This is the text of a lecture I gave last October at Cornell University. It is published here on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome (25 March 1957)
In the history of Europe the idea of integrating policies on a pan-European level – in other words the idea of European political integration – is a fairly recent phenomenon. In Europe the word “Europe” has now become almost a synonym of the term European Union. Originally the term Europe stood for a cultural concept. There was a defined European identity and even a feeling of European unity, but it was a cultural unity.
During the Middle Ages, a sense of common allegiance had grown among the citizens or subjects of the different political entities on the European continent. This allegiance transcended the limits of their own village, city, region and state, and encompassed other people living on, and even beyond, the continent. This sense of the larger cultural European community was defined by “Christendom.”
The latter was the common denominator for the civilization of all the cultures influenced by the religion of Christianity and by Judaeo-Christian ethics. The United States, colonized by Europeans, belonged to this European civilization as fully as the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden or Poland.
In the late 18th century the cultural concept of “Christendom” or “Europe” unraveled. After the French Revolution it was replaced by the geographical concept of “Europe.” The latter concept excluded the U.S. In a sense the old cultural concept of Christendom lived on across the Atlantic. This is why I often argue that America is more genuinely, I mean traditionally, European than Europe.
North America was colonised by freedom-loving people who brought the political institutions and traditions from Europe to a new continent across the sea. Many of them left Europe because they wanted the freedom to live according to their own conscience instead of having to submit to the centralist absolutist rulers of the new age that swept across Europe from the 16th century onwards. Their traditions were rooted in the late Middle Ages and the Aristotelian philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Europe’s Middle Ages had been characterised by an absence of central power, while the citizen was bound to multiple legal systems, such as the legal order of his city, that of the land, that of his guild, that of the church. There was not one monopolistic ruler, as in China or in the Muslim world, but there were many, which guaranteed greater freedom for the individual. The philosophy of Aquinas, moreover, was centered on the individual. God had called man to be free from sin, but in order to be free from sin he had to be virtuous, and in order for virtue to have any value it had to be voluntary, implying that the virtuous man had to be free in every aspect of his life including, as Aquinas’ followers later pointed out, his economic activities. The powers of the state had to be limited.
America still stands for this older type of Europe, as do some pockets of the remaining old mediaeval political order on the continent, such as Switzerland and, to a certain extent, England. When the Americans rebelled in 1776 they rebelled against absolutism in order to keep their old freedoms. Theirs was a conservative revolution.
Europe had its own series of revolutions from 1789 onwards, but these were revolutions of a different sort. Along with the ruling absolutists they toppled all the remnants of the old political order, to replace them by absolutists of an even extremer form: totalitarians. These totalitarians were not satisfied with controlling their subjects’ political and economic lives but also wished to control their minds and souls, in other words to become their god.
Here lies the origin of the European disease, which arose from the loss of faith in the Judaeo-Christian God and the Judaeo-Christian moral legacy, and an increasing reliance on the State as the source of order, authority and legitimacy. After causing two world wars this disease culminated in the creation of the European Union as a superstate, the God to absorb all gods, with a nihilistic and atheist agenda that was finally exposed in the recent and (so far unadopted) European Constitution.
The French Revolution changed the way Europeans looked upon Europe. One of its consequences was the antagonism that grew between Europe and Britain, which so far had always been considered a part of Europe. Owing to its Atlantic position, Britain remained attached to centers of European civilization outside the geographical entity of Europe and hence, from the viewpoint of continental Europe, came to be perceived as not really “European” anymore.
In 1799 the German romantic poet Novalis wrote the first pamphlet advocating European unity. His essay “Die Christenheit oder Europa” (“Christendom or Europe”) was a somewhat ambivalent document. Novalis, whose real name was baron Friedrich von Hardenberg, dreamt of a universal political utopia. This is something he had in common with the French revolutionaries. But Christendom was still at the center of the thinking of this young aristocrat. His essay depicted the history of the European continent as a threefold process of unity, disintegration, and new unity.
