Visions of a unified European continent are as old as the political organization of the continent itself. Since the times of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, visionaries had called for some form of European unity. Pierre Dubois, a courtier of Phillip IV of France, called for a military confederation of European kingdoms to reconquer the Holy Land in 1306. Thomas Campanella proposed a European union for security and prosperity in 1620, while William Penn advocated a federated Europe in 1693. Over the next 250 years, the philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Claude-Henri Comte de Saint-Simon, Pierre-Joseph Prudhon, and José Ortega y Gasset all developed plans for the political and economic unification of Europe. So too did French writer Victor Hugo, Norwegian explorer Fritjof Nansen, and the Bohemian aristocrat Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, among many others. Nationalism, statism, and politics always triumphed over internationalism, however; it took the devastating effects of World War II to secure serious, concerted action toward this goal.
World War II, in large part, resulted from the fundamental inability of European states to achieve cooperation; as Frenchman and European visionary Jean Monnet put it, "Europe was not built, and we had war." At the same time, the war was the chief catalyst for cooperation, first among the governments-in-exile in London of a number of European states but also among national resistance movements opposing the Axis powers in many European states. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at least nominally a supporter of Coudenhove-Kalergi's 1923 plan for a "Pan-Europe," had called for a Franco-British union just before the French defeat of 1940. Altiero Spinelli (1907–1986), an Italian radical politician, convened the Movimento Federalista Europea (MFE, European Federalist Movement) in Geneva in July 1944 and became an outspoken proponent of European unity. While the sense of a need for cooperation among European states remained alive after World War II, the wartime unity of resistance forces proved to be fragile and nonenduring.
Nevertheless, a number of organizations were founded after the war with the goal of promoting European unity and some form of a supranational organization in Europe. Among the first was the United Europe Movement (UEM) in Great Britain, organized by Churchill and Duncan Sandys. In a speech in Zürich in 1946, Churchill again argued for a "United States of Europe." The UEM was primarily an Anglo-French organization designed to coordinate various national groups that advocated some form of European union. On 17 July 1947 the UEM convened the congress of the Committee for the Co-ordination of the European Movements in Paris. The congress, which included representatives from La Liga Europeenne de Cooperation Economique, l'Union Europeenne des Federalistes, and l'Union Parliamentaire Europeenne, met again in November 1947, this time as the Joint International Committee for European Unity. In May 1948, the organization convened the Congress of Europe at The Hague, the Netherlands.
The meeting was attended by some 800 delegates from sixteen West European states, including occupied Germany. The United States and several East European nations sent observers. Sandys was the official president of the congress, while Churchill served as an honorary president along with politicians Léon Blum of France, Alcide de Gasperi of Italy, and Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium. Anthony Eden of the United Kingdom and Paul von Zeeland of Belgium chaired most of the plenary sessions. The primary political debate concerned what form a unified Europe should take: a federation or a union of national governments.
The congress dealt not only with the political or economic organization of Europe but also with European cultural and social unity. The congress's cultural committee demanded a European charter of fundamental rights and advocated the creation of a European center for youth, education, and culture. The congress as a whole adopted a resolution stating that "unity, even in the midst of our national, ideological and religious differences, is to be found in the common heritage of Christian and other spiritual and cultural values and our common loyalty to the fundamental rights of man."
Although the Congress of Europe was not a resounding success, it did realize some of its goals. In October 1948, the Joint International Committee for European Unity changed its name to the European Movement (EM) and became a permanent organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Sandys now assumed the presidency of the organization, with the honorary presidents from the Congress of Europe continuing their roles as well. The European Center for Culture (ECC), the College of Europe, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and the Assembly of the Council of Europe were all established within a year after the congress, with the EM coordinating the work of several national committees for European unity. The ECC, located in Geneva, was the first of many think tanks established to create and express a common European identity. The Council of Europe was founded in May 1949 with the aim of creating a federal European union.
Since then, the EM has played an important role in European integration on the national and supranational levels. EM leaders have campaigned for direct elections to the European Parliament, assisted in the effort to create a European constitution, and worked in support of the Treaty of European Union. As of 2004, the EM was active in forty-one European nations and represented twenty international associations. José Maria Gil-Robles, a Spanish politician who had previously served as president of the European Parliament, chaired the EM.
Yet the role of the EM in the political and economic integration of Europe was limited. The British Labour government of Prime Minister Clement Attlee was wary of any Pan-European organization and offered only lukewarm support to the EM. Great Britain focused instead on its relationship with the Commonwealth and on fostering the so-called special relationship with the United States during the first twenty-five years of the Cold War. British leaders believed, by and large, that these relationships offered a security that a European union could not, and the aim of European federalists to create an entity that would, ultimately, compete with the United States—at least in economic terms—therefore tempered British enthusiasm for the project.
The interplay of politics and economics in the Cold War era was the most important driving force for European integration, particularly as the United States grew to see the importance of West European solidarity. When in 1947, for instance, the British government announced that it could no longer bear the costs of maintaining Greek democracy in the face of a rising communist insurgency, the United States responded with the Truman Doctrine, which pledged political (and financial) support for "free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The United States thereby confirmed its commitment to a free and capitalist Western Europe. However, this required the stability of West European governments, which in turn depended on success in rebuilding their war-torn economies.
