Is a “United States of Europe” a Step in the Right Direction?
EUROPE was for centuries the center of world civilization and culture. It experienced the Renaissance; it mothered the industrial revolution; it financed the exploration of distant “undiscovered” lands; it colonized them and made nominal Christians out of “pagan natives.” Even today Europe makes its influence felt in many parts of the earth.
That is why many persons feel that a united Europe—perhaps even a “United States of Europe”—would have a positive, beneficial effect on the rest of the world. Could it perhaps be a step in the right direction—in the direction of world unity?
Attempts at Unification
The famous French writer Victor Hugo served as president of a congress held in Paris in 1849 that pleaded for a United States of Europe to ensure universal peace. Later Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, an Austrian, founded what was known as the Pan-European union with a similar goal, but it too met with little success.
After emerging from World War II, which split Europe into two political blocs, Western European nations began giving renewed consideration to the desirability of unification. Eastern European nations rejected the idea, seeing in it a political move by the Western nations to oppose the Communist bloc. Hence, the so-called “United States of Europe” has been solely a Western European project.
A first step was taken in 1949 when 10 of these Western European nations agreed to set up a Council of Europe. It was “for the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the ideals and principles which are part of its common heritage and to favor their social and economic progress.” Although it had no decision-making powers, yet it served as a consultative group or forum where member nations could express opinions and make recommendations.
Winston Churchill said of this Council: “The first step has been taken, and it is the first step that counts”—provided, of course, that the first step is in the right direction. Was it? The fact that other European nations have joined this Council—at present there are 20 members—seems to indicate that at least they feel that it was.
In 1951, at the suggestion of the French minister of foreign affairs, Robert Schumann, five of these original 10 nations (France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), together with the Federal Republic of Germany, formed the European Coal and Steel Community. They thereby pooled their basic resources and made them subject to a new multinational authority.
Since this proved quite practical these six nations ventured another step forward in 1957. They set up the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. Later, in January 1973, these communities were enlarged to nine members when Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the movement. This “Common Market,” as it is generally called, was considered a further step toward eventual complete economic and political union.
How Do People Feel About It?
The common man’s attitude is based not so much on the political implications of this union as on the practical results he himself has experienced. Housewives are happy that they now have a greater variety of foodstuffs to choose from, and that foreign products tend to be more economical because of the favorable trade arrangements within the Common Market and with other nations.
Travelers are happy that freer movement between states has become possible. Governments seem to be more willing to cooperate on common problems: terrorism, inflation, unemployment, energy. A European driver’s license appears to be on the way, even as later, perhaps, a common currency.
Euro-Barometre, a publication of the Commission of the European Communities, announced in its July 1977 issue the results of polls taken every six months since 1973. It said: “Attitudes in the Community as a whole have changed very little . . . six in ten (57%) felt that the Community was ‘a good thing,’ between one and two in ten (14%) feeling that it was ‘a bad thing.’ . . . Attitudes still vary considerably from country to country, but less so than in 1973.” This article also pointed out that 42 percent of those questioned felt that the movement toward European unification should be speeded up, 34 percent preferred to see it continued as at present, while only 11 percent wanted it slowed down.
Two New Steps in the Offing
One of the European Community’s institutions is called the European Parliament (not to be confused with the aforementioned Council of Europe). It serves as a sounding board for the Community’s problems. But since it is not a legislature, its powers are limited. Until now members have been appointed by the individual national parliaments, but in 1976 it was decided that general elections should be held in the spring of 1978 to elect them directly. Difficulties in deciding on electoral procedures, however, forced postponement, and the elections have been rescheduled for June 7-10, 1979.
Interest in these elections has been sluggish. One poll indicates that only 28 percent of the population of the Federal Republic of Germany are at present seriously considering voting. Opponents say that the elections are merely a political experiment without any real meaning and that they will fail to change the general situation. Proponents, on the other hand, feel that elections will at least heighten interest in the Parliament and impress on its members the fact that they are responsible to the people who elected them. Be that as it may, the elections, if and when they are held, will probably add momentum to the forward drive in the general direction of a “United States of Europe.”
