Université Catholique de Louvain
Fifty years after the beginning of economic and political reconstruction following the Second World War, Europe sometimes looks like a peculiar cocktail mix—the ingredients of which are Europe’s huge resource potential and relative decline in its ability to exploit this same potential. But it is important to recall that right from its origin up to and including the most recent summits, many have viewed European integration with great scepticism.
In the years prior to the signing of the Single European Act, in February 1986, few observers anticipated anything other than stagnation or even decay. For example, the cover of The Economist on 20 March 1982, showed a tombstone with the words ‘EEC born March 25th, 1957, moribund March 25, 1982, capax imperii nisi imperasset (it seemed capable of power until it tried to wield it)’.
Today the European Union is immersed in another critical transition period in its history. New uncertainties have emerged, including Europe’s high level of structural unemployment, its very complex and difficult process of enlargement, new institutional temptations in the name of subsidiarity or proportionality which could conceivably lead to ‘renationalization’ of parts of the Community ‘acquis’ plus the difficulties of 15 member states agreeing in the Intergovernmental Conference to more efficient institutions, rules and procedures. Dovetailed with this are the great challenges of Economic and Monetary Union and settling the future financing of the European Union for the twenty-first century—adding further layers of complexity.
Should we be surprised by this situation? Not really. The genius of those who invented Europe in the 1950s, Monnet, Schuman, Spaak, Adenauer, was precisely to search for a new European model of society based on a broader and deeper community among peoples, and for institutions that should give direction to a destiny henceforward shared. But they also sought practical policy achievements to create real solidarity among European peoples and so establish common bases for future economic development. This approach was already explicit in the Preamble to the Treaty of Paris creating the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951.
Taking these considerations into account means that to understand the European process of integration, it is necessary to adopt a broad approach, including a historical perspective as well as an evaluation of the main European institutions and policies. It also requires an approach covering both the economics and the politics of the European Union, the internal problems and, of course, Europe’s external relations as well.