The Pathos of Politics (96) The European Union

The European Union

The means would be economics, but the goal was always political. ~ French political economist and diplomat Jean Monnet

Throughout its history, European tribes had repeatedly been united by a variety of forceful empires: the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Frankish Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, 1st French Empire, and Nazi Germany. War and wanting unanimity had long been the yin-yang of European politics.

Where the 1st World War had a politicising, radicalising effect, its successor produced the opposite outcome: a deep longing for normality. ~ French political scientist Raymond Aron

The desolation from the 2nd World War showed how profoundly national governments had failed. The war left Europe divided between a Soviet-dominated eastern bloc and western nations which were largely democratic.

There were fears over what direction Germany would take. Western European leaders hoped to bind Germany to pan-European institutions, and so preclude the possibility of future wars, as well as resist expansion of the communist east.

An exhausted western Europe wasn’t just after peace. There was the need to rebuild. The prospect of sharing resources was appealing.

On 5 May 1949, 10 western European countries founded the Council of Europe: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Other nations joined later. The council’s mission was fostering cooperation on legal, cultural, and social issues.

France had been reliant on German coal since the 1890s. By the 1930s France had become the world’s greatest coal importer. (France’s historic reliance on Germany for its coal explains why the country so eagerly embraced nuclear power in the 1950s.)

In 1945, in a repeat of the rapacious grasping for reparations following the 1st World War, French provisional government leader Charles de Gaulle sought to turn West Germany into an agrarian state by taking possession of its coal fields in the Ruhr and Rhineland. This appropriation was vetoed by the Americans and British for fear that a suppressed West Germany would either rebel or fall under the sway of the Soviets.

The fickle de Gaulle then flirted with the idea of a French alliance with the Soviets. Stalin wasn’t interested. So it was that on 9 May 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed a community for steel-making, so as to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.”

The 1951 Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community, bringing together France, West Germany, Italy, and the 3 Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) into the first modern economically functional supranational organization. The negotiations had been so dissonant that the sheet of paper which the ministers actually signed was blank. Those involved wanted to give up as little as possible.

There was also the tenor of the times. Grand schemes to shape society were tainted by Bolshevism and Nazism. During the 2nd World War, Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect, had drawn up plans for a pan-European political order. Pierre Pucheu, senior administer in Vichy France who was executed for his efforts, had called for a single currency.

The keen feeling of national identity must be considered a real barrier to European integration. ~ Norwegian diplomat Halvard Lange in 1950

Sovereign states were still imbued with nationalism. In 1950 came a proposal to create a European army rather than allow German rearmament under NATO, which had been created a year earlier. The idea made progress during the Korean War (1950–1953), which was seen as a sign of menacing Soviet aggression. The initiative faltered as the 6 European governments could not agree on how a unified army would be run.

French Gaullists especially hated the loss of sovereignty. Despite America’s threat of an “agonizing reappraisal” of relations, the French parliament rejected a European defense community in August 1954. The victors celebrated with a rousing chorus of the French national anthem.

As the 1950s wore on, the Cold War, domestic unrest, and the division between eastern and western Europe impelled further efforts at unification. On 25 March 1957, the Treaty of Rome led to the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC). Signed by the same countries as the earlier Treaty of Paris, the EEC aimed at economic integration: a United States of Europe. The EEC lowered tariffs and established common prices for agricultural products.

The 1957 treaty also created the European Atomic Energy Community to engender the development and production of nuclear power. This was at a time when the industrial world simple-mindedly thought that nuclear energy would be ridiculously cheap.

Further work at unification was thwarted with the reelection of French President Charles de Gaulle in 1958, a staunch nationalist who opposed supranationalism. Despite de Gaulle’s recalcitrance, the EEC merged into a single body in 1967.

Protests in spring 1968 shook de Gaulle’s leadership. He resigned in 1969 after losing a referendum over decentralization. With de Gaulle gone, the EEC expanded. In came Denmark, Ireland, and Britain in the 1970s. Greece, Portugal, and Spain joined in the 1980s. Turkey applied to join the Community in 1987 but was rebuffed.

Britain wavered in its support of the European Community. Its 1st applications were vetoed by France when de Gaulle was in power. He feared the UK as a Trojan horse for US influence.

Though it joined, Britain had second thoughts after seeing its economic growth lag behind the EEC. Channeling de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resisted further unification. Thatcher’s views on the Community were not shared by her cabinet, and she was pushed out.

In 1986, the Single European Act established a common market for EEC countries. Its signing was spurred by discontent in Community members about the de facto lack of free trade among them.

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty created the European Union (EU) and led to the creation of a single European currency – the euro – which replaced national currencies in 2002. The treaty obliged members to keep “sound fiscal policies, with debt limited to 60% of GDP and annual deficits no greater than 3% of GDP.” Britain opted out of the euro.

The Maastricht Treaty established a supranational government, including a leadership commission, parliament, and court, a common platform for foreign policy and security, and cooperation in civil and criminal matters.

There have been 3 treaty amendments since 1992. The last was the 2007 Lisbon Treaty. While tying the EU more tightly together, the 2007 treaty for the first time provided a procedure for a member state to leave the EU.