The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims. – Robert Schuman, 9 May 1950
If, as seems likely, the EU genuinely federates, it will have been an epic vindication of the power of political will and, in particular, of the “Founding Fathers” of European unity. One has to be very farsighted or foolhardy indeed to imagine that the technical, unglamorous work of pooling of a particular industrial sector could lead to a genuine Federal Union.
The rationale for European unity has changed over time. Originally the reason was largely negative: to prevent the apocalyptic wars that had periodically afflicted the Continent throughout the centuries. But there were also more positive or assertive reasons.
During the Cold War, many European politicians recognized the need for (Western) Europe to become a “Third Power” between the American and Soviet superpowers. The most famous proponent of European independence was of course the French President Charles de Gaulle. As he said in 1964 press conference at the Élysée palace:
According to us, Frenchmen, Europe should be European. A European Europe means that it would exist through itself and for itself, in other words than in the world it should have its own policy.
The most compelling immediate reason was that the dependence on American protection, and in particular on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, meant that Europeans might have no say in the breakout of a nuclear war in Europe. Such a war could easily have occurred on any number of occasions due to some Soviet-American scuffle, over, say Vietnam or Israel (much as the whole of Europe was dragged into the First World War over a minor conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia). Against this, De Gaulle asserted his ambition of making sure that in the event of World War III, “France would not automatically be the humble auxiliary of one of [the superpowers], but would reserve the chance of being something other than a battlefield for their expeditionary forces and a target for their alternating bombs”.
But one did not need to be French to have such a dream (although that certainly helped). Many Socialists and Social Democrats also supported this idea. For instance, the Social Democratic Chancellor of West Germany Willy Brandt defended De Gaulle’s ideas in a May 1964 speech in New York to the U.S. Foreign Policy Association. His reaction to De Gaulle’s antics, which by then was thoroughly irritating the American foreign policy elite, was to say:
The balance of terror, maintained by the two superpowers leaves some room to put the rigid fronts in motion. The French President takes advantage of this in his own way. And I often ask myself as a German: Why only him, actually?
Today, neither peace in Europe nor rival nuclear superpowers provides a truly compelling reason for a more integrated Europe. But the value of unity can be reinvented and, I think, is present in most eras. Today for instance, there is no doubt that the European way of life, European values, the “European Dream,” the European model(s), or whatever one wants to call them, need to be defended in the emerging “globalized” world.
What are European values?
The European Dream emphasizes community relationships over individual autonomy, cultural diversity over assimilation, quality of life over the accumulation of wealth, sustainable development over unlimited material growth, deep play over unrelenting toil, universal human rights and the rights of nature over property rights, and global cooperation over the unilateral exercise of power. – Jeremy Rifkin
The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples. – Article 3, Treaty on European Union
Europeans often have trouble coming up with things they have in common. In truth, it’s not so difficult as soon as you compare with somewhere else. The American economist Jeremy Rifkin in his The European Dream developed perhaps the most definitive expression of the characteristics and values of European civilization today (Steven Hill is also strong in the genre). And it is clear, if one compares to the United States, China or the Arab World for example, Europe is (with a few mandatory exceptions) clearly differentiated in areas such as the environment, international law, peace, secularism and “social” capitalism. This is the case even if these differences are not always politically expressed (the majority of European governments collaborated in the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq, for example, even though most European citizens opposed it and millions protested it).
There is no doubt European values need to be actively defended. Other powers in the world do not necessarily have the same respect for social well-being, for the environment, or for peace and international law. The world is not inhabited by angels.
One need only look at the Americans’ contempt for international law, as expressed by their failure to ratify and support numerous treaties (Convention on the Rights of the Child, Mine Ban Treaty, ban on cluster bombs…), their rejection of International Criminal Court jurisdiction, and the recent history of U.S. military aggression abroad generally. Or we might consider the environment. Recent EU research finds that U.S. per capita emissions are almost two-and-a-half times that of the EU. The average Chinese, while still four times poorer than the average European, now emits the same amount of carbon. Can there be such a clear expression of different attitudes towards energy and environment between Europeans on the one hand, and the U.S. and the Leninist-Capitalist dictatorship of China on the other? There are similar divergences towards attitudes towards genetically-modified organisms and public transportation. Let us also note in passing that for the U.S. Republican Party, which currently runs Congress and may well regain the presidency this year, the expressions “United Nations,” “financial regulation,” “environmental protection,” and “government” in general are swearwords.
The traditional, passive-consensual method of European policymaking will not do. Europe (and sub-units within Europe) will have to assertive itself, pressure others, and if necessary act unilaterally to ensure that the values it takes for granted will exist in the world of tomorrow. A more federal EU should use its power, as Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida argued, to “exert its influence in shaping the design for a coming global domestic policy.”
Will the EU actually enable the “European Dream”?
Many American progressives and Frenchmen have long-dreamed that European integration could serve to promote and fight for these “European values” and the “European way of life” in the world. This idea became particularly popular during the presidency and military aggression of George W. Bush. The EU came to be seen as an “anti-Bush,” the force that could counter all that is ugly about America (war, social Darwinism, “savage” capitalism, environmental disaster, international lawlessness…). Numerous books have been written on this theme, the most popular being Rifkin’s, others being those by Jean Quatremer, T.R. Reid and Mark Leonard.
In practice, the idea of the EU as a “counterweight” or rival to American power and values has largely proven a fantasy. “European foreign policy” only exists when there is a power to coordinate the 27 member states to adopt a common position. In practice that power has almost always been the U.S. Hence why the EU has reasonably strong sanctions (comprehensive list here) to destabilize regimes the U.S. does not like (Syria, Iran), while creating strong ties with regimes the U.S. does like (Saudi Arabia, Israel).
Similarly, the euro has been a disappointment. True, in its first decade of existence it had made very slow but steady progress in replacing the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency and the euro is exclusively used for international trading purposes by some countries (Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Iran…). Domestically however, if anything the euro has undermined the European Dream of a controlled, social and humane capitalism: the German-demanded Fiskalpakt effectively outlaws Keynesianism, the Maastricht rules ban Franco-Anglo-American style pro-growth central banking, and the ECB has been undemocratically pushing for labor market liberalization, privatization and even tax cuts (!).
However, neither of these EU areas is majoritarian. On foreign policy, any national foreign minister has a veto. Eurozone policy has, rather implausibly, been placed “beyond politics,” it being governed by no majority but instead a mass of laws, theoretically perpetual Treaties, and the pseudo-apolitical ECB. We can expect the new majoritarian “regular” EU policies to be rather different in character.
We can see this in specific areas. Will there be a European tax on financial transactions? Quite possibly yes, either through British withdrawal or a eurozone-only version. Will there be tougher financial regulation to reign in the systematic lawlessness of the financial sector and in particular that of the City? Research by euroskeptic think-tank Open Europe suggests yes, largely due the dynamics of the eurozone and the new QMV rules. Will Europe be able to protect itself from unfair competition from environmentally wasteful countries? Already, in fact, the EU is putting up a good fight in defending its cap and trade emissions system against heavy emitters like the U.S., Canada and China.
In all probability the European Superstate will, quite simply, broadly reflect national governments, in all their virtue and depravity. This means neither the dictatorship of the minority (as in foreign policy) nor of the lawyers and “technocrats” (as in the eurozone). It also means the EU can and will be potentially as base as the national governments. But we might even be optimistic: If watchful citizens elect and pressure their governments to be virtuous and ambitious, there is every reason to believe the emerging new “Europe” will have the same laudable characteristics.
This post is the third in the “Europa 2024″ series on the future of the European Union.