European reconstruction thus became the primary focus of the United States, with European cooperation as the first building block. The 1947 Marshall Plan, which followed logically from the Truman Doctrine, explicitly called for coordination of activities between those states receiving U.S. financial assistance. This led directly to the creation of the Conference for European Economic Cooperation, which took permanent form in April 1948 as the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). Based in Paris, the OEEC's main function was to coordinate Marshall Plan aid, although it also acted as a clearinghouse for inter-European payments via the 1950 European Payments Union. Mainly because of British concerns, the OEEC acted only by unanimous decision. When that task came to an end, the OEEC was transformed into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1961. The OECD, operating largely through a council of ministers representing its member states, concentrated more on developing free and efficient markets in Europe as well as fostering continued growth and inter-European trade.
Both the OEEC and the OECD, because they acted more as regulatory bodies than governmental ones, had only limited effects on integration. The movement for European union went forward in other areas, however. The Benelux states (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) already had shown the possibilities for integration by creating a customs union on 1 January 1948. This was followed in May 1950 by a proposal, put forward by Maurice Shuman, the French state secretary for foreign affairs, to merge French and German steel and coal resources under a single authority in order to create a more efficient distribution network and resolve disputes over the resources. This proposal, known as the Schuman Plan, became the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in April 1951, with Italy and the Benelux nations joining the Franco-German organization.
This seemingly small step established several important principles and was the beginning of a long process of European economic integration that extended from the ECSC through the European Economic Community (EEC) of 1957, to the Treaty of Maastricht of 1991, and to the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999. With the ECSC, economic cooperation and Franco-German coordination were established as the basic tenets of integration. The organization brought Germany back into the European and international communities while still offering France security guarantees. With its intergovernmental council and supranational High Authority, the ECSC also offered a model for resolving international disputes. In addition, it demonstrated the utility of an incremental approach to integration, and the incorporation of Italy and the Benelux nations created a geographic core that was economically viable without the participation of either Great Britain or the United States. This step-by-step approach made it possible for European integration to survive even a major failure, such as the 1954 rejection of the European Defense Community (EDC).
The ECSC and the integration process it catalyzed were not without flaws, however. While some provisions of the ECSC treaty aimed at ensuring fair competition, the organization's main goals were defined largely by market results. This allowed governments to establish price controls, investment controls, and quantitative planning. In later years, these policies would result in serious imbalances in the coal and steel sectors. Even at the time, many economists—including Wilhelm Röpke and Friedrich August von Hayek—doubted the value of integrating specific sectors of the economy in fostering European integration.
With the elaboration of sectoral planning in national economies, especially in the French system of indicative planning ( planification), the conflict between planning and competition as guiding principles of the European integration process intensified. While French General Commissioner for Planning Étienne Hirsch envisioned the extension of French planning methods to a common market, for instance, West German economic minister Ludwig Erhard, a proponent of the social-market economy, warned that integration could not be achieved by administrative harmonization. He advocated abandoning the existing national regulations in favor of new European regulations. By and large, Erhard's ideas have prevailed. Macroeconomic planning has been largely discarded in Western Europe, while the market economy is enshrined in the European treaties. The degree of harmonization on the European level, however, has remained a contentious issue in the European Integration Movement.
The second sector to be integrated on a large scale was agriculture; its governing principles, defined by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), are a vivid example of this discord and one of the prime causes of Euro-skepticism (i.e., frustration with the integration process) during the 1970s. The CAP remains a major bone of contention to this day. As European economic integration moved forward, however, more and more areas of agreement emerged. The Single Market Program of 1985, for example, listed more than 400 national regulations that were slated to disappear by 1993. The successful completion of this project gave a significant boost to the economies of Western Europe and helped create a more positive attitude on the part of citizens, politicians, and business interests toward European integration. The dynamism of the Single Market Program, together with the revolutionary changes in Eastern Europe since 1989, not only made the decision for the EMU possible but also renewed the drive for closer political integration, resulting in the establishment of the European Union (EU) in 1991.
After the end of the Cold War, not only did the formerly neutral states of Europe (Austria, Sweden, and Finland) join the EU, but immediately after freeing themselves from Soviet domination, Central and East European states applied for membership in the EU. The first enlargement of the EU saw ten former Central and East European states become members in May 2004. A second round of enlargement is scheduled for 2007, with even further expansion on the table.
While overcoming the divisions of the Cold War, the European Integration Movement today must cope with the increasing problems of governing a greater Europe. Institutions originally planned for six states now have to accommodate three times that number and must be prepared to handle half again as many in the future. This has raised questions of efficiency in policy making at the European level. Processes must also be found so as to balance the competencies of various levels of governance as well as allow for greater institutional diversity in the form of institutional competition in order to reduce the rise of centrifugal forces inherent in the process of widening and deepening the area of integration.
The European Integration Movement was pivotal in mastering the great challenge to unite a war-torn and antagonistic Europe, increasing its strength, and even overcoming the Cold War division of Europe. It remains to be seen if it is equally successful in maintaining the political stability and economic dynamism of the new united Europe.
Bernhard Johannes Seliger
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