For centuries Europeans have argued: where are the limits of Europe? Professors and writers have battled on the subject. So have armies. Europe as a political and organisational entity would never exist if citizens had had to wait for experts, academics and politicians to agree.
“The definition of Europe as a geographical entity has long been a topic of academic debate,” Robert Schuman told a meeting of foreign ministers and ambassadors in London’s prestigious St James’s Palace. “But Europe cannot wait for the end of a seemingly interminable discussion. She will define herself by herself by the willingness of her populations.”
Schuman was speaking at the signing of the statutes of the Council of Europe on 5 May 1949. By their votes and those in their parliaments, Europeans began defining Europe. France, under Schuman’s premiership, had been largely responsible for the creation of this, Europe’s first international democratic institution. It allowed European citizens through their elected ministers and their politicians to express European public opinion and democratically define policies of cooperation.
Thus Europe’s ultimate borders are defined in the minds of Europeans as an act of political will about human rights and fundamental freedoms. (See Holocaust2 Human Rights vs Final Solution) Their adherence to these principles in the Human Rights convention is the touchstone of being European. (It is something that has to be earned by real democratic standards. Those values have to be maintained. Some countries sliding into dictatorships or undemocratic practice have been suspended from being European.)
Robert Schuman’s initiative helped break the centuries-long log-jam made by wars, competition and dominating sovereignties. Europe would be defined, he said, through a democratic act of will of its citizens mutually reinforcing humane, moral values for peaceful development.
More than half a century later, some politicians have reopened the ‘interminable’ debate. They insist that states and citizens of the European Union, must conform to their definition of European geography and their concept of history. It is too late to turn back the clock. The Founding Fathers would not agree with the statement of a politician that European “geography sets the frame.”
In May 2004, Cyprus became a full member. In its “geographical frame,” it is not in Europe. It is entirely in Asia. Up to 1878, Cyprus was part of Turkey’s Asian Ottoman empire. Over the thousands of years of its history, Cyprus had been part of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires. When it was part of the Egyptian empire, it did not become African. Nor did its geography change later when conquered by Roman plots and arms. Some argue that because its culture is “European,” it is part of Europe. But that would make Australia and the USA equally “European”.
In 1961 Cyprus became “European” when it joined the Council of Europe. Member States agreed with this definition. It was voted in all parliaments of the European Union. Greece and Turkey together became members of the Council years earlier, in 1949.
Europe’s Asian footprint is now irreversible. This is not an accident. ‘Europe’ has long had irreversibly global geography. The official map of the European Union shows that its legal borders already extend to Africa and the Americas too. The French departments of Reunion (Africa) and Guyane (South America) Guadeloupe and Martinique are internal territory of the EU, as are the African islands of Portuguese Madeira and the Spanish Canaries.
It is the act of will or consciousness which Robert Schuman mentioned that decides the “limits of Europe” in today’s fashionable term. Schuman had a broader vision right from the start. ‘Europe’ is a dynamic project, not an empire or state. It was concerned with what he called Europeans’ duty to prevent “global suicide.”
This may sound a vague and imprecise hope to some politicians and academics but in fact it has a solid intellectual basis which is little discussed today. It has real power. It is stronger than armies. The philosophical and scientific concepts he enunciated in the 1940s are the driving force of today’s enlargement process. He predicted it would be so, based on logical deduction. It created “a well spring of unexploited energies to take advantage of,” he told the Council of Europe in 1950. He said that on the occasion he presented to the Consultative Assembly the details of the Schuman Plan, creating the European Community.
Schuman supported the Turkish adhesion to the European values of the Community system. He also made clear that northern, central and eastern European countries, including Russia, must be considered “European” when they embrace European values. These involved supranational rule of law protecting democracy and the human rights and fundamental freedoms.
These involve not only freedom of speech but the freedom to hold a religion. Most importantly for any community based on supranational –that is eternal — values it assures the right to change one’s religion without let or hindrance. The Community is focused on a long-term democratic debate on moral improvement including personal values like truth and honesty and society values for physical, mental and spiritual health.
Schuman, together with the foreign ministers of the other European states, signed this Convention on 4 November 1950. The Council established working relationships with other democracies like Australia and New Zealand. And importantly for the future, it sustained and supported democracies under pressure and aspiring for more freedom like Finland and Israel.
The real difficulties of today’s debate arise only when people misconceive Schuman’s Community system as a club leading to a super-state or federation. These politicians want to be the leader, whether wanted or not. This is a major intellectual block in discussions; people still talk in terms of federations and confederations while Schuman, a lawyer and constitutional expert, announced in the 1940s that he was about to create a third, system, the supranational, totally new in practice and in the history of political constitutions. Schuman’s design was aimed at strengthening the open practice of democracy and the guarantees of the rule of law. He intended the impact of this supranational, democratic revolution to be planetary.