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Since the 1940s pro-European elites have embedded concrete steps towards European integration within a narrative that the member states were on the road to an ever closer union. The unification process was posited to be unidirectional and irreversible, resting on the twin motors of ever progressing deepening and enlargement. Nevertheless, Algeria managed to leave in 1962, as did Greenland in 1985. Long before Brexit, the narrative of the ‘ever closer union’ has also been called into question by other events and processes. For example, the Luxembourg compromise of 1966 ditched an integration step laid out in the treaty. A plethora of small and tiny changes also accumulated to disintegrate existing achievements or make them dysfunctional. The European Coal and Steel Community, for example, was largely non-functioning only a few years after its establishment. Overall, this chapter argues that disintegration and dysfunctionality are part of the political normality of the integration process. They are produced by the treatment of complex problems and knock-on effects of the integration process itself. The trend has strengthened further since Maastricht, and since the 1990s it has been shaping the debate over the European Union more strongly than ever before.
What was the contribution of European integration to the economic history of Western Europe? Also on this issue, the EU often claims to have been both important and successful while, in fact, there is surprisingly little research on its economic effects. This chapter argues that the EC did indeed contribute to growing material prosperity in the member states during the Cold War. However, this contribution remained rather modest, at well below half of 1 per cent additional GDP growth per annum. The European Community had greater weight in relative terms during the 1970s and 1980s than during the 1950s and 1960s, even this has been generally overlooked to date. It thus played a greater role once the post-war boom was over, and, without it, the slump would have been even worse. Those aspects aside, the location of the economic within the integration process remained curiously vague during the Cold War. Economic integration was on the one hand an end in itself to promote prosperity; on the other it was always just a means to achieve overarching political objectives.
The European Union is sometimes described as a ‘community of values’. Is this adequate? Legally anchored civil and human rights and democratic guarantees were not the foundation upon which institutional cooperation was built. Instead they sneaked in by the back door. Especially in the early days the centrality of values was by no means obvious, and certainly contested. The search for a specific institutional ethos only became significant in the course of the 1970s. Today’s EU was not born as a community of values; instead it grew into one in a fascinating, decades-long process characterised by ambivalence and contradiction. That does not mean that values and norms played no role in earlier stages of the integration process. At the beginning of the 1950s these questions were already hotly debated, and the value-orientation is clearly reflected in the way European integration was very much understood as a contribution to securing peace. To that extent, the European project is actually inconceivable without the values that grounded and legitimised it; values and norms shaped the EC’s institutions and informal practices at very fundamental levels. But without a legally binding framework they initially remained fragile and vulnerable.
The EU often claims to play a central role for peace in Europe. To date astonishingly little research has systematically addressed this issue; the dominant narrative is essentially that cast by the protagonists of the integration process themselves. This chapter argues that the European integration process was initially much more a beneficiary of the European peace settlement, than shaping it in any significant sense. At the same time it is important to distinguish between three concepts of peace: reconciliation between the member states and especially between the ‘arch-enemies’ France and Germany; the EC’s contribution to peace in a world largely defined by the Cold War; and finally social peace within the member states. The chapter examines these three dimensions and argues that the EC was particularly important with regard to the third of these categories. Later and in different forms than we normally assume – this is how the EU really contributed to peace over the past decades.
These days ‘Europe’ is assumed to mean the European Union and Brussels. The majority of European states are part of the EU, and its various policies have a profound impact on its member states and the international system. It is therefore easy to equate Europe with the European Union, or at least with international cooperation in Europe. This chapter argues that such an approach is problematic, particularly from a historical perspective. It underestimates two aspects: firstly, the European Community as the EU’s predecessor was a fragile latecomer in a densely populated field of international organisations. Seventy years ago (and more recently too) it appeared rather unlikely that this particular organisation would one day come to be identified with Europe as a whole. And secondly, the integration process was not only shaped by the histories of the participating states and the general historical context, but also influenced by a veritable web of relationships with other Western European organisations and transnational forums. Europe was never just the EU, and the EU never all of Europe. So we need to understand how that equivalence became so strong and how the EC was able to morph from humble origins into Europe’s pre-eminent international entity.
