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Europe at a Crossroads

Europe Map

by Dr. Miklos K. RadvanyiEurope Map

The first half of the 20th century in Europe was characterized by two extremely destructive phenomena: Two ruinous wars and three revolutions that aimed at destroying the political, legal, financial, economic and cultural foundations of every state. Unable to comprehend that to establish enduring peace Europe needed the restoration of common principles respected by the leading powers of the continent, its politicians pursued mutually exclusive power politics, because they were gripped by fear of each other. Lenin and Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler were all products of the ubiquitous disorder rooted in the complete disregard of the notion of justice and humanity that, in turn, gave birth to the most brutal abuses of military force.

In order to rescue twentieth century Europe from future catastrophes by putting an end to the wars and the revolutions, Robert Schuman, the then French Minister of Foreign Affairs, along with his colleague Jean Monnet, succeeded in bringing France and Germany together to sign the Treaty of Paris on April 18, 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands immediately became signatories to the Treaty of Paris. The United Kingdom refused to join. To broaden European integration, the six founding member states signed the Treaty of Rome which in 1957 established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. The objective of the six states was the creation of a common market in which goods, unencumbered by tariffs, could move freely. In order to facilitate better coordination, four institutions were set up in 1958: The European Commission, the Council of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, later renamed the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice. Next, on July 1, 1968, the customs union became complete. Simultaneously, the Single European Act set a deadline for the establishment of the single market in January 1993. In 1973, economic integration was followed by political enlargement. The United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark joined the European Economic Community. This first enlargement was followed in 1981 by Greece, in 1986 by Spain and Portugal, in 1995 by Austria, Finland, and Sweden, in 2004 by Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia, in 2005 by Bulgaria and Romania, and finally in 2013 by Croatia.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union and its so­called empire, the European Economic Community was renamed by the Maastricht Treaty of February 7, 1992, the European Union. The Maastricht Treaty opened up three new political dimensions for the imagined “Common House of Europe.” First, it stipulated the gradual transfer of sovereignty from the member states to the European institutions. Second, it established procedures for intergovernmental cooperation in all matters of foreign policy. Third, it created the conditions for the harmonization of legal systems in the fields of immigration, asylum, fight against organized crime, extradition, etc. Furthermore, the Treaty established the institution of European citizenship. This institution provided the rights of free movement and choice of residence, the right to vote and the right to be elected to the European Parliament and municipal institutions, the right to file complaint with the European Ombudsman, the right to initiate legal proceedings with the European Courts, etc. Finally, the Treaty called for the creation of a common European currency by January 1, 1999, and the establishment of a European Central Bank.

The Maastricht Treaty, combined with the Copenhagen Criteria of June 1993, were the foundations upon which the states of Central and Eastern Europe were later admitted to the European Union. The political criteria encompassed the stability of political institutions guaranteeing a democratic order, the rule of law, human rights, and the rights of minorities. The economic criteria obligated the member states to adhere to the principles and rules of the market economy. The legal criteria mandated that the member states must adopt the legislation of the European Union in its entirety. It was also in 1993 that the Schengen Agreement entered into force, initially among Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Portugal. This Agreement removed checks on persons at the internal borders. It also called for enhanced police and stronger judicial cooperation among the member states.

On October 2, 1997, a follow­up to the Treaty of Maastricht, the Treaty of Amsterdam was signed. The latter broadened the European Union’s competence over police, justice and employment policies. A new area, namely, social policy was also added to the ever broadening list of European jurisdictions. On February 26, 2001, the Treaty of Nice was signed by fifteen states. This

Treaty was aimed at the enlargement of the European Union and entered into force on February 1, 2003. Meanwhile, on January 1, 2002, the Euro was introduced in twelve of the then fifteen member states. Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain declined to be part of the Euro Zone.

The 2004 enlargement resulted in intense debates about the future course of the European Union. Yet, prior to the promulgation of the text of the Treaty Establishing a Constitution of Europe in June 2004, the Convention on the Future of Europe opened on February 28, 2002. Adopting almost verbatim the text of the Convention, the Treaty enumerated the competencies and powers of the European Union. Although signed by all member states on October 29, 2004, it failed to be ratified by the French and Dutch referenda. Two years of external and internal debates followed without finding solutions to the Union’s dilemma of tighter centralization and sovereignty of the individual states. The idea of a comprehensive European constitution was finally abandoned by the awkwardly titled “Reform Treaty” of Lisbon. Signed on December 13, 2007, and entered into force on December 1, 2009, this Treaty created the institution of presidency of the European Union, proscribed the participation of national parliaments in drafting Union legislation and a new system of voting by qualified majority.

