Letters to family & friends: Europe tomorrow
by Roland Stalder, Jean-Jacques Subrenat, Daniel Marthaler *
Lettre 2: "Dover and out!1", a case of amnesia
18 May 2017
On the 29th of March 2017, the European Council received a letter from Prime Minister Theresa May, announcing the United Kingdom's to leave the EU2. Starting on that day, negociations between London and Brussels must be terminated within two years. For those who promoted Brexit, this is a logical move following on Margaret Thatcher's call to her European partners in 1979, "I want my money back!"3. Thirty-eight years later, a majority of the British public was persuaded that the EU is mostly about money, and was convinced that a European conspiracy had deprived the UK of its sovereignty. Historical facts do not support such a simplistic view.
In the minds of the main architects of the European project - Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi and others - the aim was to rebuild a devastated Europe, but also to avoid new wars. Monnet was convinced that the best way to consolidate peace was to forge a practical solidarity among nations. He put forward a plan for a Coal and Steel Community, a first iteration of what was to become the EU. Winston Churchill made a similar plea in 1946: "We must build a kind of United States of Europe.(...) I am now going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the re-creation of the European Family must be a partnership between France and Germany."4.
As is clear from the above, the EU was set up because there was a will to build a new Europe on the ruins of World War 2 and to create a sense of solidarity among European nations to safeguard peace. France and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), both acutely aware of their responsibility, launched a partnership which, even today, remains a pillar of European solidarity.
It is not well-known fact that Monnet presented the idea of a comprehensive partnership first of all to the UK. In 1939, shortly after the military alliance between Germany and Italy, Monnet drafted a plan to merge the military industries of France and the UK. This plan won the approval of both De Gaulle and Churchill, who then appointed Monnet as their envoy to President Roosevelt to coordinate the supply of US military equipment for the war effort in Europe against Nazi Germany. In 1943, at the height of World War 2, Monnet was busy on a new European project: "There will be no peace in Europe if the states rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty, with its implications of prestige politics and economic protection…. The countries of Europe are not strong enough individually to be able to guarantee prosperity and social development for their peoples. The States of Europe must therefore form a federation or a European entity that would bind them in a common economic unit."5.
After the war, Monnet further developed his idea: in March 1949, he submitted a plan to the Finance ministers of Great Britain and France, calling for the merger of what were then the two main economic powers in Europe. At the end of 1949, partly because of serious political and monetary instability in Paris, London finally gave a negative response to his proposal6.
The failure of the project for France and Britain was the starting point of an even more ambitious plan for a European community, which Monnet shared with Robert Schuman, French minister of foreign affairs. Together, they approached the German leadership with the “Schuman Plan”, which was promptly accepted. On the 9th of May 1950, in the presence of many European leaders gathered in the Salon de l'horloge of the Foreign Ministry in Paris, Schuman made this statement: "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition between France and Germany." 7.
The next stages are well known8. In 1957, the six founding members signed the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) aimed at gradually reducing tariff barriers, setting up a customs' union, and creating a single market for goods, labour, services and capital. To manage this vast programme, the Six established the European Commission; they also set up Common Policies for agriculture and transport. And in the ensuing years, steps were taken to strengthen the new European construction by facilitating inter-EEC exchanges and by harmonizing some areas of economic activity.
Early on, some leaders favoured a federal Europe, while others were against anything beyond a common market. In itself, this wide difference of purpose sheds some light on the sinuous path followed from yesterday's EEC to today's EU. Already in the late 19th century Jacob Christoph Burckhardt, a Swiss intellectual, warned against the dangers of uniformity on the continent: "We must preserve Europe from the danger of a political, religious and social unity which would threaten its special character and the wealth of its spirit."9.
A major step was taken in 1973 when the Six welcomed Denmark, Ireland et the United Kingdom. President De Gaulle had twice opposed the entry of the UK, and he is said to have quoted Churchill in the war years, "If England has to choose between Europe and the high seas, she will always choose the high seas." 10. However, in 1972 President Pompidou accepted the conditions laid down by the British prime minister, Edward Heath. At the time, the industrial, monetary, financial and military might of the UK made it a very attractive European partner in the eyes of Paris. We must remember that during the Cold War, the EEC wanted to travel its own path between the two large blocs which were controlled by Moscow and Washington. But as the Brexit campaign in 2016 made clear, London has always viewed the European project not as a comprehensive plan, but as a tool for business opportunities. London has long set its strategic emphasis on the "special relationship" with Washington, and relied on NATO for collective security and joint defence.
