• The European Union – Superpower or Power for Peace

  • By Petre Damo | 10 Jan 13 | Posted under: European Union
  • It would be interesting, to say the least, to know if the political, economic, social and cultural system of what is called the European Union was what the first advocates of the Pan-European concept envisaged.

    The question seems all the more actual and appropriate when one considers that a United Europe had been originally conceived after the close of the First World War as a solution for preventing the outbreak of wars and for maintaining peace on the continent. Although the idea was related to keeping at bay the historical clashes between Germany and France, it eventually proved to have a strong economic component as well, since Monnet was a businessman and the Schuman Declaration of 9th of May 1950 led to the signing of the Treaty of the European Community of Coal and Steel in Paris one year later.

    It appears that peace and security, common economic growth, and the welfare of Europe’s population were the fundamental aims that paved the road from Count Coudenhove-Kalergi’s book in 1923 to Spinelli’s Manifesto of Ventotene in 1941, to Churchill’s initiative for a United Europe in 1947, and on to Monnet-Schuman project three years later, to Spaak’s Report in 1955, and eventually to the Treaty of Rome in March 1957.

    The Great European Challenge – After the Fall of the Iron Curtain

    The European Union was a development of Western Europe and of liberal capitalism as counterposed to Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe; on this basis it was supported by the US. Such a strategy may have been appropriate to Cold-War ideological, political, economic and military interests as a deterrent to Soviet expansionism and to balance Soviet power. But after the last dictatorship fell in Romania in 1989, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, it became obvious that a new approach was needed. Both Eastern and Western Europeans were attracted to the Great European Challenge: on the one hand, there were the Central-Eastern European peoples who may have dreamt of having a share in the freedom, democracy and welfare of the West and felt themselves no less European than them; on the other, there were those in the European Union who may have been eager to export democracy and freedom along with their political and cultural system. Demand and supply were expected to be in equilibrium. However, the situation proved to be much more complex. The backwardness – in psycho-social, economic, cultural and political terms – of the countries in the region that had lost touch with natural evolution for almost half a century, clashed with the hegemonic liberal model of the West. A tendency to isolation and an attachment to the former ways of life were predominant in the aftermath of the “revolution”. The early 90s was the period of ”original democracy” in Romania when Western capital was not welcome, for mutant capitalism needed time to establish itself while wearing the deceptive mask of a mild leftism. President Iliescu hastened to sign treaties with Russia, thus revealing, possibly unwillingly, the momentum of the move that brought him to power.

    “Ion Iliescu had reservations about subjecting the country to a sudden shift to a market economy. […] Occult interests, the endemic corruption, and incompetence all contributed heavily to the making of post-December Romania”. [Bulei, p. 209].

    Only on February 27, 1995 did the Romanian Government adopt Act 111/1995, which allowed a Commission to elaborate a strategy for European integration. Five years had passed. It was not the people who benefited from the delay …

    Fits of nationalistic sentiment – some of it remnants of the former communist dictatorial regimes, some induced by the new native systems of rule, some induced by foreign interests in the region – shook a number of countries in Eastern Europe, deepening existing divisions within the society, giving birth to political parties that could be labeled extremist, and discrediting those countries on the international arena. ”Our country is not for sale!” became a notorious mass slogan in Romania shouted by mobs in the streets in the early 90s.

    According to Maurice Godelier, transition, defined as a passage to a new society, implies the changing of systems of thinking, acting, and of production. Additionally, present-day transitions are developing under the banner of democratization. If democratization has, in great measure, been achieved in Eastern Europe, the change of attitudes, mentality, and political culture lag far behind.

    As far as the West is concerned, lack of real knowledge and information and unfamiliarity with the particulars of the region, often tinged with an attitude of superiority, did not initially help the integration process.

    Between the Hammer and the Anvil – The American Factor and the Russian Factor

    The question whether the European Union has become a superpower or a force for peace cannot be answered without considering the role played by the USA and Russia in the global balance of political, economic and military influence in which the European Union and the Eastern European countries are situated.

    How have the US and Russian factors changed since 1990?

    Turning back the wheel of history to 1948 when, shortly after the Hague Congress, Josef Retinger and Churchill’s son-in-law, Duncan Sandys, went to the US to lobby for the European integration project, and met with William J. Donovan, founder of the CIA, and Allen Dulles, the would-be director of the CIA, we learn that the US did have interests in supporting the construction of a united Western Europe. Some researchers and historians claim that the American Committee on a United Europe (ACUE) was used by the State Department to promote the project of a United Europe under the form of a ”liberal conspiracy” between 1949 and 1960. It is obvious that after the close of World War II America wanted to establish a political, military, and economic bridgehead on the old continent counterposed to the Soviet Empire and, implicitly, to promote the American expansionist doctrine.

