Happy 50th Birthday, EU!
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC), now the European Union. The Treaty of Rome was signed on March 25, 1957, expanding the European Coal and Steel Community into the new EEC of six states (France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). The EU has set up a portal site celebrating the anniversary, including clips of archival footage of the signing ceremony.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the EU (and its precursors)to international law. Europe’s post-WWII history of increasing institutionalization and supranationality has informed Europe’s view of the relationship of international law to state power.
Consequently, the legalism of the European conception of foreign relations stands in contrast to the United States’s style of foreign policy. The EU takes this faith in institutionalism based on European history and expands it into a prescription for other countries. As Martti Koskenniemi, the Finnish international legal scholar and former diplomat, put it (with perhaps a cautionary tone) in his essay International Law in Europe:
We Europeans share this intuition: the international world will be how we are. And we read international law in the image of our domestic legalism: multilateral treaties as legislation, international courts as an independent judiciary, the Security Council as the police.
While not all may agree with the EU’s prescription, it is hard to deny the EU’s influence in international affairs. The wave of institution-building after World War II was defined by the US: the construction of the UN, the GATT, the IMF and the World Bank. However, as the Cold War ended, the US stuttered in its support for international institutions (with the exception of the establishment of the WTO and the ad hoc international criminal tribunals). By contrast, in the post-Cold War era, European nations became the primary institution builders, supporting not only these institutions (and in particular being a prime-mover for the creation of the WTO) but also the ICC and the Kyoto Protocol, two of the defining institutions of this era.
But, while the EU has become more influential, it is still rife with serious problems. It has neither a coherent foreign policy nor a military policy to speak of. Key member states have rejected its draft constitution. People all across Europe have become more skeptical about the efficacy and desirability of supranationality. When one pushes past rhetoric and certain diplomatic flourishes, one becomes keenly aware that the EU is not a single state but twenty-seven sovereign states that rarely agree completely on diplomatic and military issues and yet with decision-making structures that operate on consensus. How it does or does not manage to balance supranationality and democracy, diversity and cohesion, will be the story of the EU for the next few years
With its alternating bouts of institution-building and of “Eurosclerosis,” Europe is eternally becoming. It is always being constructed. I am curious as to what Europe will be.