Novalis thought that since the first unity had been a unity under Christianity, the new unity should also be a unity under Christianity. In this respect he was utterly mistaken. The European political unification process became a child of the French Revolution. It was thoroughly secular, not an attempt to preserve old liberties against the state, as the American Revolution, or the British Glorious Revolution of 1688, had been, but an attempt to create a new and perfect society, inhabited by a new and perfect man.
This new man would enjoy liberties, too, but these were liberties bestowed upon him by the state. The French Revolution replaced the almighty and benevolent God of Christendom, who had given man inalienable liberties, by the almighty and benevolent state, which was to take care of man and nurture him from the cradle to the grave. The French revolutionaries wanted to dismantle society and have the state rebuild it for the citizens’ own good.
The French revolutionaries were driven by what Friedrich Hayek has called a “constructivist” mentality. Whereas Novalis and his 20th century Christian-Democrat Europhile followers of the federalist Pan-Europa Movement, such as Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and Archduke Otto von Habsburg, were dreamers, the French revolutionaries were planners. They wanted to construct a new society, a new Europe, along the lines of rationalist plans, working towards a goal which the social engineers had decided beforehand would be good for the people, even if the latter did not think so – in which case one would have to impose it upon them. The French revolutionary mentality was – and is – by nature undemocratic.
At this stage the term “Europe” no longer meant Christendom, but Enlightenment, or National-Socialism, or Communism, or welfare statism. “Europe” became the rallying cry, first of Napoleon and then of Hitler, when they tried to expand the new political order which they had achieved at a national level across an entire continent. Both dictators recruited troops from other countries to fight in Russia by telling them that they were defending “Europe”. Both Napoleon’s and Hitler’s attempts at European unification ended in military collapse. However, if these dictators had won their wars, European political unification would have been achieved, either in 1815 under French or in 1945 under German leadership. Britain fought to counter both unification attempts. Russia fought them, too, but only after first having allied itself with Napoleon and Hitler until the latter were so foolish as to invade Russia in their attempts to expand “Europe” into Asia.
Today we are witnessing the third attempt at European political unification. It is tempting to interpret it as a joint Franco-German initiative to subjugate Europe after France and Germany had come to realize that they could not do so on their own. Of course, there is also the more idealistic, Christian-Democratic, interpretation – the Novalis interpretation, so to speak – which holds that European unification, with France and Germany integrating, is the only way to prevent another Franco-German war.
No matter how one interprets it, however, the Franco-German alliance is the engine of the European unification process. It is also true that most of the politicians driving this engine are deeply influenced by the mentality of the French revolutionaries. Their ideology is secularist, universalist and constructivist. They are rationalist technocrats who deeply believe that the state is the legitimate bestower of liberties to the people and is to take care of the citizens from the cradle to the grave. They also believe that they know better than the people what is good for the people. Most of them are genuinely convinced that they are leading the Europeans to a perfect democracy. And, paradoxically, because they genuinely believe this, they cannot tolerate that the people at this very moment decide democratically about their own future.
Like the two previous attempts to politically unify Europe, the third attempt is utterly undemocratic. The former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was the chairman of the European Convention which drafted the European Constitution that was rejected by the French and Dutch voters in referendums in May and June 2005. In a lecture at the London School of Economics on 28 February 2006 he declared that the “rejection of the Constitution [by the French and Dutch voters] was a mistake which will have to be corrected.” Referring to earlier EU referendums on the Maastricht and Nice treaties where Ireland and Denmark were forced to vote over and over again until they accepted the texts imposed by the EU, he said that “if the Irish and the Danes can vote yes in the end, so can the French [and the Dutch].” “The Constitution will have to be given a second chance,” he added, because the electorate had voted no out of an “error of judgement” and “ignorance.” He made it quite clear that “It was a mistake to use the referendum process, but when you make a mistake you can correct it.” He also predicted that the Constitution would be a stepping stone to further integration later, arguing that “adoption of the Constitution will not be enough to complete Europe’s political union,” and that the Constitution is for this generation, but for the next generation “there will be something else.”
