by David PRICE
Robert Schuman was at the center of many of the major
European and international institutions that still are active in our time.
He was co-author of NATO treaty and its founding principles of peace and
freedom through solidarity. It was Schuman’s government of 1947-48 that
proposed and shaped the Council of Europe. It was Schuman who announced
the future European Community in speeches in 1949 in London, Brussels,
Strasbourg and also in Canada and in Flushing Meadow in the United States.
He described this still future project as a ‘supranational Community’.
These were political science terms which were little known at the time.
In 1950 Schuman as Foreign Minister of France convinced the French Government of Georges Bidault to make a decision of destiny. France would embark on what he called the great experiment to create the world’s first supranational democracy in the European Coal and Steel Community, the basis of today’s European Union. All Europeans countries were free to join. It led, as Schuman explained, to the rapid unification of the continent.
Cementing trans-Atlantic relations as the basis of the progress of world democracy was also an important aspect of Schuman’s work. Shortly after Schuman made his 9 May proposal, Europe’s first parliamentary body, the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, adopted in August a recommendation designed to provide for the establishment of a close liaison between the new European organizations and those of North America.
In March 1951, the Committee of Ministers agreed to the policy behind this parliamentary initiative. It asked the parliamentarians to present proposals about how it should be accomplished.
Thus it was that two months later the Assembly adopted a resolution proposing a joint meeting with the US Congress and a delegation of the Assembly. The Agenda covered problems of common interest. After a visit to Washington of the Assembly's President and one of the vice-presidents, similar resolutions were adopted by the US House of Representatives and the Senate.
The ‘Strasbourg Conference’ took place during the week starting 19 November 1951. Seven Senators and seven members of the House of Representatives and 19 members of the Consultative Assembly participated. The European side included elected democratic representatives from Germany (recently invited to join the Council of Europe), Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden and Turkey. The theme was ‘The Union of Europe, its progress, its problems, its perspectives and its place in the world.’
At the end of the session, the American delegation published a declaration expressing its gratitude for the occasion and its conviction that it had been very useful in clarifying the points of view of all the participants. A great interest was manifested by the American people when the results of the meeting were published in Congress.
In 1955, Nato created its North Atlantic Assembly, originally known as ‘Nato Parliamentarians’ Conference’. Unfortunately much of this important trans-Atlantic work of cooperation was opposed by political opponents of Schuman and other European pioneers. Many of the major organizations, like Nato’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Forces Europe, were situated in Paris. But SHAPE, for example, was forced out by Charles de Gaulle, when he became president. A dispute on the supranational principle arose between certain member states in the Council of Europe and the new European Community. These and other factors rendered the continuation of the Strasbourg Conference process difficult.
Today, when both sides of the Atlantic are more and more dependent on each other, it seems remiss of democracies not to take advantage of easier travel and communications. A regular trans-Atlantic democracy has become a necessity.
The EU and North America represent little more than 10 % of world population yet account for around 40 % of world trade and over 60 % of world’s GDP. It is not only questions of trade that need to be discussed. Those figures underline the joint responsibility the Atlantic area has for world problems and the long-term survival of humankind on this small, finite, blue planet.
Schuman saw the Community system as a means to resolve the problems of peace and war, not only for Europe but for the world. The Community system, he said in May 1949 ‘constitutes probably the supreme attempt to save our Continent and preserve the world from suicide.’
Many North Americans and not an insignificant number of Europeans are still unaware of the revolutionary concepts behind the new supranational democracy created by the European Community. The Community established not just an Assembly but five founding democratic institutions, the Commission, Council of Ministers, Consultative Committees, European Parliament and the Court of Justice. As democratic organs, all have the legal power to say No. The treaties give them the responsibility to be fully representative in the three functional levels of national governments, joint social, industrial and consumer interests and individual rights. All institutions are bound together by the democratic rule of law. However, over the past decades all these institutions have also suffered from opponents to European democracy. In all democracies -- and the United States and Canada are good historic examples in their own federal systems -- democratic values must be constantly analyzed and developed. Why? Because society’s interests are constantly changing. They must be reviewed over and over again in the light of moral values, such as openness, liberty, human rights and community responsibility.
Honest, open democratic analysis, joint action and solidarity between both sides of the Atlantic is not only long overdue, it is a necessity for the planet.
David Heilbron Price
© Bron May 2006.
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