On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the time has come to give a new impetus to the European integration process.
When the great European adventure was launched, May 9th 1950, through the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), it was inspired above all by the need to establish a permanent peace, after so many deadly wars between European peoples.
The progress achieved since the Fifties is impressive: the European Union, founded by six States , now includes twenty-seven of them and it has reached a high degree of integration, especially in the legal and economic fields. It has powerfully contributed to anchoring democracy and spreading prosperity over the European continent.
The “Old Europe” has thus demonstrated that one can build a vast geopolitical entity other than by force; that through cooperation, exchange, negotiation and law, it is possible to transform a torn and exhausted area into a unified, democratic and prosperous one.
This experience gives the European Union a particular place in the world where so many powers still follow a more traditional conception of international relations.
The European Union, a great underestimated achievement
European citizens are not always aware, however, of this breakthrough and impressive “acquis” . Worse, many of them currently seem to stand off from the Union, unable to understand its purpose, finding it a distant, abstract and technocratic entity.
If the European Union thus appears remote to its citizens, it is because, although it was built for them, it was after all built without them, without their direct contribution being solicited other than in an occasional, superficial or folkloric way. This deficiency must be addressed and cured.
The European Union seems remote because most national politicians do not understand its mechanisms, find it difficult to explain them and continue to think and act as if it was still peripheral, while it has become central . Being unaccustomed to this reality, they do not share with their fellow nationals the analysis of the main stakes of the world and Europe, while the understanding of these issues is often a key condition in finding realistic solutions to national and local issues.
The world and Europeans need a stronger Europe
In a multi-polar world where big nations like China and India appear as tomorrow’s economic and political giants, Europe must imperatively strengthen its unity and cohesion if it wants to continue to play a major role.
The objective is not to seek power for the sake of power. One must go beyond this primary stage of geopolitical reflection in order to approach power as a mere means in the service of a greater ambition: the ambition that, through its economic and demographic strength, its intellectual influence and the quality of its social and environmental model, the European Union contribute to the resolution of the main problems confronting the planet, in the front rank of which are environmental disorders, poverty and violence, matters indeed closely linked.
It is therefore not a classic approach of power, but a responsible move based on the fact that all men are in the same boat, the Earth, and that we have to learn to manage it together, through the emergence of world governance over global issues.
How Europeans can be useful to the world
Many Europeans, though deeply devoted to their soil, their country, their language and their national culture, and justly patriotic, are aware that they are first and foremost citizens of the world.
They know that “l’équateur n’est plus qu’un anneau trop étroit” , that if the planet goes wrong, from an environmental, economic, political or social point of view, they will not be spared. They also understand that the individual nation to which they belong is not big enough to act alone while the European Union can, in many fields, bring the means to influence the process of things.
Because they have been able to conceive and realize this unique model in the history of the world – the European Union -, Europeans stand among the most mature and credible peoples, and also the best equipped, to participate in elaborating and promoting a new vision of the world, and put forward the combination of freedom, solidarity, initiative, innovation and concern for the future that the planet needs. They can – and must – thus play a major role in building a pacified world, prosperous but generous and respectful of the environment of men.
With this perspective in mind, the European Union appears not as an end in itself but as a tool for shaping a fairer world. First, it has been a laboratory, since 1950, of how to live together, to substitute cooperation and institutionalised negotiation to confrontation and, more recently, to encourage sustainable development, i.e. to search for a balance between economic performance, environmental protection and the human dimension, even though much remains to be done in this field. Second, its weight and importance allows it to effectively promote good practices in numerous areas of social and economic life.
Going further in European commitment
Having now transmitted its humanist values to Southern and Eastern Europe, the European Union should not only consolidate this achievement by working on a deeper economic, social and cultural cohesion between European peoples, but also look beyond its frontiers in order to participate actively in the emergence of a fairer, more balanced and more peaceful society worldwide.
That is what it tries to do through the combination of its Enlargement Policy, destined to certain close neighbours, its Neighbourhood Policy, which concerns the other European States as well as the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean countries, and its Development Policy oriented towards other areas of the world, especially Africa.
But in the case of the development of poor countries, the assistance of the European Union, although very significant, and the conditions of its implementation, are not up to the interest at stake, both in quantitative and methodological terms. The Development Policy should be revisited in its objectives and its modalities, then explained to the European citizens to make them understand its purpose, adopt it and fully commit themselves to it. This policy must also be implemented through modalities giving a larger role to local authorities which are more fit than national actors to contribute to concrete breakthroughs such as access to drinkable water, waste treatment, agriculture, education and economic initiative.
The European Citizen, prime mover of the renewal of the Union, and the necessary emergence of a European political area
The ambitious objectives presented above can be reached only if European Citizens are directly and fully involved, as such, in the consolidation and evolution of the European project. One must address them directly in order to debate about Europe and the key issues of the world, and to make them aware of the major role they can play in the contemporary history of humanity. No, the history of Europe is not over. No, Europe is not doomed to decline because China and India get access to power. On the contrary, its vocation is to light and pave the way, together with others, and to contribute to the elaboration of effective modes of world governance.
To that purpose, one has to work on the development of a European public opinion and the emergence of a European political area, complementary to the national political areas.
This conviction leads today to the creation of the Party of the Citizens of Europe (Parti des citoyens européens, AISBL), an environmental and social movement at European level which will bear the acronym “PACE” in reference to the vocation for peace that the founding fathers decided to confer upon the European project.
An environmental movement, in order to promote at European and global levels the protection of the environment, and contribute to the search for the technical solutions that will help restore harmony between economic growth and the protection of the planet.
A social movement, too, because Europe will only get stronger if its remains faithful to the values of progress, solidarity and justice to which the large majority of Europeans are attached, and which are so greatly needed by the rest of the world.
It is time for European Citizens to claim ownership of Europe, just as they conquered, in a recent or more ancient past, their national political spheres, refusing to leave them in the hands of the few, either aristocrats or apparatchiks.
A new generation of men and women must now arise
The launching and the initial success of the European integration were made possible by the conjunction of two factors: the maturity of the European public opinions, weary of recurrent wars, and the existence of far-seeing statesmen.
But these two factors no longer operate: public opinions seem blasé while stateswomen and statesmen capable of formulating and sharing a vision have not yet appeared. One searches in vain, today, for great voices in Europe.
Hence it is high time to address European citizens directly, so as to arouse their European consciousness and promote a new generation of men and women able to give a new impetus to our continent.
Brussels, May 9th 2007
Translated from French by Issam Taleb and Philippe Mazuel
Overall revision: Ms Ann GRIEVE