During two decades, European leaders kept hesitating between consolidating the European project (improving joint institutions and procedures), and enlarging its membership (admitting new member states). At the same time, Washington, with the assiduous help of London and Ankara, wanted the EU to enlarge its membership, in the hope of have less econmic competition from Europe. Another intent of the US was to impede a fledgling European defence, viewed as a threat to the Atlantic Alliance and to US leadership.
There were times when some European capitals had their own reasons for enlargement, or even to accelerate it. In the late 20th century, this was the case for Germany, which was keen to live in a stable environment after the implosion of the Soviet Union. Germany wanted reliable neighbours in Eastern Europe, the Baltic area, and the Balkans. Other EU members were aware that a speedy enlargement would deepen the differences in the EU in many respects: the solidity of their democratic institutions, the independence of their judiciary, their financial and budget ressources, the effectiveness of their security and defence systems... Most new EU members states were also keen to join the European Monetary System and the Euro zone. The sheer variety of situations among aspiring member states threatened to jeopardize the cohesiveness of the EU, which today still has to face the consequences of enlargement without consolidation. The monetary, financial, economic and social crisis in Greece is a striking example of this. Another example is the large migration from Bulgaria towards more prosperous countries in the EU.
In the early 21st century, the EU was so busy with enlargement and many crises, that equally important aspects of the European project were less attended to: the key role of culture in democracy, the importance of education and vocational training, a long-term plan for European defence and security, fiscal harmonisation, the portability of professional competence and of social security benefits, harmonisation of border controls, harmonisation of immigration rules...
These are some of the subjects the EU will have to address in the near future. The EU and its members states will also have to face global issues: a possible new isolationist mood in the USA; the rising power of China, India, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia; new alliances sought or concluded by Russia. The growth of Asymetric warfare11 , characterized by blind violence in the name of religious beliefs, poses great threats. The massive regression of human rights is more than disturbing. The continued persecution of women requires redress. Many young are still deprived of proper education. Some essential resources, such as fresh water, will need to be managed globally. ABC (Atomic, Biological, Chemical) Arms of Mass Destruction need to come under an even tighter and reliable control. And implementing the resolutions of COP-21 is an urgent duty in order to avoid climate and ecological catastrophes.
The European project is grounded in the past: its original purpose was to rebuild devastated countries and to avoid the recurrence of war. But what does the balance sheet of its actions look like? The next Letter will examine that question.
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* Opinions are those of the authors, and do not purport to reflect the positions of institutions or bodies to which they may be linked. R. Stalder, a Swiss national, is an engineer who has held executive positions in industry. J.-J. Subrenat, a French national, is a retired diplomat. D. Marthaler, a Swiss national, is a communications consultant. Subrenat wrote the French version, while Stalder drafted, and Marthaler reviewed the German version. The English version was drafted by Subrenat and reviewed by Carole Sunderland. Each assumes responsibility for his linguistic version.
1 In order to celebrate the announced between the UK and the EU, the Brisith daily The Sun, dated 29 March 2017, published a photo-montage projected on a Dover cliff, with the slogan "Dover and out!", https://ricochet.com/419385/dover-uk-tabloid-celebrates-brexit-grand-style/
3 BBC, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-11598879 . A complete report on the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the EEC, Dublin, September 1979 : http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=104180
4 Speech at the University of Zurich, 19 September 1946, http://mjp.univ-perp.fr/textes/churchill19091946.htm
5 Jean Monnet, Note, 1943, http://jmguieu.free.fr/Enseignements/Textes%20unite%20europeenne/note_de_jean_monnet%201943.htm
6 Jean Monnet, Mémoires, pp. 329-332
7 Declaration, 9 May 1950, https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/symbols/europe-day/schuman-declaration_fr
8 Brief chronology of the European project, http://www.vie-publique.fr/decouverte-institutions/union-europeenne/ue-citoyennete/construction-europeenne/quelles-sont-grandes-dates-construction-union-europeenne.html
9 Jacob Christoph Burckardt, Historische Fragmente, aus dem Nachlass gesammelt von Emir Dürr. Stuttgart Berlin, Deutsche Verlagsanstalt 1942.
10 Nouvelles d'Europe, le Royaume-Uni choisit le grand large, http://www.nouvellesdeurope.com/article-le-royaume-unis-choisit-le-grand-large-96050445.html
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