There Once Was a Dream That Was Europe

, by Gergely Kozar

There Once Was a Dream That Was Europe
fdecomite, CC BY 2.0 <> , via Wikimedia Commons

On the 9th of May, Europe Day, we commemorate the Schuman Declaration of 1950, which launched the modern European project and was followed shortly by the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, planting the seed of what would one day grow to be our European Union today. On this day it is worth looking back, paying our respects, and reflecting on the history and course of the project.

The Declaration

Robert Schuman was foreign minister of France when he issued what we now call the Schuman Declaration. In this declaration he emphasised in particular the need to resolve the historical enmity of France and Germany to attain lasting peace in Europe. The placing of coal and steel resources, necessary to fight any war, under a singular authority, would ensure that the two countries would be unable to go to war against one another again. At the same time, the gradual economic integration of these countries, along with others who would join them, would do away with the desire to do so. War between members would thus become “not merely unthinkable but materially impossible”.

However to see the Schuman Declaration merely for its immediate suggestions would be a grave disservice to our founders’ vision. The measures outlined are explicitly stated to be foundations and “the first step in the federation of Europe.”

“Europe will not be made,” says Schuman, “all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” This Schumanist vision for the European project is a pragmatic one, and the Union owes much of its success up until now to it. The Coal and Steel Community was not even the first attempt at integration post-WWII, that honour goes to the European Defence Community, which the French National Assembly failed to ratify and thus fell through. Economic integration was thus simply a practical step which could be taken at the time, as a first foundation.

That there is no “single plan” betrays a sort of opportunism to the process, taking advantage of the right occasions to make what progress can be made, rather than aiming for any one specific next step. It also suggests a certain trust in future generations, such as our generation, that when the time came we would do what needs to be done, that we would faithfully continue to build upon the foundations left to us by our forefathers, and that we would by ourselves make the right judgement calls on it even without an instruction manual from our founders.

The Dream

On Europe Day it is worth remembering, I think, not only Robert Schuman and his declaration. Schuman worked for example with Jean Monnet, French diplomat, who had already worked on a proposal for a new economic order in Europe at the Paris peace conference after WWI, sadly rejected. In Germany chancellor Konrad Adenauer may be lauded for his positive response to Schuman’s proposal and contribution to the project, or diplomat and eventual president of the Commission Walter Hallstein. Churchill too has his role in the European project, having pushed for the founding of the looser Council of Europe and called for a “United States of Europe”, even if he saw Britain’s role as one outside of such a union.

During the interwar era Kalergi’s International Paneuropean Union worked hard to popularise the idea of a European federation, in the 19th century Victor Hugo endorsed it, as did Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Europe. They were not the first either.

There have been many dreamers before, many of whom never saw even a glimpse of the European Union, some who warned about great wars which heedless of their warnings came to pass, others who never dared truly hope for better for fear of being disappointed. There are probably countless others who dreamt of better, but who never wrote any of it down and who are now forgotten to time.

The Future

Thanks to the efforts of those before us, we have the great privilege of being born into a world where the European Union already exists and our goals are closer than ever to being realised. It is difficult of course, and the situation may be precarious in countless ways which may call into question whether a Schumanist model of gradual integration has become outdated. But Schuman did not leave us an instruction manual. He did not tell us what struggles we would face or how to solve them. He trusted in us to figure it out.

Now we have the privilege to join a long line of dreamers, many of whom dedicated their lives and work to Europe. No longer a mere dream, we can now see it in reality, half formed and blurry around the edges perhaps, but our goal is now within sight. Whether it is to be our generation’s crowning achievement, or whether we too burn our lives out so that our children may see it through, to us is given the honour to continue the great work, to leave our mark on European history.

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