Giscard was the chairman of the Convention which drafted the European Constitution. He had two vice-chairmen: Jean-Luc Dehaene, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, and Giuliano Amato, the former Prime Minister of Italy. Dehaene told The Irish Times (2 June 2004): “We know that nine out of ten people will not have read the Constitution and will vote on the basis of what politicians and journalists say. More than that, if the answer is No, the vote will probably have to be done again, because it absolutely has to be Yes.” Amato told the Italian paper La Stampa on 13 July 2000: “In Europe one needs to act ‘as if’ – as if what was wanted was little, in order to obtain much, as if States were to remain sovereign to convince them to concede sovereignty. The Commission in Brussels, for example, should act as if it were a technical instrument, in order to be able to be treated as a government. And so on by disguise and subterfuge.” In june 2005 Giscard told The New York Times that it is a “mistake” to ask the European electorate’s opinion about the Constitution because “it is not possible for anyone to understand the full text.”
The former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky has predicted that the Europeans will end up with an EU dictatorship, an “EUSSR.” “It is no accident,” he said, “that the European Parliament reminds me of the Supreme Soviet. It looks like the Supreme Soviet because it was designed like it. Similary, when you look at the European Commission it looks like the Soviet Politburo. I mean it does so exactly, except for the fact that the Commission now has 25 members and the Politburo usually had 13 or 15 members. Apart from that they are exactly the same, unaccountable to anyone, not directly elected by anyone at all. When you look into all this bizarre activity of the European Union with its 80,000 pages of regulations it looks like Gosplan. We used to have an organisation which was planning everything in the economy, to the last nut and bolt, five years in advance. Exactly the same thing is happening in the EU.”
Unlike the two previous attempts at European unification, which were attempts by military means, the third attempt is an attempt by economic means. The roots of the present European Union are the European Economic Community (EEC), which was established on 25 March 1957 by the Treaty of Rome, and which explicitly states that the aim is to foster “an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe.”
Economic integration has to lead to political union. Economic activities, however, cannot result in a predetermined political goal without enforcing strict economic controls and centralist planning. The controlling and planning body of the EU is the European Commission, which is based in Brussels. The commissioners are not elected and are unaccountable. This is not just an historical accident, as some might think, a flaw that needs improving. No, it is a deliberate democratic deficit built in as a structural part of the EU. An unelected and unaccountable structure makes it easier to impose centrally-driven change on a society. It is interesting to note that in 1950 the British Labour government of Prime Minister Clement Attlee rejected an invitation to join the negotiations for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) for exactly this reason. The ECSC, finally agreed by the Treaty of Paris in April 1951, is the direct precursor of the European Economic Community (EEC, established in 1957), which in turn is the direct precursor of the European Union (established in 1992). Attlee brought up the issue of the accountability of European institutions 56 years ago when he told the British Parliament: “We on this side are not prepared to accept the principle that the most vital economic forces of the country should be handed over to an authority that is utterly undemocratic and responsible to nobody.”
As the British professor Jeremy Black writes in his study The European Question and the National Interest: “Accountability was related to the issue of national decision-making. Having nationalized the [coal and steel] industries, Labour did not wish to transfer control to a predominantly non-Socialist, and certainly undemocratic, European organization […]. For France, in contrast, modernization of the economy required not nationalizations but planned co-operation with Germany in the key sectors of coal and steel.”
The European Commission is based in Brussels. This is not without significance because Brussels is also the capital of Belgium. Belgium is a country which is inhabited by three nations: Dutch-speaking Flemings, French-speaking Walloons and a minority of Germans. It is often seen as a prototype for a European state, encompassing different nations. The country is an artificial construct which originated in 1830 after a revolution led by Frenchmen separated it from the Netherlands. The French revolutionaries wanted to annex the Belgian provinces to France. When the international powers vetoed this the revolutionaries found themselves with an independent multinational country for which they had to find a raison d’etre. In the late 19th century the Belgian establishment developed the ideology of “Belgicism.” This “Belgicism” bears a striking similarity to contemporary “Europeanism.” Just listen to what the Belgicist ideologue Léon Hennebicq, a Brussels lawyer, wrote 102 years ago, in 1904:
“Have we not been called the laboratory of Europe? Indeed, we are a nation under construction. The problem of economic expansion is duplicated perfectly here by the problem of constructing a nationality. Two different languages, different classes without cohesion, a parochial mentality, an adherence to local communities that borders on the most harmful egotism, these are all elements of disunion. Luckily they can be reconciled. The solution is economic expansion, which can make us stronger by uniting us.”
