News and Research on Europe highlighting Robert Schuman's
political, economic, philosophical contribution from the independent Schuman
Project Directed by David H Price.
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Europe's democratic institutions
world’s most important document
© David Heilbron Price, 2000-XII (All reproduction rights reserved) Your comments
What is the most important political document of the last century? The last hundred years gave us, the citizens of planet earth, great hope and unprecedented destruction. We have created the United Nations, and its predecessor, the League of Nations, a body dangerously enfeebled when the USA refused to join. The century also gave us two world wars and the brink of planetary destruction. Is our time still summarized in the term ‘brinkmanship’? That term defined the maximum power of extortion by threatening a planetary catastrophe, whether nuclear or ecological. Does peace have a chance?
Still-uncounted millions of people died a miserable death in twentieth-century conflicts. Add to that such catastrophic repercussions as civil wars, not least in Russia and China, the collapse of many old empires, the economic Depression, the rise of Communism and Nazism, the concentration camps, the gulags, the death marches and a new, brutal, starving slavery of the war economies.
What is the key document that we can show to a child and say it encapsulated our time? Should it be one of the many peace treaties or the equally frequent declarations of war? Perhaps British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s futile peace paper signed by Herr Hitler? A year before war broke out, he returned from Germany waving that paper at London Airport and announcing ‘Peace in our time’.
That paper may represent lost hope. But it does not encapsulate all the shed blood of two world wars. In no detail does it preserve the heart-rending moral choices that had to be made by those plunged into the cauldron of war. The fight for freedom and human rights is perhaps the most essential element in our weary experience. What of those whose tears cried out for justice in gulags and concentration camps and who vowed for a new, secure future, a better Europe? How can we capture in a single document those Soviet dissidents who risked their lives to work for the dissolution of both military blocs and the formation of a united peaceful Europe ‘from Lisbon to the Urals’?
Following the end of the Cold War, a ‘Charter for a New Europe’ was signed by 35 powers in Paris. Now a decade later, its grand and shining principles of tolerance, human rights, justice, freedom of belief, opinion, assembly and movement are looking distinctly tarnished in the darker corners of the old continent. Does such a document, capturing our collective shame of great, lost opportunities of history, fit our requirement? Or can we give hope a more resounding word?
A deeper search
Maybe the original question is too rigid to distil the historic essence of our time. Let us take the search across a longer period. What is the most important political text written over the last three centuries? Today the Communist manifesto of 1847 has been shown to be a failure as a complete analysis of history. Marx’s ‘specter that stalked Europe’ turned out to be the threat of global nuclear annihilation by a so-called workers’ state.
Our document is not the Declaration of the Rights of Man so gloriously announced during the French Revolution in 1789 – and so carelessly and miserably applied in blood and terror. Would it be too cynical to choose the American version of 1776, the inspiration of newly united states, ironically still reliant on slaves? Untold millions of today’s impoverished, sick and ill-educated Americans found little reason to vote for the presidential candidates, blinded by their mirror images and addicted to industrialists’ megabucks for their campaigns. How much less, then, can we chose the much-flouted Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, torn to shreds in the bloodbaths of Ruanda, Yugoslavia and Mao’s China.
Should it be a document that brought a world super-power to birth? That would get my positive assessment. Especially for a world super- power that brought peace. That super-power is not the United States of America. Today the USA is, in many respects, not the world’s leading super-power. True, America remains the world’s strongest military power. But is that a commendation in itself?
The USA embraces many essential values but we have learned that in an era of the ‘global village’ we depend on each other more and more for life and death. The most treasured document in the world cannot, therefore, be the American Declaration of Independence.
The mysterious super-power
The largest super-power in the world in many other key respects is the European Union. Today the European Union is as big economically as the US. It is far larger than the US in population terms. After enlargement it will reach about half a billion, nearly twice the size of the USA. The EU is already by far the world’s largest trading power.
All that may come as a surprise, especially to Americans. It is usually an even greater surprise to Europeans. They don’t consider themselves to be citizens of a super-power.
The European Union is in fact almost a phantom super-power. It does not legally exist. It is the product of an international agreement – the Maastricht Treaty.
The new world actor in both international legal terms and with all the real and increasingly powerful economic and trading powers is the European Community. It alone has an international legal personality.
You needn’t be. The European Community provides the real legal and political core of the amazing European adventure. It was at first proposed by its French founder, Robert Schuman, in 1950. The supranational community was, he said, an entirely new invention in world development.
He introduced the new political structure as being ‘primarily for peace and to give peace a chance.’ To achieve that he created a new sort of Community that had never existed at any time – even going back to Ancient Babylonian or Egyptian history. It was based on quite different political theory from the American or other federations. Although it copies no previous model, the European Community is based on principles as old as time.