Another step being debated involves enlarging the Common Market to include Spain, Portugal and Greece. Some fear that this would weaken the alliance. Although Spain’s King Juan Carlos in his coronation speech mentioned that ‘Europe would be incomplete without the Spaniard,’ yet there is some reluctance on both sides to press forward with the idea. With unemployment already running uncomfortably high within the Common Market, its present members are reluctant to admit nations with an unemployment problem even greater than their own. Some have been talking in terms of a 10-year negotiating period, which understandably is not acceptable to those who want faster progress.
Obviously many persons feel that enlargement would hinder rather than advance the possibilities of European unity. John Cole in an article in The Observer expressed it this way: “Enlargement also probably means the abandonment for many years of any hope—or fear—of a federal Europe, any early possibility of economic and monetary union.”
Additional Barriers to Progress
Nationalism is undoubtedly the greatest barrier to real unity. Cooperation among political equals for mutual commercial benefit is one thing; surrendering one’s national sovereignty, or even a part of it, is something else. In fact many alliances have been formed with the understanding—yes, even on the condition—that national sovereignties be respected and in no way infringed on. History teaches us that nations and rulers are seldom willing to surrender their sovereignty to others.
Even nations with a similar form of government based on a common ideology are not particularly interested in uniting under a single government. The Soviet Union and China, for example, have even developed their own types of Communism. Great Britain and the United States of America probably enjoy one of the most intimate relationships between world powers that has ever existed. Yet, would we expect plans to unite them politically, possibly resulting in either a “President of Great Britain” or a “Queen of the United States,” to be met with unanimous and instant approval?
Political unity, if it could be achieved, would obviously go far in promoting world unity. But political unity would mean eliminating nationalism, and nationalism dies a hard death indeed!
Another thing: the basis for unity must be a common law acknowledged by all and to which all would submit themselves, without exception. But a common law presupposes a single standard of conduct and ethical convictions. Can there really be unity as long as peoples and nations go on setting up their own standards, “doing their own thing”? This absence of similar convictions and standards of conduct makes the formation of a common law to which all would submit themselves extremely difficult to attain. Who would have the wisdom and the needed authority to set such standards to which all would be willing to submit?
Dr. Owen, British foreign secretary speaking in Brussels in February of 1978, said that the “fully fledged federalism,” to which some people remained committed, was “a noble goal but one which for most of us in Britain is unrealistic, and to some mythical. We cannot see in concrete terms how nine nations with very different political, social and cultural traditions . . . can possibly become federated over any time-scale of political activity on which it is realistic to focus.”
Under the title “Europe Tomorrow,” the German monthly Unsere Arbeit (Our Work) stated: “The way to a European Union—with its own legislative body, government, central bank, and all the symbols of a sovereign state—is arduous, and full of hindrances. Even the Common Market, the starting point of the federation, . . . does not function without complaint.”
Time magazine called the Community, after 20 years of existence, “more an underdeveloped adolescent than a mature adult” and added that “further progress toward a truly unified Europe is perhaps more elusive today than it was at the onset of the great experiment. Member states still do not hesitate to bypass Community institutions when there is a national advantage to be gained.”
So although progress has been made, it appears that the problems still facing this Western European undertaking are formidable. In many ways they are similar to those faced on a global scale by the United Nations organization. Let us turn our attention to it, then, for a moment and see whether it perhaps has succeeded in putting world unity finally within reach.
[Diagram on page 8]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Common Market Nations
1 Italy 2 France 3 Fed. Rep. of Germany
4 Belgium 5 Netherlands 6 Luxembourg
7 Britain 8 Ireland 9 Denmark
DEM. REP. OF GERMANY
[Picture on page 5]
Winston Churchill said: “The first step has been taken, and it is the first step that counts.”