daring and resolve with which their predecessors had saved Europe from further destruction, and call on the leaders to find equivalent means of saving it today.
Why do we have the situation which we have today, which has, correctly been described by the President of the European Commission as an existential crisis? The White Paper produced by the Commission in March, 2017, mentions seven challenges to the Union and they are: The world economic crisis, wars in the neighborhood of the Union, the refugee problem, the emergence of new world powers, unemployment, particularly of the young, an aging population and Brexit. It is very wise that the Rome Declaration adds social and economic inequality to this list of challenges. The list could have been larger or smaller, and I note for example that enormous public and private debt and terrorism could also have been mentioned (and were mentioned in President Junker’s state of the union speech in September, 2017). It is also possible to group the challenges. For example I do not think that the only root of the economic and social problems of the Union is the world economic crisis of 2008. Rather they also originate in deindustrialization which is caused by the migration of industry to Asia and Latin America, and the failure of Europe to develop, as the United States has succeeded in doing, into a major producer of science and technology.
Yet the major issue that needs to be answered is not the nature of the challenges which the Union faces. Challenges, even severe challenges, are a major part of existence. The European Union has faced severe challenges in the past. The decade of the seventies and early 80’s has become known as the period of eurosclerosis, or «the dark ages of the Union». On the 25th anniversary of the Union, in 1982, The Economist journal came out with a casket on its front cover, and the words «RIP European Communities». I imagine that it was a surprise to the editor when, only three years later in 1986, with the leadership of Jacques Delors, the Communities had come out of the crisis and embarked on the creation of the centre-piece of its integration: The Single Market.
So crisis is not necessarily a prediction of failure. The Greek word it comes from, κρίσης, also means judgement, which correctly used, could be a prediction of resurgence. There are however a number of reasons why the current crisis is correctly called an existential crisis, and I would mention three. The first lies in the fact that though the Union has many challenges to meet, it suffers from one severe crisis. This existencial crisis does not originate in the fact that the Union is faced with many challenges. The real centre of the one crisis lies in the fact that today, there is a lack of will for common action, which in Union methodology means Community Action. The reduction of this common will means that it is substituted by a kind of renationalization where devotion to national perspectives, worries and concerns of the member countries become dominant.
This renationalization is today evident in two characteristics on the level of the European Union itself. One is the fact that the supranational expressor of the European Interest, the European Commission, has almost totally ceded the role of initiative and leadership to the European Council, which was not even an institution of the Union until the Lisbon Treaty. The second evident sign of renationalization is that on the level of the Union, even when necessary initiatives and policies are undertaken, they are undertaken in an inter-governmental manner, which frequently overlooks and sidelines the Community Institutions and the Community Method of decision making. An example of this is the Eurogroup, an intergovernmental group which is subject neither to the Parliament nor the Court, and which administers one of the Union’s most important policies, the common currency. All the important and necessary new initiatives to deal with the debt crisis, including the new instruments for fiscal and banking supervision are ad hoc and intergovernmental.
One other dangerous characteristic of today’s crisis which lends energy to processes of renationalization, is the presence of dynamics of anti-Europeanism, fed by the unregulated forces of globalization, accompanied by varying degrees of failure to deal with issues of competition and de-industrialization, and the decline of the social security provisions which in the past had been referred to as the European social model, which had to a greater or lesser degree been set up in all countries of the Union. The European social model which used to encompass both Social and Christian democracy seems to be a phrase which has gone out of the public European dialogue, and is not mentioned in the Rome Declaration.
In many of our countries these issues and problems are exploited by the appearence of right wing populist and extreme right wing neofascist political parties and movements, which in a number of countries are within range of winning power in elections and adopting anti migrant and anti-european policies and even repeating the move of the Brexiteers in the United Kingdom. The speed with which anti-EU movements and attitudes are gaining ground is indicated by the fact that a couple of years ago the Brexit movement in the UK was not taken entirely seriously, and most analysts thought that only by an accident might the UK leave the EU. That accident has now happened and is encouraging those hoping for the dissolution of the EU in both Europe and the United States, and raises the question of what the EU can do to defend itself and its citizens from a return to the past.
