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    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    The European Union at fifty..

    On 25th March this year, the European Union (EU) celebrated its 50th anniversary. And with the celebrations that kicked of in Berlin celebrating that milestone, began rounds of deliberations whether the efforts of the past fifty years toward European integration have really been worth it? Here I would attempt at looking the Union at 50 through the analyzing of John Peet’s interview in the Economist that came out in the March 15th print edition and Roger Cohen’s column for the International Herald Tribune, which was reproduced in the New York Times on March 25th.

    John Peet’s “Fit at 50?” begins with tracing the historical context of the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Commission (EEC), which went on to be called the Common Market, and the relevance of the Berlin Summit in the light of that. The European Union has drawn much flak since 2005 when the French and the Dutch vetoed the draft EU Constitution, with Jean Claude Juncker, the then President of Luxembourg, calling it to be in deep crisis in 2005. Jacques Delors, the President of the European Commission between 1985- 1994, said the crisis which confronted the EU today was worse than the ones in the past; Charles De Gaulle’s “Empty Chair” in 1965 and Margaret Thatcher’s “our own money back” between 1979 and 1984. But Peet argues that nothing should be allowed to obscure the achievements of the European Union in the past fifty years.

    The EEC had its critics. The European Federalists saw the EEC as a move away from the European superstate they hoped for.  Some argued that the EEC covered only a small part of Europe; excluding the communist east, fascist Spain. Britain chose to stay away with Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland, choosing to set up the rival European Free Trade Association (EFTA). In that context, the present day EU, which today talks about letting Turkey in, stands testimony to its success.  Spain and Portugal now seem distant history, with the expansion in 2004 that let in ten new member states, many of which ex- communist ones. 2007 saw the Union breaching new frontiers in the east with Romania and Bulgaria joining the fray.

    And the Union has moved beyond the economic paradigm the EEC was based upon. Today, the Union directly influences the way member states act on issues relating to social policy, welfare and the environment. Modern Europe today has a common currency, a common foreign policy and is a passport- free travel zone. The past two years has seen the Union agree on a seven-year budget, and ambitious plans on tackling the energy crisis and the climate change. This to Peet is not an institution in crisis, but only claims of crisis that are overblown.

    But Peet underlines the three major problems the European Union faces today, which he calls The Fifty- Year Itch. First is the conundrum of the draft constitution. The Draft Constitution was turned down by the French and the Dutch public, and hence could not go through.  Secondly, as Jacques Delors put it, there is popular disenchantment with the European Project. The reasons and the utter necessity that got Europe together does not hold true fifty years later, and today’s leaders would rather downplay out the Union than celebrate its values and successes. Last but not the least, the enthusiasm for the Union ostensibly is not really adrenaline pumping. And this is just not Britain this time, but as the referendums showed, a sentiment popular among Europeans in general. But Peet ends it with making us remember what made the EEC, and the Union what it is today; roaring economic growth. And therein, according to Peet, lies the Union’s secret. As the old adage goes, “It is the economy, stupid…”

    Roger Cohen’s Globalist Column titled “For Europe, a moment to ponder” which was reproduced in the New York Times on the eve of the summit is more expansive as it talks about the Union. It starts of with using Spain as an allegory to present day Poland. Today, one does not think of Spain as Poland. But he quotes Polish author Adam Michnik, who reckons that the European Union is the first Revolution hat has been positive. Spain was a poor country when it became a part of the Union 21 years ago. But it no longer is. And Poland would see the same results as Spain did. And this according to Cohen is emblematic of the peace, freedom, wealth and democracy that the treaty of Rome has extended to half a billion Europeans.

    But as with Peet’s Fifty Year Itch, Cohen writes about how the Berlin celebration rests on shaky ground. He talks about how the expansion of the Union has made it simply ungovernable. The issue of the rejected Draft Constitution is raised again, and how Integration is not the reality of the Muslim immigrants that is the European reality too. He quotes Joshka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, who said; “ The EU is on autopilot, in stalemate, in deep crisis.” But Cohen is way more forthright in his rebuttal of any skepticism of the European Union.

    He talks about how the so- called Autopilot is still a major success. He talks about the hundred odd billion dollars that has been committed to Poland even in the present paradigm. If the Marshall plan built Western Europe after the World War, the success of Spain since Franco can be attributed in more ways than one to the European commitment towards it, not to forget the 190 odd Billion USD that the Union has spent on the Spanish economy. Also, the roaring economic growth of the ex- communist states in the past decade and the transition to free market democracies, from Latvia to Slovakia, can be attributed to a certain extent to the European Union. But the success is not purely economic. For example, a survey in the French daily, Le Figaro, showed that about 71 % of the French felt pride in a European identity. The Erasmus Program has helped about 1. 5 Million European to study in a country other than own in partner European universities, and live the European experience of jumbling cultures, linguistic and amorous discovery, and the births of new identities from this mingling. Today, the Union is as much about free markets and draft constitutions as it is about the countless Eurocouples, which actually might be the true hallmark of true integration.  

     As with the everything else, Europe and the Union have evolved too. According to Cohen, Europe for example today deals with not the question of German aggression, but of German pacifism. Europe in the past fifty years has been a process, and not a destination in itself. For example, Spain after Franco was not given the benefit of the doubt by many, but today, it is a trillion dollar economy firmly at ease with itself as it sits among the developed world. Poland, with all its deliberations, is very much the Spain of the 80’s and in twenty years, one might see a different reality. Cohen urges Europeans to push forward the European experience, and urges, why cannot Turkey today be the new Poland?

    In Cohen’s words, “A United States of Europe might seem a distant, probably unreachable dream. At the same time, a continent- wide war has become an unthinkable nightmare.”  The Berlin Summit was the Union turning fifty, and a celebration of this undeniable success and the inherent values that make Europe possible today. The European Union is a paradigm that is a success, and like everything else, has its shortcomings too. But as Cohen and Peet put it and history shows, it is something worth pursuing. 

    Shreshth Dugar, 2007

    (For a list of sources, citations and bibliography, please e- mail me)


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