Continental Shift

Harvard International Review, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Continental Shift


Across Europe, jubilant celebrations clash with glum moods in individual states. Low voter turnout and sparse understanding of institutions belie efforts toward transparency and engagement. The face of Europe is changing, and the emergent entity faces a new set of challenges. The European Union welcomed 10 new member states in May 2004, and in mid-June all 25 EU members agreed on a draft constitutional treaty for Europe. Not to be overlooked as a driving force, NATO underwent enlargement and also held the first NATO-Russia Council in 2002. The definition of Europe is rapidly expanding to include countries previously relegated to hinterlands and hidden behind Iron Curtains. At the risk of over-exuberance, we can declare that Europe is in the middle of a major historical moment.

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An article in the second volume of the Harvard International Review, published in 1979, combated the notion of "Europe in Disarray" at a time of growing concern about the seeming decline of Western democracies. Europe's detractors bemoaned its lack of ability to exercise willpower, make decisions, deal with economic downturn, and defend itself. Today, whatever the issues European states are currently facing, it is difficult to conceptualize the utter paralysis of Europe that was so earnestly discussed at that time. In the 25 years since, even the conception of what constitutes "Europe" has changed quite dramatically.

The trajectory of a united Europe can be traced back to the various empires that have spread across that continent over the past centuries and millennia, but recent history has markedly changed the European bond. Since the mid-20th century, the countries of Europe have joined together in various associations to assure stability and security. NATO was founded under the Washington Treaty in 1949 to continue the alliance of the Allied powers of World War II. The first small step toward the current European order was the Council of Europe formed in the wake of the war, which in turn was closely followed by the idea of a European Community championed by visionary Jean Monnet and the resulting creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. European integration went even further when the ECSC countries signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and merged into a single Commission, Council of Ministers, and European Parliament one decade later. In subsequent years, the Community enlarged and internal trade grew. The 1992 Treaty of the European Union signed at Maastricht introduced new layers of intergovernmental cooperation and formally created the Union as it is known today. Throughout the 1990s, barriers to trade and travel within Europe further decreased, and the decision to pursue economic and monetary union came to fruition with the introduction of a circulating Euro currency in 2002. In this issue's symposium, we seek to understand the characteristics of the current Europe to which these earlier associations have evolved.

But in this atmosphere of progress, it is equally if not more important to keep sight of the obstacles that remain on the horizon. …

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