    “Once the Cold War broke out and Europe seemed to be divided for ever, the Americans needed a solid support in the West of the continent; otherwise their presence would have been jeopardized and the invasion of the ideological realm from the East would have become inevitable. The Marshall Plan aimed at putting an end to the Soviet danger and the influence of the French and Italian Communist parties, but also to guarantee a non-protectionist market for the American economy itself which was threatened by overproduction.” [Magureanu, Virgil, p. 530].

    Bernard Cassen (Le Monde Diplomatique, January 2003) went so far as to claim that the US played a more decisive role in achieving European unity than the peoples of Europe themselves, who were more spectators than shapers of their own integration process.

    We cannot entirely endorse this view, for history has proven that the European Community has seldom been an unchallenging partner for the US. There are at least three countries – France, Germany, and more recently Italy with its military withdrawal from Iraq – that maintained an independent position similar to de Gaulle’s policy in the 60s that expressed the natural desire for Europe to be European by not being American.

    On the other hand, having lost its grip on the former Soviet Bloc countries, it is obvious that Russia still carries much weight in the political arena of the region.

    That is to say, Eastern European countries need a specific understanding of, and way of approaching, their triangular relation with the US, the European Union, and Russia. Romania is probably the most relevant case: its policy towards the European Union has been caught between the hammer of the historical concern with having the Russian Big Brother as neighbour and the anvil of longing for the American Dream as this became materialized in the Myth of the Americans coming after 1945. In the mid 90s, the Romanian political class deliberately and erroneously linked NATO membership and EU integration as inseparable and necessary for ”Euro-Atlantic integration”, with each helping the other. Events would prove just how unrealistic such policy had been: in July 1997 the European Commission recommended not including Romania in the first wave of enlargement on grounds of its delayed economic and administrative reforms as well as its lack of a functional market economy compatible with that of the EU.

    As it turned out, joining NATO was much more a matter of specific American interests in the context of the war ravaging neighbouring Yugoslavia and of US strategic interests in the region. This accounts for much of the pro-US policy then and now. Consequently, in the course of European integration in 2007, Romania finds itself stuck with previously signed strategic partnerships with the US and NATO, which it is now obliged to observe. This might partly explain the recent political gaffe of the Romanian Ambassador in Rome, who signed the public appeal of a number of ambassadors asking the Italian government not to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

    Eastern Integration Between Myth and Reality

    There is no doubt that myths and mythical thinking are deeply rooted in Eastern Europe and particularly in Romania.

    “Present-day Romanian society is animated by powerful mythical drives. Starting from a complex mythological constellation, Raoul Girardet isolated four important political myths characterizing contemporary society: The Conspiracy, the Saviour, the Golden Age, and Unity. Romania seems today the ideal laboratory where these myths meet, blend, and dissociate in countless variants.” [Boia, p. 383].

    The long survival of the communist dictatorships demonstrates that these myths had been well established.

    “The problem is that the manner in which the patterns of historic imagination are presently solidifying here reflect an important ‘backwardness’ in comparison to Western European culture and mentality.” [Boia, p. 388].

    In the early 2000s, the attitude gradually shifted in Romania from reluctance to an almost frenetic eagerness to join the European Union, which led to a new myth – the Myth of European Integration – which reinforced the Myth of the National Interest. The myth spread throughout Central-Eastern Europe mainly in the mid-1990s and was embraced both by the political class and the population. EU-type agencies were founded; norms, regulations, and legislation were quickly passed. Presently, European integration is one of the most important political stakes for both the government and the opposition. However, people seem to know little about what lies in wait.

    We hold that the Romanians would have a better life inside the European Union, not outside it. We also maintain that Romania should not be treated like a second rate country by the European Union.

    One series of examples would suffice to support the latter concern: in October 2006, the UK officially announced that they would shut down the labour market for Romanian citizens; Germany announced a partial but similar decision; Italy is still considering the options. All in all there are only 3 EU countries that announced opening the labour market to Romanian citizens from the 1st of January 2007.

    As far as internal affairs are concerned, we hold that European integration should go far beyond boastingly and officially announced but empty forms. We need profound transformation of all of Romanian society and mentality.

    “The new members should not only comply with elementary requirements such as stable democratic institutions, functional market economy, and the capacity of assuming what is called ‘communitarian aquis’, but they should also be fully aware of their responsibility for this accomplishment …” [Magureanu, p. 537].

    Part of the problem has been created by the Romanian political class that has constantly avoided explaining the costs of EU integration to the population, has encouraged an Eldorado myth and never spoken of the after-effects. The process of integration has hardly involved the people, being conducted from above by the political class and the elites working for them. Important topics, such as the EU Constitutional Treaty, the Services Directive, and the GATS – to name only a few – and their would-be effects have been deliberately kept away from the public. At the same time, in terms of foreign policy, the administrations accepted almost any conditions imposed from outside for the sake of attaining their own political objective – trumpeted as a ”matter of national interest” – irrespective of the social and economic costs the people would bear.