The economic and financial crisis of 2008­2010 that contributed to the impoverishment of Bulgaria, Ireland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Romania, and Spain, was exacerbated by the political confusion within the European Union. In spite of a variety of financial aid measures, such as the European Mechanism for Financial Stability and the European Funds for Financial Stability, the sufferings of the average citizens became more and more palpable. For them the enduring crisis proved that the European Union was like a pilot without a compass. Put it more blantly, the institutions of the European Union were no longer in control of themselves. To add insult to injury, the Union’s quantitative easing program, entitled the Mechanism of European Stability with 750 billion euros, that entered into force on September 17, 2012, proved to be insufficient to help Greece, thus perpetuating the crisis in most of the other member states too. Finally, upon Germany’s initiative, the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance was signed on March 2, 2012, by twenty five out of the twenty seven member states. The United Kingdom and the Czech Republic refused to sign the Treaty, because Article 3 imposed sanctions on profligate member states who would not control their budget deficits.

The development and legacy of European integration do not explain fully the discontented, restless, and even rebellious currents swirling almost uncontrollably within the European Union. Examining the history of Europe and especially the individual histories of its member states is the most important exercise for understanding the vote in Great Britain and for grasping the significance of the rising political influence of the Eurosceptics throughout the continent.

Indeed, the long and tortured history of Europe defines the fundamental problem of the continent’s disunity: irreconcilably conflicting narratives of past national glories. Each nation guards the narrative of its historical imperial greatness and nurses all the presumed and actual grievances allegedly committed against it by the others. In Europe, the real and imagined past perpetuates the ethos of outsize national importance. In particular, in Eastern Europe, history always alternated between progress and regress, inconvenient truths and fantastic lies, giving the appearance of vicious circles moving in the vacuum of insoluble hopelessness.

For these reasons, the really serious threat to the full integration of Europe is direct democracy, because in it the whirlwind of national aspirations collides with the erroneous principles of liberal policies.

The referendum in Great Britain was from its inception misguided. Moreover,  if it is not dealt with deftly, it could be problematic in the future for Great Britain and the European Union too. Most importantly, it will fail to accomplish any of its goals. Instead of clarifying Great Britain’s place in Europe and beyond, it created confusion and rifts within and outside the Kingdom. Thus, the British referendum should be a warning sign for all other member states who propagate and even plan multiple referenda on a variety of issues, including the exit from the European Union.

On the other hand, the initial reactions of the German and French governments were also grossly misguided and lacking in statesmanship. They were highly emotional in which anger and historic resentments were mixed with arrogance and irrationality. In reality, neither those two domineering countries nor the member states are led by intellectually outstanding politicians who would be capable of uniting in themselves the firm principles required for unity with the understanding of the realities of the continent. Clearly, the European Union and its institutions must be reformed, if the former wants to survive and reach its ultimate objective. Geopolitically, the European Union became inconsistent and thus adventurous in its policies toward Russia, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States.

Most glaringly, it pushed a Ukraine policy that neither rested on a sound strategy nor proper coordination with its Russia policy. As a consequence, when Russia invaded and subsequently incorporated the Crimea, the European Union was left with a Ukraine engulfed in a permanent and bloody civil war between its eastern and western parts directly bordering on several member states dangerously exposed to Russian military blackmail. Brussels did not do better in the Middle East. Oscillating between the visceral anti­Semitism of most member states and internal pressures from the continent burgeoning Muslim population, the European Union is neither a serious partner for the United States nor a major player in bringing stability and peace to the region. As far as the Union’s Asia policy is concerned, again, Brussels hovers between its ambiguous relationship with Communist China and its weak attempts at broadening its relations with the rest of the continent. Financially, the Euro subjugates the numerically overwhelmingly weaker economies to the few traditionally stronger economies of western Europe. Socially, the more lucrative employment opportunities and social benefits in Germany, France, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries are being abused by workers from the much poorer member states.

Thus, social issues, combined with the refugee crisis and terrorism, contribute to the spread of both real and imaginary fears within the European Union. The emotions that drove the British referendum are not limited to Great Britain. The questions of national sovereignty versus full integration are very high on the political agendas of many other member states, especially in the newly admitted ones from Central and Eastern Europe. Yet, paradoxically the developing member states generally prefer a bad compromise to a full divorce. And therein lies the opportunity for the European Union for fundamental reforms. The European Union urgently needs statesmen who would understand that Great Britain’s exit could turn into a major disaster unless the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels abandon their quest for forcing social democracy in the guist of liberalism on reluctant member states. Moreover, the leaders of Germany and France must understand that might not always makes right as the German Chancellor’s and the French President’s hypocritical posturing during the so­called migrant crisis demonstrated. Real and permanent stability within the European Union can only be accomplished by consensus. The European Union without real equality will be meaningless. It will only give rise to chauvinistic and even neo fascist movements throughout the continent. Policies as usual would surely turn into a death knell for the dream of a united Europe.