The Prevailing Roots of European Integration: The European Union, Which Today Has a Myriad of Faults, Has Gone through Rough Times and Will Go through More. and Yet It Still Stands on Its Founding Principles

By Kucera, Rudolf | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Prevailing Roots of European Integration: The European Union, Which Today Has a Myriad of Faults, Has Gone through Rough Times and Will Go through More. and Yet It Still Stands on Its Founding Principles


Kucera, Rudolf, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


European integration is a reaction to the two world wars, and it reflects the attempt to prevent further wars. In this sense, European integration is mainly a question about achieving peace in Europe. It distinguishes itself from the previous attempts to integrate Europe with one essential fact: the EU rests on the ability of the European nations and their political leaders to create a community founded on the elimination of war, mutual development, and freedom. All the previous attempts to unite Europe were based on denying freedom of choice, aggression, repression, killings, and jailing. It is therefore absurd to compare the European Union with the Soviet Union or with the Third Reich or even with the power struggles in Europe's history.

MR. EUROPE: RICHARD COUDENHOVE-KALERGI

The first efforts towards modern European integration originated in reaction to the horrors of the First World War. The most noteworthy of these came from the Czech lands; it is disappointing that we haven't and will not acknowledge this fact during our EU presidency. Known as Mr. Europe, the Czechoslovak citizen Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi initiated the project. With a mother from Japan and a father from Brabant, Coudenhove came from a diverse family, and his exceptional education taught him to look at European problems through a broader transnational context.

His first and foremost interest in European integration was, of course, establishing permanent and peaceful relations between the European nations. He advocated that Europe eliminate its national borders and establish conditions that would require peaceful and mutual cooperation absent of ethnic hatred and explosive nationalism. His second argument for European integration was the need to prevent economic and political catastrophes by creating a single economic zone based on a customs union and a common market. Coudenhove did not separate the economic dimension of European integration from the political one. He was convinced that both existed hand in hand; a common market could not exist without political integration.

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THE POLITICAL FOUNDATIONS OF EUROPEAN INTEGRATION

The enemies of Mr. Europe were firstly Nationalists and then Communists who were willing, in the name of their power ambitions, to ignore any and all human freedoms--including the right to a free market. According to Coudenhove, European integration was primarily a political concern which was based on the results of autonomous economic processes. While his goals were political, they were predicated on the realization of certain economic steps. After the First World War, Coudenhove sought to speed up the process by associating political integration with democratic rhetoric. He consequently turned towards the European leaders of the time--Masaryk, Benes, Briand, Stresseman, etc., to convince these democratically elected representatives to support his ideas. These efforts later resulted in the Briandov Initiative.

Coudenhove emphasized the urgency of European integration and sought to sway over as broad a cross-section of the European population as possible. A significant portion of his efforts went into building a pan-European movement in Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, France, Germany, and elsewhere. He also suggested that the European states create a constitution and adopt European symbols like an anthem and flag in order to create, as he called it, European patriotism.

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His dedicated undertakings ended with Adolf Hitler's ascension to power. In contrast to Coudenhove, Hitler abhorred the thought of European integration and labeled it as racially dangerous. The war forced Coudenhove to immigrate to the United States where he continued his propaganda in the post-war period. At this time, American interest in European integration began to grow, especially after the country's entry into the war in 1941. …

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The Prevailing Roots of European Integration: The European Union, Which Today Has a Myriad of Faults, Has Gone through Rough Times and Will Go through More. and Yet It Still Stands on Its Founding Principles
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