    “The fundamental mistake of the political class in respect to EU integration is that they made it the main objective to be attained at all costs. Those who contested such an approach were automatically rejected as if they had been enemies of the people. European integration has become an enormous target analogous to the old ‘creation of a multilaterally developed society’.” [Gusa, p. 103].

    It seems that the integration of Central and Eastern countries into Europe was more a combination of internal political stakes and external EU pressure for expansion than a conscious process from below. Romano Prodi’s 2001 tour in Central Europe, when he told the Czechs that a ”very probable date for enlargement” would be 2004, proved to be such an external factor.

    In Romania, the lack of coherent post-integration government strategy as pointed out by the opposition and by the media, the aberrant taxes imposed in early January for big trucks crossing the Bulgarian border, the so-called ”environmentally motivated” tax on second-hand automobiles from the EU (an extremely unpopular tax which often exceeds in value the price of the car and which is in fact protectionism for the oligarchy doing car-import business – in which the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance are involved), the Orthodox Church’s recent proposal of a referendum on the outlawing of homosexuality in Romania – all these have as background the ever-escalating political struggle between the President and the Prime Minister, and all illustrate the Romanian political inflexibility and incapacity to adapt to European standards and requirements.

    Conclusions and Proposals

    In order to reduce the East-West gap a post-enlargement strategy is needed not only to benefit the newcomers, but also for the sake of the EU itself.

    First, the means have to be found for the integration of peoples and societies rather than of the political class. This involves international support as well as national efforts on behalf of the new member states. In the early 2000s, the European Commission published the long-awaited “White Charter” which pointed out that the Union was confronting a “democratic deficit”. In other words, the peoples of Europe were left behind in the continual march toward enlargement and had hardly developed a European consciousness. The Commission’s answer was the establishment of cross-border NGO networks so as to create the missing European demos. To establish them they relied on so-called “organized civil societies” in each country. But the reality of Eastern European countries such as Romania is that there is no organized civil society and the NGOs that are supposed to represent it were artificially created from above in the early 90s. They function as the masked loudspeakers of the government rather than the voice of the people. Consequently, we propose that the EU should adjust its policy of working together only with certain NGOs and agencies in Eastern countries. Such policy has already revealed its drawbacks: increasing bureaucracy, retarding the process of actually getting the funding, creating an NGO oligarchy that benefits exclusively from EU financing, potentially creating new grounds for corruption, not giving the opportunity for common social actors to be fairly financed in various programs, and eventually leading to the paradox of the incapacity to absorb EU funding. It is time the EU started working together with real social actors and fund them directly in order to bypass the governmental NGOs chain of interests and influence.

    We maintain that both war and terrorism need to be condemned as two inter-related elements and approached politically as such. A crucial aspect in the issue of peace lies in understanding how the US and Russian factors have affected the foreign affairs of Eastern European countries. In this respect, Romania, due to its geo-political location defined by the triangle formed by the Black Sea, the Balkans, and Russia, is a particular, but nonetheless relevant case. History shows that Romanians have never been a warmongering people. The deployment of non-combat Romanian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan should be viewed in the light of the American factor combined with the particular features of the contemporary Romanian political scene.

    European Union enlargement is a form of continental globalization. It appears that the EU is on its way to becoming a concentration of power. Could this lead to a new era of peace due to the inherent appeasement of nationalism and of hegemonic drives? We believe it is too early to say. On the one hand, there is European policy dealing with the US and Russian factors, and, not surprisingly if we realize that the US and Russia have been trying to influence the region, policy directed at the new Eastern European members. On the other hand, there is the cultural issue in its broadest sense. First, there is the question raised by Andre Malraux at the close of World War II about the non-existence of any homogenous European culture; secondly, the effort to create such a common European culture may pose the danger of Europe becoming a cultural conquistador pushing toward general standardization, the wiping out of national traditional values, and ultimately an alienating mercantile way of life. Even more, would not such culture resemble the “Atlantic culture” forecast by Malraux – a culture comprising of American and Western European culture? What it would mean to resist the cultural decline – in Spenglerean terms – effected by globalization has yet to be worked out.

    We think that remaining stuck in the debate on whether the European project was launched by hidden political interests or how the US was implicated in it, or on the extent to which the project is a myth, is impractical and could become counter-productive.

    To conclude, irrespective of the answers to these questions, we believe that the reality of the European Union has to be accepted. Our task therefore should be to maintain its positive achievements, remedy its flaws, and make it a friendlier common home and a promoter of peace and democracy for all – a beacon of civilization and culture.

     

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