The idea of a united Europe is not an idea of the last 60 years. It appears in various guises during a much longer period of history. The era of the Enlightenment provides it with underpinnings of shared values. It comes dramatically to the fore in the aftermath of bloody wars. It is characteristically projected as an ideal of peace.
The European idea began to flourish in the first decades of the 19th century. As early as 1814, following the defeat of Napoleon, Saint Simon advocated a European federation, with an emphasis on the rights of the peoples. In 1817 Murard launched the Journal Européen in Bern. It was during this same period that Ioannis Capodistrias was speaking of a “common European fatherland”. The peace-loving and democratic character of his views are abundantly evident in the following extract from a speech he delivered at an international conference in 1820: “We should opt only for the rational ascendancy of liberal and democratic ideas, respect for the rights of small peoples and not a return to old and bygone institutions of violence if we wish to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation among the peoples of Europe.”
Ideas such as these are not just formulated by brilliant minds but are also taken up by social movements, always in terms of the realities of the time The idea of a United States of Europe spreads under the banner of the struggle for peace and counts among its enthusiastic supporters leading figures such as Victor Hugo. “But very soon – writes Marc Ferro – nationalism began to override European internationalism”. It was therefore the newly-born labour movement that re-invigorated the European idea, connecting it with the idea of socialism.
In the 20th century Europe was the central theatre of two world wars, whose tragic consequences strengthened the idea of European unification among the peoples of our continent. Two examples testify to this: a) Aristide Briand’s memorandum of 1930 to the League of Nations on organization of a Regime of European Federal Union, and b) the Ventotene Manifesto for a “Free and United Europe” by the Italian anti-fascist Altiero Spinelli in 1941, when he was a prisoner of the fascist regime of Mussolini.
After the Second World War came the Cold War, in which the European idea was chosen by conservative politicians as a counterweight to the “Soviet threat”. This was one of the key motives behind the creation of the EEC in 1957. Nevertheless, in time there developed a dynamic of differentiation from the USA, particularly during the 80s, when Europe risked becoming “Euroshima” through the American doctrine of “limited nuclear war”. Europeanism thus came into confrontation with Euro-atlanticism, with strengthened support “from below”, from a wide spectrum of movements. At this point it is worth making a specific reference to the anti-nuclear and ecological movements, who proceeded to implement pan-European forms of collaboration, putting forward ideas on European security based on the notion of transcending the Cold-War division of Europe.
During the same period considerable movement was also being noted at the institutional level: 1979 saw the first directly-elected European Parliament, which demanded real powers. Altiero Spinelli, who had become a European parliamentarian after serving as a European Commissioner between 1970 and 1976, had new opportunities to promote his ideas. He thought that the European Parliament should function as a Constituent Assembly. A Federalist from the inter-war period, when he was for ten years a prisoner of the fascist regime in Italy, he judged the time right to submit a proposal for a European Constitution, which was adopted on 14th February 1984 with a large majority.
The resonance of Spinelli’s ideas became greater with the passage of time as the Cold War began to taper off, with its end in 1989 creating new openings for pan-European collaboration. Unfortunately the hopes of a Europe of peace, independent of the United States, based on common development and relations of solidarity with other continents and in particular with the “Third World”, were not fulfilled.
Developments after 1991, with the Gulf War and the Yugoslav crisis, damaged the idea of a United Europe, strengthening the Euro-atlanticists, with neo-liberal policies coming to prevail in the European Union. The new state of affairs was formalized in the European Constitutional Treaty signed in Rome in 2004. This treaty, which was also called “The European Constitution” and faced intense criticism as a neo-liberal blueprint very remote from the needs of citizens, came to grief with the referenda in France and Holland in 2005. Its place was taken by the Treaty of Lisbon, with more or less the same content, which was then rejected by the citizens of Ireland in the only referendum that took place among the member countries.
The ensuing crisis in the manner of proceeding with European unification has continued unabated to this day and is intensifying. Above all it is a crisis of democratic legitimacy, and it is being aggravated by the problems that the European societies themselves are facing.
Today’s world, the world of the 21st century, is very different from that of the 20th century. “Above all it is no longer Eurocentric”. To quote the great historian Eric Hobsbawm. Nor is it going to be American, as the neo-conservative inspirers of the catastrophic policies of the Bush presidency believed it would be. Already developments are to be noted that point towards a multipolar world. Not only the economic but also the political hegemony of the United States in the world is being vehemently challenged today, following the unprecedented financial crisis that broke out in the heart of neo-liberalism and is spreading all over the world. It is hard to predict what the new American president Barack Obama is likely to do. Part of his victory is owed to “the other America”, and above all else it is up to him to divest himself of the role of “ruler of the world”, at a time when international co-operation has become a dire necessity.
Are we moving into a POST-Cold War world? How will the European integration process respond to the new, and very great, challenges? In my view, a new course is urgently needed. Certainly not in the direction of rejecting unification but rather promoting it on the basis of democracy, social cohesion, peace and multi-dimensional security. With other policies and a new constitutional treaty that will emerge out of direct participation of the peoples and of citizens. The ideas of Ioannis Capodistrias and Altiero Spinelli are more relevant than ever.
Alternative policies, profound changes and reversals at the European level are relevant not only for the EU but for all of our continent. Pan-European collaboration must be instituted, based on a new relationship between the EU and Russia, to avert the new divisions of our continent that are being generated by the expansion of NATO and the “Missile Defense” project. There can be no future for a Fortress Europe. On the contrary the requirement is for a Europe in solidarity with the “Third World”. Also, the creation of a pan-European system of multi-dimensional security – economic, political, ecological, human – in which there will be a role for the “diplomacy of social movements and of citizens”.