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Whatever Happened? (Part II)

Whatever happened? (Part II)

From Jeff Fountain’s book Deeply Rooted. (Part I here)

Eurosclerosis peaked in the mid-80’s. Enlargement was on hold. A democratic deficit, economic problems and British vetoes on EU projects produced widespread apathy and pessimism. 

A welcome sea-change came however in 1985 with the arrival of Jacques Delors in Brussels as the president of the European Commission. The International Herald Tribune credited Delors with rescuing the EC from the doldrums: 

‘He arrived when Europessimism was at its worst. Although he was a little-known former French finance minister, he breathed life and hope into the EC and into the dispirited Brussels Commission. In his first term, from 1985 to 1988, he rallied Europe to the call of the single market, and when appointed to a second term he began urging Europeans toward the far more ambitious goals of economic, monetary and political union.’

Soon after his arrival, the Schengen Agreement opened borders without passport controls between several member and non-member states. The following year Spain and Portugal became members, doubling the original size and adding further momentum to the European project.

Delors presided over the European Commission for three terms, 1985-1995, the longest of any president. His commissions are seen by many as the most successful in EU history. He introduced qualified majority voting to break the stranglehold of the veto through which one member state could impede progress. His first commission injected new momentum into the process of European integration, and laid further foundations for the Euro. 

He came to personify the European project, and instilled widespread faith and trust into its future direction. 

Mitterrand was still French president and Delors, his former minister of economics, president of the European Commission, when the Iron Curtain fell in November 1989, totally reshaping the political landscape both of Europe and the world.

Despite the resistance of some anxious French politicians (who said they loved Germany so much they preferred two of them), the two Germanies reunited, opening the way for further expansion of the EU. 

With a number of former communist satellite nations seeking the safety, welfare and values of the European Community, the Copenhagen Criteria were agreed on for membership, and negotiations began. Each applicant had to have achieved ‘stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union’.

Delors and his commissioners prepared the way for the Maastricht Treaty, after which the community formally became known as the European Union, on November 1, 1993.

Two years later, Austria, Sweden and Finland joined the Brussels club, pushing the membership up to fifteen.

Although a socialist, Jacques Delors challenged long-standing secular tradition by practising his Catholic faith openly, as had Schuman. He tried to rally European citizens, and Europe’s religious leaders in particular, to the quest for ‘the soul of Europe’, arguing that if Brussels could not develop a spiritual dimension into the EU, it would fail. Echoing Schuman’s earlier warning, he stressed that the EU would not succeed solely on the basis of legal systems and economics.

His very last official words as president of the European Commission were: ‘if in the next ten years we haven’t managed to give a soul to Europe, to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up’. 

The success of the Delors commissions was contrasted with the Santer Commission which followed in 1995, but was forced to resign over allegations of corruption. 

The next commission, led by Romano Prodi, also failed to measure up to the Delors standard, despite overseeing another historic milestone in 2002, when Euro bills and coins were introduced in twelve of the member states. The Eurozone, expanding to sixteen by 2009, was the most important European initiative since the Treaty of Rome. 

The Prodi Commission also presided over the Union’s biggest ever enlargement in 2004, when Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia became members. Romania and Bulgaria were admitted in 2007, almost doubling the membership in three short years. These additions were widely criticised for risking serious dilution of the European ideals, and moving too fast. Fears were expressed that the project would fail under the weight of its own success. 

It was clear that the old rules, created for the original six, needed drastic revision. Summits in Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997) and Nice (2000) had all failed to streamline procedures and structures sufficiently to cope with the much enlarged membership. To address this need, the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europewas signed in Rome in 2004, subject to ratification by all member states. 

The gap between Brussels and national governments on the one hand, and the general public on the other, became very evident when firstly the French and then the Dutch rejected the controversial proposals in a referendum.

The constitution, in which mention of God or the Judeo-Christian heritage of Europe was conspicuously absent, was shelved. Finally on December 1, 2009, just months before the 60th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, the Lisbon Treaty was signed, salvaging the remains of the reform proposals and creating a permanent President of the European Council.

How would Schuman feel about the EU if he could see it today? There would be much for which he would be very grateful, perhaps most of all the sixty years without the wars he had himself twice experienced first-hand. The level of economic and political cooperation, with consultations on all manner of subjects constantly taking place in many languages in the specially-built facilities in Brussels and Strasbourg, would surely be almost overwhelming for him.

But his chief concern no doubt would be for the missing spiritual dimension which Jacques Delors had fought in vain to recover, the search for Europe’s soul. 

Talk of Europe’s ‘soul’ was a direct echo of Schuman’s own plea in the year of his death. The emerging identity of a new Europe, he wrote, ‘cannot and must not remain an economic and technical enterprise; it needs a soul, the conscience of its historical affinities and of its responsibilities in the present and in the future, and a political will at the service of the same human ideal’.

Although ‘basic Christian values’ have indeed shaped many of the European institutions, the predominance of materialistic values in Europe today and the quest for immediate gratification, sensuous pleasure and trivial pursuits would cause him deep concern for Europe’s future. The false ethic of greed in the financial sector, and the ‘culture of death’ expressed in youth suicides, pre-natal infanticides (abortions), assisted suicides (euthanasia), low birth rates, rising murder rates, would be signals of deep spiritual poverty. Having stated that ‘the European Movement would only be successful if future generations managed to tear themselves away from the temptation of materialism which corrupted society by cutting it off from its spiritual roots’, what would he conclude today?

(the third part will be published next week)

Jeff Fountain

Director Schuman Centre

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