The answer which has previously repeatedly been given to questions and issues of meeting the problems of cohesion, effectiveness and closeness to the citizen of the EU, has been finding effective ways to further the process of integration. It is not perhaps by accident that we now remember more, the less known father of the European idea, Altiero Spinelli, whose Ventotene Manifesto, in 1941, together with Ernesto Rossi, called for a European federation after the war and became the inspiration of many resistance movements against fascism and naziism. Spinelli disagreed with the othe founding father, Jean Monnet, believing that his «step by step» gradual method of European Integration might make things easier at the first stages, but would, at a later stage, run into a dead end, and that only a radical constituent act of the peoples of Europe could succeed in creating a European federation. It should also be mentioned that Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi were communists, and that they considered that creating a socialist Europe was an essential ingredient of integration.
A similar answer has been given by an important contemporary liberal advocate of European integration, Guy Verhofstadt, who argued that the economic, social and political issues that the Union faces can only be solved in the context of a United States of Europe, in which those who are already in the inner circle of the euro area and wish to, would participate, while other countries, which did not wish to go forward would form an outer circle, the Organisation of European States. However no matter how attractive to some has been the vision of Spinelli and of contemporary federalists, and their lasting heritage in the European Parliament, it is clear that in the current political conjucture, the Ventotene Manifesto and federalism will not serve as model and inspiration.
On the other hand, the view of Europe with more than one speed seems to be widely judged a necessary element of the way forward, and was adopted as one of its senarios in the Commission White paper, as well as by the four of largest and most influential members of the Union and was included in the Rome Declaration as the process of going forward «at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past, in line with the Treaties and keeping the door open to those who want to join later”. Yet clarification will be necessary as the idea of «multispeed Europe» raises questions. The current treaties already make enhanced cooperation using the institutions of the union possible, so long as eight countries ask for this, and it is accepted by the others. But this provision has only rarely been used for any policy. And it is not clear whether an «a la carte» approach would enhance the cohesion of the Union.
What is clear is that at the curent conjuncture, the only feasible institutional basis for strengthening the Union lies in strengthening the Community Method, that method which has served the Union well during the past 66 years, and which can provide a reasonable degree of effectiveness, including majority voting in many areas, balances large and small countries in decision making, and allows the degree of national independence which seems to be necessary at this stage in history. It also leaves room for the proper roles of the Member Governments in Council, the European Commission, the Parliament and the Court of Justice. So it may not be necessary for the Union to invent anything in order to overcome the existential crisis, but only to find sources for will, renewed motivation and inspiration.
This is what the Rome Declaration seeks to achieve through an accurate and not overly self praising enumeration of the achievements of the Union, and also a wish list for targets for the next ten years. Security in the sense of physical safety, prosperity and sustainability as well as a strong Union on the international scene are endorsed again as aims. Fortunately, Social Europe, social and economic convegence, and the fight against exclusion and poverty are also introduced among the main aims of the Union.
Yet, if one looks back to the 1980’s to the methods of Jacques Delors, with the backing of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom of Margaret Thatcher, but also all the other governments, in overcoming the previous existential crisis of the Union, in the early 1980’s, one might perceive some missing elements : Enumerated detailed measures for achieving the aims, and the leadership of the Commission. The European Commission and its President have clearly done all that they believed was politically possible at present and the five senarios in the Commission White Paper may have been a politically corrrect move under current circumstances. But at the moment the Commission gives no indication of acting as a dynamo of integration as did the Delors Commission in 1983, utilizing the «cost of non-Europe», and the listed and enumerated measures of the Single Market Programme as a means for reinvigorating the European project.
The Commission could have spear-headed a «Security Programme» for today’s Europe , a project for using the community method, under the leadership of the Commission, for enhancing defense, security, combatting terrorism, but also economic and social insecurity. Instead the Commission has acted as a think tank, or a prudent civil service, pointing to possible senarios in order to faciliated the decision of the European Council. And this brings us back not to idealistic rhetoric, but to the practical politics of the Union, which will for the foreseeable future remain a Union of nation states, which besides their common interdependence and their common aims, also have their national politics which from time to time raise more or less severe barriers for the progress of the Union. One such barrier has just been overcome in the Netherlands. The next one will arise in France on May 7th, and a lesser one in Germany on September 24th. After this, the national leaders in the European Council, in cooperation with the other institutions of the Union, will begin to chart and implement measures for the recovery of the Union, as well as intensifying the Brexit negotiations. As the Rome Declaration provides, to be effective the measures will need to encompass economic, social and hard security. The measures, if they are to lead to the reinvigoration of the European integration process, need to be based on the Community Method.