Hennebicq’s words foreshadow the Europeanist project of the 1950s which aimed for political unification through economic integration. After a few unsuccesful attempts at nation-building the Belgicists tried to foster a Belgian nationality by imposing an undemocratic social-corporatist welfare system on the country. In this system the adherence of the Belgians – at least a sufficient segment of them – to their artificial state was literally bought. Since 1919 economic and social policies in Belgium are no longer decided in parliament, but in a consensus between the so-called “Social Partners.” These Social Partners include the Federation of Belgian Employers, which is the official representative of the employers versus the state, and three specific trade unions (a Christian-Democrat, a Socialist and a Liberal one), which are recognised by the state as the only official representatives of the employees. Economic and social policies are decided in a tripartite consensus between the government and the employers’ and employees’ federations, rather than in Parliament. The management of the entire welfare state has been delegated to the Social Partners.
This concept has now been copied by the European institutions. In the EU, too, policies are decided not in Parliament but by the Commission, usually in consultation with officialised employers’ federations and trade unions. Article I-48 of the European Constitution, titled “The social partners and autonomous social dialogue,” states: “The Union recognises and promotes the role of the social partners at its level, [...]. The Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment shall contribute to social dialogue.” The individual EU members states are copying this model on their own national level as well. French president Jacques Chirac proposed on 10 October 2006 that all future labour law reforms be preceded by obligatory negotiations with the “social partners.”
Already at a very early stage, it dawned on the Belgicists that they could as easily apply their state-building experiment to Europe. In the 1930s the idea of transplanting Belgicism to the European level, by creating a unified pan-European corporatist welfare state, was worked out by Henri De Man, the leader of the Belgian Socialist Party, and by his deputy Paul-Henri Spaak, the Belgian Prime Minister. De Man was a technocrat and a self-declared “plannist.” He knew that Belgium, being an artificial construct, did not really exist as a nation. The Belgian state was no more than the corporatist welfare system run by the “social partners.” All that being a Belgian nationalist meant was that one was attached to the Belgian welfare state. In an interview in February 1937 De Man said that the Belgian model could – and should – eventually be replaced by a pan-European or even a global welfare system. “I insist on being a good European, a good world citizen, as much as on being a good Belgian,” he said. De Man reckoned that if one had to live in an artificial welfare state, it would be better to live in one on as large a scale as possible. The Belgian model had to be applied at a European level.
When Hitler invaded Belgium and France in May 1940, Henri De Man saw this as a unique opportunity to establish a united Europe. He asked his followers not to oppose the German victory because “far from being a disaster, it is a deliverance. The Socialist Order will thereby be established, as the common good, in the name of a national solidarity that will soon be continental, if not world-wide.” In a speech on 20 April 1941, De Man stressed that it was necessary to “transform Belgium, not abandon it”, through “an Anschluss to Europe.” What was needed, he added, “was as much federalism and as little separatism as possible,” so that “Belgium, exactly because it is not based on a unique national sentiment, can become the vanguard of the European Revolution, the principle on which the new European Order hinges.”
De Man’s deputy, Paul-Henri Spaak, who had fled to France in May 1940, tried to return to Belgium during the Summer, but was not allowed in by the Germans. Hence, against his wishes he ended up in Britain. At the time he deplored this. Later it would turn out to have been his good fortune. Otherwise, like De Man, he would have ended up as a Nazi collaborator. Instead, Spaak survived the war on the winning side.
Henri De Man is now forgotten by history. His political legacy, however, is very much alive thanks to his pupil Spaak. The latter remained loyal to De Man’s vision of Belgium as a multi-national social-corporatist welfare state that was to be elevated to the European level. Spaak became one of the Founding Fathers of the European Union. Though he was an arch-opportunist, with few loyalties, he did not betray De Man’s dream of one single European welfare state. According to Spaak’s 1969 memoirs, De Man was “one of those rare men who on some occasions have given me the sensation of a genius.”
