Today's date:
 
Summer 2000


For a "Euro-Europe" on the Continent

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing is a former president of France, and Helmut Schmidt is a former chancellor of Germany. They are co-chairmen of the Committee for the Monetary Union of Europe.

Paris—Just before the end of the last century, the 15 heads of state or government sketched out their plans for the European Union. But they jumped too quick and too far with one foot while the other foot lagged very cautiously behind
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In addition to the ongoing negotiations with Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus, all of which have applied for membership to the EU, they also decided to initiate membership negotiations with Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and Malta. The commission went as far as proclaiming that by the end of year 2000 they would set the timetable for the admission of seven or eight of the applicants as well for the respective transition periods.
Yet Europe’s leaders failed to make progress in preparing the capability of the European Union to absorb this enormous number of prospective new members.
The need for institutional reform is urgent. Already, with only 15 member states, the existing institutions are not functioning well. If they remain unchanged, they will become unable to function once the number of member states is considerably increased. And institutional reform will become even more difficult once the membership has been increased!

The obvious haste to enlarge the union, combined with neglect for institutional reforms, can mislead the union into a sequence of severe crises during the first decade of the 21st century. It also may end up diluting the union into a mere free trade area with some institutions at the fringes.

Such a distortion of the nature and the historically unique goal of the European Union might please some nationalists in several countries. But, mainly, it would satisfy those in Washington who aspire to maintain some control over Europe to facilitate America’s global geopolitical aims—and, sometimes, illusions.

Some of the politicians who give grandiloquent speeches on Europe’s future seem to know history only as far back as Hitler, Stalin and the Cold War. They do not have enough understanding of the 18th and the 19th centuries, especially of the history of the nations of the Balkan Peninsula.

Europe’s history in the past couple of centuries has been a history of the emergence of nation states, competing and fighting each other, most of them equipped with their own national language and their own national history. None of these nations is easily willing to sacrifice its heritage and give up it self-determination. It therefore takes many steps, one after the other, to persuade people to gradually give up some of their sovereignty to serve their own future progress.

This piecemeal approach, starting with the Schuman Plan of 1950, has led to the unbelievable success of the present European Union. If the present EU leaders believe in doubling the number of member states just through the summary acts of ministerial councils and their bureaucratic assistants—then they might rather soon find themselves in a grave crisis, including with their own national electorates.

It was the French who instigated the integrative process. From the beginning, the Germans have accepted being bound into the union. At least since the 1970s, the French have accepted that the integration of Germany can only become permanently successful if the French nation binds herself in the same way. It is this mutual German and French insight that has enabled the integrative process to proceed and overcome a number of crises on the way.

The last crisis was around Maastricht, but the euro (which had been proposed and in preparation for 20 years) was nevertheless created. Again: What a success! If we did not have the European Central Bank system today, some former national central banks and their currencies might be maneuvered into situations of crisis, in which they would have to submit to conditions enforced by the common will of the markets plus the strictures of the International Monetary Fund. The single European market would then be faced with threatening tensions.

(Concerning the euro, we disagree with the "benign neglect" of the European Central Bank, and the absence of any support by the political institutions. The same Europeans who criticized loudly the United States for the "benign neglect" of the dollar, should avoid calling for the same criticism!)

The will to maintain a considerable degree of self-determination vis-a-vis the global powers will become an important additional strategic motive for European integration. Individually, none of the European nation states is in itself weighty and powerful enough to stand up to the major world powers, which will surely be tempted in the century ahead to solve their problems without taking adequate account of the interests of others.

Only if we act together to complete the construction of the EU into a fully operable entity can the European nations expect to maintain influence in the world. How else will we be heard when it comes to major decision-making on new international law, on arms limitations, on how to react in the case of wars in other parts of the world, on how to manage global trade, how to deal with the effects of global warming, how to dampen the global population explosion and how to handle the streams of refugees and displaced persons—and, most urgently, how to make the presently chaotic financial markets into a stable and viable global system.

In the course of the 21st century, at the latest in the second half of this century, the present singularity of the American superpower will progressively wither away. There will be more than just one world power. The European Union is still far from being able to administer strong common foreign and security policies, and thus still far from being a world power.

