Sunday, 27 April 2014

The attempt to unify Europe politically since the 1948 Hague Congress: INTRODUCTION

After the havoc of World War Two, many people and politicians felt that cooperation between the countries of Europe was necessary to bring security, lasting peace, and stability for economic growth. People feared a return to ultra-nationalism, to racial and ethnic hatred. They also feared political extremism from within Europe and from the USSR.

The EEC (1957 to 1992) and the European Union (since 1992) have been the relatively successful means to organize the efforts at cooperation. From an economic point of view, and despite the Great Recession which started in 2008, the European post-war project  has been quite successful. Political integration however has been more difficult; Europeans continue to find it difficult to agree who should decide: the centralized supra-national institutions (“Brussels”) or first and foremost the Member States.

Even before the end of the War, the idea of a European federation was already being discussed. From 1945, politicians (mostly Christian Democrats like Monnet Schuman, De Gasperi, Adenauer) started thinking about how to make it a reality. The Marshall Plan aid also encouraged cooperation between western European countries (so that there would be a united front against the spread of Communism from the East). The OEEC (Organization for European Cooperation) distributed the aid.

The 1948 Hague Congress brought together people and groups interested in promoting a united Europe; as a result, the Council of Europe was set up to promote human rights and democracy.

Following the Schuman Declaration (9th May 1950), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up in 1951. The members were: France, Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg. The idea was to manage together strategic resources rather than fighting for them. The ECSC (“CECA” in French) was the precursor of the EEC.

The 1954 plan for a common European defence force (Communauté de Défense Européenne) was not carried out because France was worried about Germany being allowed to have a bigger army.

The 1955 Messine conference led to the signature of the Rome Treaties on 25th March 1957 which set up the EEC and Euratom. The aim of the European Economic Community was economic cooperation, a "common market". The institutions set up to manage it took on progressively more power.

The number of member countries has increased from 6 to 28 in less than sixty years. New members have to be democratic and have a market economy.

In 1957, 6 countries made up the EEC: France + Germany + Italy + Netherlands + Belgium + Luxembourg

1973: +3 (UK, Ireland, Denmark) = 9

1981: + 1 (Greece) = 10

In 1985, the Schengen Accords were signed, getting rid of internal EU borders (UK and Ireland did not sign).

1986: + 2 (Spain, Portugal) = 12

In 1992, the EEC is replaced by the EU following the signature of the Maastricht Treaty.

1995: + 3 (Sweden, Finland, Austria) = 15

In 2001, the Nice Treaty adopts the principle of a qualified majority (3/4 of the Member states have to be in favor), replacing unanimous votes so as to make decision-making easier in a union that counts more and more members.

In 2002, the Euro replaces the national currencies of the Eurozone countries.

2004: + 10 (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Slovenia, Cyprus) = 25

In 2005, the proposal for a European Constitution was abandoned after being rejected in French and Dutch referendums.

In 2007, the Lisbon Treaty created the job of European Council President.

2007: + 2 (Romania, Bulgaria) = 27

2013: + 1 (Croatia) = 28

Member states in the EU cohabit with the supranational European institutions; decisions made by the EU institutions are applied by the Member states (this is called the principle of "subsidiarity").

There are two other ways Europe could be run: 

  • one in which the States would always have the prerogative (i.e. final say) in European matters (this is called "souverainism" or "confederalism");
  • the other in which there would be a strong centralized European government (this is called "federalism", a kind of “united states of Europe”).
The EU is still in the making and does not have the support of all citizens or politicians (there is no unique vision of what the EU should be “for” or how it should be run). It is often criticized for being bureaucratic, complex, and too “distant” (far from people’s daily preoccupations), hence the rejection of the European Constitution in 2005 and the increasing abstention rate at European Parliament elections.

However, European citizenship and initiatives like ERASMUS have contributed to the sense of a European identity. For the while, Europe has a “variable geometry” (core countries are integrating faster than others): not all countries are members of the Eurozone or have signed the Schengen accords. However, the EU is still attractive to countries outside it, hence its enlargement.

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