[Overseas View]The EU: 50 years of construction

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[Overseas View]The EU: 50 years of construction

On March 25, European countries will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Fifty years ago, this treaty establishing the European Economic Community was signed by six nations: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Today, 27 countries are part of the club, which is no longer only an organization for economic cooperation but also a political union. That is why its name was changed in 1992 to the European Union. Is the glass half empty or half full? According to its supporters, the European Union is now a major world player.
According to its critics, the “Union” in its name is hardly more than a word, as we saw during the Iraq war; half of its members supported the war and the other part opposed it. Some people see Europe as being in economic decline, a continental power from the past unable to compete with the new Asian giants. Others think it will be the next world leader with a wise combination of soft and hard power. Where does the truth lie?
The first thing to note is that Europe is a unique example of political will. For ages, European countries were mainly occupied with making war on their neighbors. They involved the world in a global war in 1914, lasting until 1918. They were unable to grasp the true consequences of this and launched a second one in 1939.
In order to avoid a third one, arch-rivals France and Germany decided to engage themselves in European construction. Now war is simply unthinkable between European Union member states. If this were the only achievement of the Treaty of Rome, it is still a worthwhile achievement. European peoples are no longer enemies.
Thirty years ago, marriages between French and Germans were scarce and would have divided families. Now it is quite frequent and totally accepted. This European example has become a model and a ray of hope for other peoples who have not yet resolved national antagonisms; History is not written in stone.
Since 1957, Europe has grown both in terms of its membership and its missions. From the beginning, the main European challenge has been to make this dual enlargement compatible. New members are supposed to accept the already agreed-to rules, but it is more difficult to make a common decision among 27 members than when there were only six. Therefore it is mandatory to make frequent adaptations, but as we witnessed when France and the Netherlands rejected the new EU constitution, this is not an easy task. The French refusal to ratify the EU constitution by referendum stunned Europe.
France was supposed to be the most pro-European country, the one that drew the most important advantages of European construction. However, France probably decided that there were too many enlargements in the past few years and that this would lead to the disintegration of the EU. It is true also that there is a European paradox. While in many European countries there is less delight in European construction than in years past, Europe is still really attractive. All the European non-members, except Switzerland and Norway, want to be integrated, and the sooner the better. Turkey has been knocking at the door since 1963 and is upset at not being considered a true European country. Even Morocco applied. Thousands of African people and some Asians try to reach Europe by any means possible, sometimes risking their lives to do so, as the continent is seen as a new El Dorado.
The European Union is an unidentified political object. It is not a federation since every member keeps its own sovereignty, but it is more than a confederation because some competencies are defined in common. Sometimes rules are followed only by the states that accepted them. For example, the commercial negotiations in the World Trade Organization are not led by any single nation. The Commission, a true integrated European body, is responsible for this. With the Schengen Agreement, some European countries have decided to have common boundaries. As a result, it is no longer necessary to show your passport when you travel inside Europe. Thirteen countries have a common currency, the euro, which is a very strong sign of unity when keeping in mind that sovereignty is traditionally defined by a country’s right to have its own flag, its own money and its own army. The European Union has a common flag and a common passport for its citizens but each country also keeps its own. For the time being, they have no common army but they are engaged in the development of a European security and defense policy. The prospect of a joint Franco-German army is regularly mentioned. The soccer pitches seem to be the last residual battlefields.
Europe is already a front-running power in terms of technology, economy, trade, finance and culture. The only tool that is missing is strategic power. Europe could not challenge U.S. supremacy. But is this the goal? These days, U.S. military power seems to be more of a problem than an advantage for Washington. When a nation has too big a stick, it is tempted to intervene everywhere. Assuming that most political problems can be solved by force can land the United States in big trouble as we have seen in Iraq. Europe relies more on soft power than on hard power. To be more credible, the European countries need to enhance their military strength. This is the new European frontier, keeping in mind that London and the new Eastern member states tend to prefer NATO as opposed to a truly European defense.
Polls in these countries show that regardless of their government’s attitude toward defense, a vast majority remains in favor of a stronger Europe to counter excessive American power.

*The writer is director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris.

by Pascal Boniface
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