We have just celebrated a major anniversary: 60 years ago, on May 9th, 1950, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, invited the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, to found with France the European Community of Coal and Steel. This date marks the beginning of the European integration process.
Let us pay homage to these two statesmen who, on the very day only five years after the final surrender in Berlin of the Nazi power, on a continent still suffering from the deep wounds of the war, were brave and visionary enough to turn the page of centuries of military confrontation and lay the foundations for a new Europe of peace and cooperation.
Looking at the European Union today, with the Greek crisis and the raising disenchantment, we wonder what Schuman and Adenauer would think if they came back.
Let us imagine one minute their surprise.
– As they died respectively in 1963 and 1967, they left a “European Economic Community” of 6 countries and some 150 M. inhabitants. They would find a “European Union” of 27 States and 500 M. citizens including the United Kingdom, a reunited Germany, the former dictatorships of Franco and Salazar (Spain and Portugal), three Baltic ex-Soviet Republics, a former Yugoslav Republic (Slovenia), six ex-‘brother countries’ of USSR (Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Czechoslovakia, today split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and traditionally neutral countries like Sweden, Austria and Finland. The fascinating course of History!
– Another surprise: the 12 star blue flag floats on most public buildings and Europe has now a President, a Belgian named Herman van Rompuy. He hasn’t much power, nor is he a very charismatic figure, but while inaugurating the job of European “Head of State” he is proceeding wisely, progressively, to give content to his office.
– The European Parliament, then a pale consultative body, has become an assembly directly elected by the European citizens and which co-legislates on most issues with the Council representing the Member States, till recently all powerful.
– The Commission, the Executive institution of the Union (in a way, the European Government) is politically responsible before the Parliament and its president, currently José Manuel Barrosso, is elected by the Parliament. The Commission manages a budget of 140 billion € and elaborates European policies in many areas.
– The EU has developed a strong corpus of common legislation (12.500 texts) and 16 countries share the same currency, called €uro.
– Borders do not exist anymore between most Member States and citizens can move freely and settle wherever they wish.
– Large numbers of young people now speak a second language and travel throughout Europe thanks to Programs called “Erasmus” and … “Schuman”. Many regard themselves as Europeans.
Astounding result within six decades only and after so much nationalism, so many conflicts.
So, what is going wrong? Why does a wind of Euro-skepticism blow on the continent?
Several causes can explain this situation:
– the damages of globalisation and of the economic crisis that Europe does not seem capable to prevent or counter;
– the Greek crisis which makes the euro tremble;
– enlargement, done too quickly, in particular as regards certain countries which were not ready, such as Romania and Bulgaria;
– the incapacity of national political leaders to carry the European project and their frequent tendency to defend their national interest (and the intergovernmental decision-making method) rather than imagine common solutions and have them implemented by the Commission (the Community decision-making method); they seem to suffer from Europe rather than shape it; they do not show the direction.
Yet, one does not see how, in a world which is currently evolving towards a Chinese-American condominium complemented by great regional powers like India and Brazil, the European States could continue to exist on the international stage other than united.
It is not less Europe which is required but on the contrary more Europe: a European economic governance with significant budgetary and financial means to act in case of crisis – from this regard, the creation of a European Monetary Fund is an interesting idea -; a common Energy policy; a strong policy in the field of industry; a tighter coordination in taxation and research; finally, a genuine European political life rather than a political debate focused on national interests and sometimes confiscated by them.
A point deserves to be underlined: solidarity is and must remain a key principle of European integration. Without solidarity, Europe has no meaning, it does not exist. This is why the Union must be resolutely by the side of the Greeks in the current period.
But this solidarity has a counterpart: self-discipline in managing the Public Good, the ‘Res Publica’. It is not acceptable that a Member State of the European Union manipulate the figures it sends to Brussels and satisfy itself with an ineffective public administration unworthy of a 21st century European Democracy. This would inexorably lead to what has already happened elsewhere: the more serious will end up refusing to pay.
It is time to harmonise positively public administrations at European level. To this effect we call for the creation of a European Observatory of European, National and Local Civil Services to be entrusted with analysing the operation of public administrations – in particular as regards transparency of recruitment, effectiveness, neutrality, probity – and making public recommendations.
This axis of improvement does not alone concern Greece and some former socialist states. There is also much to say on recruitment and practices within some public administrations of old Member States, especially at local level.
“Roma non fu fatta in un giorno”. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Time will be necessary to harmonise at the highest level the public administrations of 27 countries with such various histories. But Rome was not built without efforts either. To move forward, one needs objectives, leadership, political will and steadfastness.
Let us therefore never give up, let us not get contaminated by Euro-skepticism, let us keep faith in the future, in the capacities and the will of the new generations. Let us demand from our national political leaders more boldness and more European commitment.
English version revised by Ms Ann Grieve