Before becoming a real political objective, the idea of uniting Europe was just a dream in the minds of philosophers and visionaries. Victor Hugo, for example, imagined a peaceful ‘United States of Europe’ inspired by humanistic ideals. The dream was shattered by the terrible wars that ravaged the continen during the first half of the 20th century.
However, a new kind of hope emerged from the rubble of the Second World War. People who had resisted totalitarianism during the war were determined to put an end to international hatred and rivalry in Europe and create the conditions for lasting peace. Between 1945 and 1950, a handful of courageous statesmen including Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi and Winston Churchill set about persuading their peoples to enter a new era. New structures would be created in western Europe, based on shared interests and founded upon treaties guaranteeing the rule of law and equality between all countries. Robert Schuman (French Foreign Minister) took up an idea originally conceived by Jean Monnet and, on 9 May 1950, proposed establishing a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). In countries which had once fought each other, the production of coal and steel would be pooled under a common High Authority. In a practical but also richly symbolic way, the raw materials of war were being turned into instruments of reconciliation and peace.
The European Union encouraged German unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. When the Soviet empire crumbled in 1991, the countries o central and eastern Europe, which had for decades endured life behind the ‘iro curtain’, were once again free to choose their own destiny. Many decided that their future lay within the family of democratic European nations. Eight of them joined the EU in 2004, and two more followed in 2007.
The process of EU enlargement is still going on. Entry negotiations began with Turkey and Croatia in 2005. Iceland applied in 2009 and several countries in the Balkans have set out along the road that could one day lead to EU membership.
Europe in the 21st century still faces security issues. The EU has to take effective action to ensure the security of its member states. It has to wor constructively with the regions just beyond its borders: the Balkans, North Africa the Caucasus and the Middle East. It must also protect its military and strategic interests by working with its allies, especially within NATO, and by developing a genuine common European security and defence policy.
Internal and external security are two sides of the same coin. The figh against terrorism and organised crime requires the police forces of all E countries to work together closely. Making the EU an ‘area of freedom, security and justice’ where everyone has equal access to justice and is equally protected by the law is a new challenge that requires close cooperation between governments. Bodies like Europol, the European Police Office and Eurojust (which promotes cooperation between prosecutors, judges and police officers in different EU countries) also have to play an active and effective role.
The European Union was created to achieve political goals, and it set about achieving them through economic cooperation. European countries account for an ever smaller percentage of the world’s population. They must therefore continue pulling together if they are to ensure economic growth and be able to compete on the world stage with other major economies. No individual EU country is strong enough to go it alone in world trade.
To achieve economies of scale and find new customers, European companies need a broader base than just their national home market, and the European single market provides it. To ensure that as many people as possible benefit from this Europe-wide market of 500 million consumers, the EU is endeavouring to remove obstacles to trade and is working to free businesses from unnecessary red tape.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 led to a gradual breaking down of old divisions across the continent of Europe.
Europe’s post-industrial societies are becoming increasingly complex. Standards of living have risen steadily, but there are still significant gaps between rich and poor. These gaps may be widened by factors such as economic recession industrial relocation, the ageing of the population and problems with public finances. It is important for EU countries to work together to tackle these problems.
But working together does not mean erasing the distinct cultural and linguistic identity of individual countries. On the contrary, many EU activities help promote regional specialities and the rich diversity of Europe’s traditions and cultures.
In the long run, all EU countries benefit. Sixty years of European integration has shown that the EU as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It has much more economic, social, technological, commercial and political clout than if its member states had to act individually. There is added value in acting together and speaking with a single voice.