[OUTLOOK]A future for a united Europe?Mark Mazower, a history professor at the University of London in England, titled his famous book on 20th-century European history “Dark Continent.” The term usually makes one think of Africa, but Mr. Mazower argues that it is modern Europe whose recent history is stained with darkness, including imperialism, ethnic cleansing and two world wars.
To overcome this history of confrontation and slaughter, European integration has been advocated since the end of World War II. The particular aim of integration has been to prevent another war by combining Germany, which had been at the center of military conflicts in Europe since the 19th century, with its surrounding countries economically and politically.
The European Coal and Steel Community, generally considered the precursor of the European Union, was formed in 1951 with the participation of six countries: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. No one could have predicted at the time that this organization would grow to become the large-scale economic and political community that it is now. And in fact, the integration of Europe was not easy at first.
Until the early 1970s, England and Ireland refused to be part of Europe. Up to the late 1970s, Spain, Portugal and Greece could not join the European Community because of military dictatorships. Also, because the European Community was linked to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization until the fall of the Soviet Union, northern European countries and Austria, which wished to maintain neutrality in the Cold War, did not want to join.
But once the Cold War was over, European integration could proceed rapidly. In 1992, a so-called single market was adopted, and as military cooperation between member countries began, the European Commmunity became the European Union. Greece, Spain and Portugal joined the EU in 1981, 1986 and 1986 respectively, after their military dictatorships ended. In 1995, Sweden, Finland and Austria, which had been neutral states, became members of the EU. The 11 core countries in Europe adopted a single currency in 2002, and the number of EU members has increased to 25, with 10 countries, most of them Eastern European, joining in 2005.
The population of the EU now stands at 380 million. Taken as a whole, it has the world’s third largest population, behind China and India, and is the largest single economic zone in the world. But a brake was put on the unhindered progress of integration a couple of weeks ago, as the people of France and the Netherlands rejected the European constitution in referendums. Of course, the EU will not necessarily fail to function just because the proposed constitution’s provisions for an EU president and foreign minister, an expansion of the European Parliament’s membership and a revision of decision-making methods are not introduced.
But the fact that two of the six “founding countries” of European integration voted against the constitution shows that many problems remain to be solved before further integration can be achieved. Two stumbling blocks are particularly important.
The first problem is the democratization of policymaking. The EU is in a situation where, despite the varying economic conditions from country to country, all members have to pursue the same macroeconomic policy because of the single currency. The problem is that the European Central Bank, the main player in macroeconomic policy at the EU level and an independent entity outside the control of the European Parliament or member governments, continues to pursue a tight monetary policy despite the economic recession. Reinforcing control of the European Central Bank is therefore a major task.
The second significant problem is employment. Citizens of the 10 relatively poor countries that joined the EU this year will not have complete freedom to emigrate to seek employment in the near future; in this sense, they are second-class citizens.
Nevertheless, citizens in the older EU nations fear that they will lose their jobs to lower-paid workers in the new member countries. To resolve this conflict, it is important to relieve the fear of unemployment by creating more jobs through expansive macroeconomic policies and stronger job training programs.
In other words, unless measures for democratization and social integration are taken at a Europe-wide level, the continuation of European integration will be virtually impossible. Will it be possible at all? It is an important question for Korea, too, where the deepening social divide has led to the emergence of social integration as a major issue.
* The writer is a professor of economics at the University of Cambridge in England. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chang Ha-joon