In 1956, Spaak authored the so-called Spaak Report which laid the foundation of the Treaty of Rome the following year. It recommended the creation of a European Common Market as a step towards political unification. From the beginning the views which the ordinary people might hold about all this was deemed unimportant. In his memoirs Spaak admits that “political opinion was indifferent. The work was done by a minority who knew what they wanted.” The Treaty of Rome of 25 March 1957 established the EEC, which explicitly states that the aim is to foster “an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe.”
Though Spaak belonged to “the minority who knew what they wanted” and hence were able to inscribe their goals in the EEC’s founding charter, in its early years the EEC itself constituted a compromise between the European constructivist planners and the Christian-Democrat dreamers who were close to the federalist Pan-Europa Movement, like the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. As a consequence the Treaty of Rome became a document which was inspired by an undemocratic, constructivist, centralizing spirit, and was packed in the language of federalism. As the spirit rather than the words ultimately decided the character of the European institutions, terms like federalism and democracy came to mean for Europeans exactly the opposite of what they originally meant – and still mean in America. For Europeans federalism has become a synonym of centralization rather than local autonomy, and democracy does not mean that the people decide, but that they vote the way they are told to.
From the beginning there were perceptive politicians who did not like this. I have already mentioned the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, a Socialist but a democrat. Another example is the German Christian-Democrat Ludwig Erhard, a Christian-Democrat but a realist as well as a free-marketeer. Erhard, the architect of the German economic miracle of the 1950s – the Wirtschaftswunder, was Germany’s minister of Economics at the time of the Rome Treaty. He preferred the British idea of an International Free Trade Area (EFTA), which was also proposed in 1957. EFTA was deliberately restricted to commercial matters. Erhard was, however, overruled by Adenauer. The latter not only believed that France and Germany should be politically integrated in order to avoid future wars between the two nations, but he was also persuaded by the French President Charles De Gaulle. The French were of the opinion that the EEC – and in particular Germany’s economic strength – would add to their political clout versus “les Anglo-Saxons” – the non-“European” British and Americans.
It is interesting to note that, from the start, the United States also favoured the European unification project and even Britain’s membership of it. Partly because some in Washington also seemed to believe that without unification the Europeans were bound to wage war on each other again, and partly to shift Britain from being an imperial power to being the voice of American interests in Europe. The naivety of Washington is obvious in their ardent support of the Socialist Spaak, despite the fact that one of the reasons why the Belgian Prime Minister, and the French for that matter, was aiming for a European superstate was his hope that such a state might sooner or later become a global competitor of the United States.
While the Canadian ambassador to Belgium in 1948 noted “Spaak’s well-known friendly attitude towards Russia” the State Department in Washington supposed, as in internal memo of February 1949 indicates, that Spaak was hesitating between an Atlantic Europe and Europe as a third power between the USSR and the US because America did not sufficiently stimulate European unification. Hence Washington decided to support fully Spaak’s leadership of the European movement. In May 1957, two months after his victory in Rome, the Americans made Spaak Secretary-General of NATO, which, according to Gaston Eyskens, who succeeded him as Belgian Prime Minister, he wished to transform from a military into a political and economic organization as well. To his frustration, he did not succeed.
After the Rome Treaty the EEC gradually evolved into the European Union of today, growing from its six original members to the present 27. In 1961 Harold Macmillan, the Conservative British Prime Minister applied to join the organisation. Not only had he been encouraged by the Americans to do so, but Macmillan also genuinely liked the idea. Macmillan resembled the continental European Christian-Democrats. He was a corporatist, who in the 1930s had called for state intervention and showed support for French-style government economic planning and regulation.
De Gaulle, however, vetoed British entry because he feared it would diminish France’s political leadership of the EEC. Britain was not allowed to join until 1973, after De Gaulle had been succeeded by Georges Pompidou, who was concerned about growing German strength. All this goes to show that well into the 1970s the interests of the nation states, and in particular French interests, still came first within the EEC. At De Gaulle’s instigation the so-called “Luxemburg Compromise” in 1966 had formally recognized the right of each individual member to veto any Community action whenever it considered a “vital interest” threatened.