At crucial junctures European citizens spoke up to express support for or dissatisfaction with the EC, or addressed European affairs in other forums. Yet the process from which the EC and EU eventually emerged was always characterised by a degree of remoteness, and by a tension between civil society participation and elite-centric politics. Overall, the chapter argues that attitudes towards the integration process – even before the Maastricht Treaty – were much less robust than had long been believed. During the post-war decades the EC remained no bearer of great passions. The reasons for this include the Community’s economic focus, its technocratic aspect and its remoteness from everyday life. At the same time many people preferred to become involved in other things than the affairs of the EC, for example in youth exchange programmes, town twinning or Interrailing around the continent and other forms of transnational tourism. For important questions that the public had in relation to Europe, the EC at the time offered no answers and no platform for civil society engagement. Hence, European cooperation EC style was based more on toleration than on genuine approval.
Brussels has often been criticised as a bureaucratic monster, a supranational juggernaut, a new empire. While the terms leave much room for interpretation, they all present the EC as a threat to the political order of its member states. In reality, member states have been central to the integration process throughout its history. That is not to suggest that Brussels simply represented an extension of their interests. It is true to an extent, yet in the course of time the integration process also fundamentally transformed the member states. But there was no need for a gigantic Brussels bureaucracy to subjugate or substitute the member states. The mechanisms involved, as this chapter shows, were much more subtle. While great change occurred at the political, administrative and legal levels, it appeared to make little difference to the everyday lives of ordinary people – who in turn showed little interest in these processes. And by the time the effects finally became more obvious the basic foundations had already been laid, making it difficult to ‘turn the clock back’.
How did the Community interact with states and regions outside Europe, and what global role did it play? This chapter contends that the European Community was only able to develop a moderately clear profile in specific issues and in relation to particular non-European regions – and at the same time it was remarkable that it even managed to accomplish that. There were several starting points, with relations with the United States and with the member states’ (ex-)colonies turning out to be especially influential. In these processes the European Commission played a central role, always seeking new opportunities to wield influence. While it is true that the member states’ governments insisted on their sovereignty, at the same time they supported the Community’s basic premise of relating to third states as a collective political order. This was important not only externally but also internally. Together with the Commission’s proactive role, these links to the internal dynamics within the Community created a momentum that the member states were not always able to control. Ultimately it transpired that the tension between the postulated primacy of the member states and the inherent logic of the integration process was constitutive for the EC’s global possibilities and perspectives.
Today it often appears as though the European Union has entered existential crisis after decades of success, condemned by its adversaries as a bureaucratic monster eroding national sovereignty: at best wasteful, at worst dangerous. How did we reach this point and how has European integration impacted on ordinary people's lives - not just in the member states, but also beyond? Did the predecessors of today's EU really create peace after World War II, as is often argued? How about its contribution to creating prosperity? What was the role of citizens in this process, and can the EU justifiably claim to be a 'community of values'? Kiran Klaus Patel's bracing look back at the myths and realities of integration challenges conventional wisdoms of Europhiles and Eurosceptics alike and shows that the future of Project Europe will depend on the lessons that Europeans derive from its past.
In 2017, the British street artist Banksy painted a mural of a man on a ladder chiselling one of the stars out of the EU flag. The painting is on a building in Dover, which has been one of Britain’s most important connections to mainland Europe since ancient times. Today its port handles almost 20 per cent of Britain’s trade. While we may not know who ‘Banksy’ really is, there can be no doubt that his work is a commentary on the British decision to leave the European Union, or Brexit.
The book’s Epilogue briefly sketches developments since the Maastricht Treaty. Moreover, it draws the lessons from the history of European integration since the 1950s. Among other things it argues that for a long time there was not just one Project Europe, but many – most of them conceived as alternatives to nationalistic forms of politics. It was by no means inevitable that the European Community would come to be the dominant forum of cooperation and integration in Cold War Western Europe. Not until the 1960s were there growing signs that the EC was on the way to becoming a different class of actor than, for example, the OECD. And even in the early 1980s its status was anything but certain. Rather than proceeding as the implementation of a masterplan, today’s EU appeared in fits and starts. Above the level of detail it set out to make the future more predictable. It was this hope that shines through all the treaties and directives, summits and compromises, plans and proposals. While many saw precisely that as a value in its own right, the idea of Project Europe as an attempt to contain the future is less certain again today.