It will take great efforts to convince the old European nations that the future weight of our aging societies and of the protection of their interests depends on our will to integrate further.

Whether the United Kingdom will in the end decide to fully join the EU remains to be seen. As long as the English nation prefers to sit on the fence, halfway within and halfway outside the union, progress will primarily depend on close cooperation and leadership by the French and the Germans. They will wish to maintain the global security alliance with the Americans, but they will at the same time strive to preserve their self-determination.

At present the accession of the Polish, the Czech and the Hungarian nations into the EU—altogether 60 million people—does deserve high priority. But the first priority must be institutional reform. (What an excellent field for political initiative for members of the European Parliament!)

The accession of Turkey and thereby the extension of the future common foreign and security policies to the borders of Syria, Iraq, Iran and to the Caucasus region is, to say the least, not a priority at all.

In some cases economic association would be more appropriate. It would be unwise to suddenly expose some fragile European states to full market competition with highly developed European enterprises—the fate of the former East German industry does not invite any repetition. It would also be unwise to invite millions of workers to migrate into Western Europe, where they might be tempted to stay because they can earn five or 10 times higher wages than at home.

Europe’s leaders ought to take these social and economic issues into account before rushing ahead without preparation.

The process of enlarging the EU to absorb 27 countries and about 530 million people differs from the initial process and cannot lead us toward a single, integrated system.

Several options have been proposed: Europe at different speeds, Europe organized in concentric circles, a two-tiered Europe.

Now that the process of enlargement has been launched, it is clear that, from the human perspective—that is between the next 20 and 50 years—Europe will develop along three different lines:

1 The organization of the European space, as defined by enlargement.
This organization will address economic and free trade issues, accompanied by a limited level of political integration: at the most, the existing one. The priority is institutional reform in order to achieve operability, otherwise the system will collapse, as the commission did, last year.

The worst solution would be to hide the inability to reform under a cloud of false compromises!

In this European space, every nation, including Germany and France, will accept what they understand to be in their interest, with an adequate level of solidarity. They will keep under national command those questions and affairs that do not require common solutions or regulations. The principle of subsidiarity must, at last, become enforceable.

2 The second line of development will be the organization of a European common defense.

This process is well engaged, now with active support from Britain. To be operational, it must be based on the countries which possess a significant military capability and on a public commitment to accept a mechanism of quick and effective decisions.
3 The third line will address what remains of the initial ambition of integration.
It is obvious that full integration is not a realistic goal for 30 countries that are very different in their political traditions, culture and economic development.
To attempt integration with that many countries can only lead to complete failure. It is obvious, also, that integration cannot be imposed on any country which refuses it.
The only realistic option, then, is that integration will be developed by those countries that have the political will to do it and whose economic and social conditions are nearly identical.

At the moment, all such countries belong to the euro-zone, whose population already exceeds that of the United States.

Will some of these countries embark on a new path, aiming at integrating some of their political competences on the basis of a federative approach?
Such an approach certainly needs an initiative from the founding countries, France, Germany and Italy, plus the Benelux, and some other good-willing and determined candidates. For this process to be effective, it will need additional institutions: a Council, a Parliamentary structure which could have operational links with the national Parliaments, but probably not a Commission. In effect, these will be "institutions inside the institutions" that already exist for the EU.

The only constraint that could be imposed by the non-participating countries is that this new group—tentatively called "Euro-Europeans"—will respect all the commitments of the large European Union, and that the new institutions cannot enter in conflict with the competence of the existing European institutions.

With all the limitations of analogy, this new grouping will constitute a political entity on the large European continent just as the United States of America constitutes a distinct political entity on the North American continent.

Our leaders are mistaken if they believe quick enlargement can paper over the problems left unresolved by the conferences in Maastricht and Amsterdam.
They are also mistaken if they leave these leftover issues to a new inter-governmental conference without beforehand jointly establishing clear political guidelines for their diplomats.

Europe needs leadership by responsible persons who have the confidence and trust of their electorates, the will to state clearly their objective and the determination to again shape history.

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