Monday, December 22, 2003

Before I start with this, my first contribution in what I hope will be a long ride, I would like to thank Tom and Kerry Dupont for the chance they have given me in expressing my views as a European. I hope I will be able to shed some light from “our” perspective on issues that are of concern to both Americans and Europeans.

As a European, I am a bit puzzled by the apparent sarcasm with which the nonconclusive EU Brussels summit of 12-13 Dec. was covered in American media. What was all the fuss about? Basically there were two main issues: the “agreeing on” of a first draft of a European Constitution as well as finally reaching a consensus on voting power between the 25 member states when, on May 1st 2004, 10 new countries will be joining the European Union.

I have often been musing that what the EU needs more than anything else is a good PR team. One that is able to clarify to the broad public the sense of this seemingly endless series of summits (Maastricht, Schengen, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Nice, you name it…) as well as the deeper, underlying meaning of there being something like a European Union at all. Americans don’t have to worry about being puzzled by “Europe”, its countless institutions, its trade wars with the US, its spawning out of a plethora of laws etc. etc… To most Europeans, and by this I mean indeed a vast majority of European citizens, the emerging supranational body leaves them just as clueless as Americans.

A brief historical sketch of how the EU became the EU is in its place:

a.) May 9th, 1950: Robert Schuman, France’s Foreign Minister, proposes establishing the ECCS, the European Community of Coal and Steel, with the aim of integrating the steel processing industries of six European countries: France, West-Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In 1951 through the Treaty of Paris the ECCS is a fact, it is the nucleus of what will become the EU.

b.) In 1958 the Treaty of Rome establishes the EEC, the European Economic Community, composed of the countries mentioned above. Its aim is the economic integration of its member states. Customs duties between them are abolished, there will be free movement of goods, persons, services and capital, as well as a common policy on labor, agriculture, social issues,
transport and trade.

The Treaty of Rome is also important because here already we see the emergence of a political dimension, as the EEC is provided with:

• a Council (some kind of advisory body)
• a Commission (the executive body)
• a Court of Justice
• a Court of Auditors
• a Parliament (Assembly)

c.) The EEC scores a major achievement in establishing common prices for agricultural products

d.) The Treaty of Brussels (1965) merges ECCS, EEC and Euratom in the European Community (EC).

e.) 1973: the EC expands with the UK, Ireland and Denmark joining.

f.) Greece joins the EC in 1981.

g.) Spain and Portugal join in 1986.

h.) The Single European Act of 1987 provides for a single internal market.

i.) A milestone is the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. Maastricht is of paramount importance because for the first time
the European Unity (EU), as the EC was renamed at the treaty, outspokenly vows for:

• establishing a single European currency
• a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
• a common military policy, to be implied by the WEU (West European Union, a till then sleeping
institution meant to coordinate military efforts by EC countries)

After Maastricht European citizens slowly begin to realize the European Community is a supranational economical AND political body which will have an increasingly important impact on their lives. The very notion of a “superstate in being” is becoming more and more apparent as the European Commission (the “EU’s “government”) and the European Parliament (the EU’s “House of Representatives”) start truly behaving like the executing and law issuing bodies of such a state.

j.) Austria, Sweden and Finland join the EU in 1995.

k.) The European Central Bank (ECB) is established in 1998, charged with preparing the issue of a single currency.

l.) In 2002 12 EU nations introduce this currency, called the euro. They thus form the European Monetary Union (EMU). Conditions to enter are embedded in the so-called Stability Pact (1996), which requires participating nations to reduce their budget deficit to 3% of their GDP as well as limiting their debt to 60% of their GDP.

It is important to understand the sheer magnitude of the administrative and legislative work involved with creating the EU as it is today, over the decades since WWII. For almost sixty years the world was in turmoil and news headlines were made by the Cold War, countless conflicts on all continents including the European continent, the demise of the colonial empires, the emergence of China and recently India as major international power brokers, economic crises, environmental problems, the Middle East etc. etc… During all this time European statesmen and visionaries silently laid the foundations of and started building a European superstate. Very likely in the beginning it was never meant to be that way but as more and more goals were accomplished and institutions established the vision of a single economical, political and (over the last decade) military union became a tempting goal at the horizon. While the world was watching the power politics of the US and the Soviet Union and hordes of brutal dictators worldwide got more attention than they deserved, European soft-spoken presidents, premiers and technocrats built up the infrastructure supporting the unified Europe. Since a lot of money was involved in building accommodation for the hundreds of representatives, the thousands of their staffs and cabinet members, aides etc. and the tens of thousands of the new “Eurocracy”, it was inevitable that scandals would emerge. Nevertheless, the building anger resulted in vast complexes and halls across its member states, but principally in Brussels, Belgium, where the European Parliament has its seat, as well as countless subordinated organs and institutions.

On the other hand, the EU’s maiden trip in trying to implement an effective common foreign policy when faced with the humanitarian disasters in the broken up Yugoslavia proved such a disaster that the US had to hurry to their help to break the stalemate.

So where has the European Union arrived today? And where is it heading to? (to be continued)

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