The European Community is neither a federation like Switzerland, Germany, Canada or the United States. Nor is it a loose alliance of powers like NAFTA, the OECD or the United Nations. The European Community has real characteristics of a state. It has a fully legal, international identity and is a powerful actor on the world stage of business, trade and economics. It is a champion of human rights and justice.
All European democracies have been improved enormously in their democratic practice while they have been members of the European Community. Some critics, however, complain that the Community itself lacks democracy! They must use confused logic! Or maybe it is because some ‘democratic’ governments refuse to see the same ‘rule of the majority’ being applied in a democratic and law-abiding community of democratic states. Such governmental discipline is only required on decisions of common interest. Honest comparison and solidarity between democracies only encourage mutual improvements.
What lies behind the European Community and the Union? It is a question of sectors and interests, not geography. The European Union is the sum total of the real super-power, the European Community, plus less legally binding intergovernmental powers. These cover some extra internal and external policies of the 15 revivified, vibrant and still proud nation states. But the real, concrete part of the structure rests with the more-disciplined European Community. That is defined by its European Commission, Council of Ministers, European Parliament and other institutions. It is based on a new type of democratic discipline: supranational law.
What is even more concrete and astounding than the enormous economic and trading achievements of the European Community is another value that can be clearly seen. It is the bedrock for good business, communications between people and strategic planning but is also a little mysterious. It is peace.
A record across millennia
Since the founding of the European Community, Europe has just now broken another record. Europeans living within the borders of its original member states have now experienced the longest period of peace in their entire written history!
How long is that record period of peace? A mere fifty-five years! Just taking the area of the original six founder members together: France, Germany, Belgium Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy, the easiest term to describe it in history is ‘a war zone’. One historian described Europeans as those who are either preparing for war, fighting a war or recovering from war.
The previous record of long-lasting peace just broke the half-century mark. But that was sleight of hand. This great period of peace in European history occurred in the nineteenth century, with the end of the Napoleonic wars. After 1815 Europeans seemed generally too exhausted to fight major wars in Europe until the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. But that was interrupted by many deaths in battles on this war zone territory. French and Italians died in the wars of Italian independence. Others died in the revolutions of the 1830s and 1848. Nor does this half-century take into account major conflicts like the Crimean war and the too-numerous-to-mention colonial conflicts around the globe and far outside the war zone territory.
That war zone of western Europe became again the mega killing fields in the twentieth century.
Today a major change has taken place. Western Europe is a zone of peace. No war has happened inside the borders of the European Community since its creation. Was it a sudden outbreak of common sense after more than two thousand years? Or was it something inherent in Schuman’s ‘invention’?
Today reconciliation between France and Germany is considered so solid that war is inconceivable. Schuman in his declaration of 9 May 1950 said that the new Community he was proposing would make war ‘not only unthinkable but materially impossible’. That has happened. And much more. ‘Europe,’ said Schuman, ‘will be born of this.’ While cities still lay in war ruins, Schuman predicted the potentialities he was unleashing would ‘rapidly’ give rise to a new, politically and economically integrated unity.
Is it purely for its economic attractions that the countries of central and eastern Europe, newly freed from the Soviet oppression behind the Berlin Wall, urgently seek to be an integral and active part of what they simply call ‘Europe’. After the ruinous Yugoslav civil war, the newly detached states have also set this as their goal. Is this ‘Europe’ just trade and business? Or does it really represent something more, something as essentially European as human rights and the living values of freedom and justice? The European Community is an expanding zone of peace and justice that has strengthened, far from supplanting, democratic nation states.
Some of the mysteries behind the new European reconciliation and solidarity are revealed in the original documents founding the European Union. They have been reproduced recently with amazing clarity so that the reader can see pencilled corrections and judge the different colors of typewriter ink.
The Declaration of Robert Schuman and some of the intriguing preparatory notes are not published by the European Union, though the European Commission gave its support. Nor are they printed by any government publishing house. With its most excellent facsimiles, the book, Un Changement d’Esperance (A change of hope) gets my vote for its reproduction of the world most important document of recent centuries. It is published in a country that is not a member state of the European Union. Switzerland had long had an experience of peace that Schuman drew on in his peaceful revolution.
‘He’s like one of us,’ said the Swiss about Robert Schuman. That is probably the hardest-earned complement those from that peace-loving nation could give to a Luxembourg-born Frenchman, educated at German universities, a man who created a new peaceful super-power and new hope for our world.
The book is published by the Jean Monnet Foundation of Lausanne. *
Un Changement d’Espérance, published by Fondation Jean Monnet, ISBN: 2-88100-081-9 French edition only. See also Voices of Europe, Council of Europe. ISBN: 92 871 3093 0. The 1948 European Congress of The Hague are reproduced in facsimile in Congress of Europe, published by the Council of Europe, ISBN: 92 871 3918 0.
David Heilbron Price directs the Schuman Project and is webmaster of the site: www.schuman.info. He has written numerous publications on Robert Schuman.