As the original six EEC members – Belgium, France, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and West Germany – were joined by Denmark, Great Britain and Ireland in 1973, Greece in 1981, and Portugal and Spain in 1986, the “Luxemburg Compromise” seriously hampered decision-making. The more members, the greater the probability of vetos, and the more difficult supranational cooperation became. By 1985 the European Community was in a deep constitutional crisis.
Within a year, however, the “Single European Act” was passed. It abolished the unilateral veto of the member states in a number of important fields and incorporated greater use of a weighted voting system. This was to a large extent the work of Jacques Delors, the president of the European Commission. As soon as he became the EEC’s chief executive in 1985, Delors, a French Socialist who had been influenced by Christian-Democrat corporatism, started to improve the EEC’s institutional mechanisms so that supranational integration would proceed smoothly and quickly. Socialist parties, which until then had often objected to limiting the powers of the national welfare state, now backed Delors in his plans to limit the national state in favor of the Brussels’ institutions.
This change in attitude was brought about by a conjunction of circumstances. During the first two decades of its existence the EC, claiming in words to be a federalist free-market institution, was considered an enemy of socialism. By the 1980’s it had become clear to the Socialists that free market principles were in fact being eroded by a European Commission that wanted to plan economic activities.
Another important element which changed the Socialists’ attitude was the agenda of Delors as president of the Commission. One of Delors’ highest priorities was to give “Europe” what he called a “social dimension.” The Commission began to push forward a European Charter of Fundamental Social Rights. The French president Francois Mitterrand stressed that he was not prepared to lift restrictions on the free movement of capital if “Europe” did not get a Social Charter. The Dutchman Piet Dankert, the Socialist president of the European Parliament, said that “the EC in creating extra economic growth, brings in the money necessary for the social welfare state.”
The Delors Commission gave the impetus to the 1992 Treaty on European Union, signed in Maastricht, which formally created the EU. While the EEC had dealt primarily with economic issues, the European Union, or EU, dealt with politics in general. Every citizen of an EEC member state became a citizen of this European Union. The Maastricht Treaty also led to the creation of the euro, the common European currency. The euro was created not so much for its own monetary sake, but for political reasons because it would help advance the creation of a pan-European state. The euro was launched as physical banknotes and coins in 2002.
In 1995 three additional members – Austria, Sweden and Finland – joined the EU. In 2004 ten more members did so – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus. In 2007 Romania and Bulgaria joined as well. New states were added to the Union, many of them with frail democracies and legal traditions destroyed by communism, their post-communist economies often run by criminal or ex-communist networks. They all have to accept the so-called “acquis communautaire.” This is the already existing EU legislation, consisting of 170,000 pages of law, all of it irreversible.
The expanded membership requires institutional changes and new methods of internal decision making. These are to be provided by the Treaty of Nice, which was signed in December 2000 and which amended the treaties of Rome and Maastricht, and by the Treaty on the European Constitution, which was signed in October 2004. When the politicians ask the people for their approval of these treaties, the latter tend to reject them. They do so for various reasons, but they all distrust Brussels, and they feel strengthened in their distrust when they see the politicians disregard the popular verdict and continue their course towards the “ever closer union” which Spaak envisaged half a century ago. It has become a familiar pattern. Spaak would not have been surprised. The masses are ignorant, while it is only “a minority who know what they want” because they know better than the people what is good for them.
Vladimir Bukovsky likens the EU to “a shotgun marriage.” When the Danes voted against the Maastricht Treaty and the Irish against the Nice Treaty, they were made to vote again and again, until they approved the treaty with the slightest majority. Similarly, Giscard d’Estaing will force the French and the Dutch, who rejected the EU Constitution, to vote again and again until they correct “their mistake.” Meanwhile Brussels itself is destroying the democratic process – the process whereby mistakes are rectified. Perhaps this is the greatest mistake of all.