Happy 50th Birthday, EU!

by Chris Borgen

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.


4 Responses

  1. My personal thoughts and sentiments are well captured by Charles Arthur Willard:

    ‘Euroculture will probably thrive, not because it is an all-consuming culture, but because it will Americanize (meaning trivialize) Europe’s ancient demons. The new Lebensraum will be the living room, the coffee shope, and the cafe (and, to be sure, the golf course, the shopping mall, and the sports arena). As national identities blur, national borders may fade in importance; as interdependence grows, workforces and economic interests may become increasingly cosmopolitan. The result may be an empty sameness, but as the Bosnian Muslims know, there are worse panoramas.

    And the sameness may not be entirely empty. Little Italy doesn’t remotely resemble Chinatown; Miami scarcely duplicates Boston; and no sentient person would mistake Kansas City for Kansas. Euroculture will nestle, like fast-food restaurants, among greater differences than these, for unless one falls in a canal, one wouldn’t mistake Amsterdam for Venice. At best, the new lingua franca will resemble the odd utopia envisioned by Esperanto advocates a century ago. Differences in language, architecture, and local customs will remain, but everyone will have a second language, and no matter how cosmopolitan that language may be, it isn’t likely to be an empty sameness. It will be, as English now is, a loose collection of jargons, slangs, idioms, and dialects.

    But if Euroculture won’t be the empty sameness communitarians fear, neither will it be as powerful. For it, likes its American cousin, is frightfully dependent on prosperity. The fortunes of American demagogues have largely co-varied with the business cycle: the Know-Nothings in the 1840s, the Populists in the 1890s, Huey Long and Father Coughlin in the 1930s. The 1990s recession spawned a Ku Kluxer and a primitive nationalist seeking the presidency–and a neanderthal broadcaster whose audiences are treated to a daily diet of Japan-bashing, isolationism, and calls for immigration restrictions. Privation in Russia spawned the specter of Mr. Zhirinofsky, who garnered 20 percent of the vote with a scale of demagoguery that would make Huey Long blush. So it is scarcely surprising that hard times in Europe have fueled Le Pen’s national Front in France, Haider’s Freedom Party in Austria, the Flemish Bloc in Belgium, Alessandra Mussolini and the neo-fascists in Italy, the Republikaners and German People’s Union in Germany, and overt Nazi revivals in the late German Democratic Republic. All of these movements have anti-immigrant, nationalistic, and racial purity themse; and for all, the federation is a convenient whipping boy. [….]

    The case for blandness , for the dullness of federated Europe, lies in its safety. It is better for bridging cultures because it is unthreatening. [….]

    Postmodern sovereignty is a breath-taking experiment. Unlike melting pots, interdependencies needn’t “just happen,” they can be engineered, and in matters of sovereignty, interdependence is the mother of shallow quotation. [….]

    The cliff-hanger is Europe. Will its evolving corporate-governmental symbiosis simply replicate the corporate handmaiden on a larger scale? And is it done with primitive solidarities? Its allegorical “common currency” is fragile, certainly, and no more feasible in the foreseeable future in Bosinia than it is in Burundi and Rwanda. The future is hard to see through ancient lenses, but if the federation keeps its feeble hold on modernity’s next stage, while leading the developing democracies out of the nineteenth century, it will be remembered every time the primitive clashes with the modern. If it falters, it will be an object lesson about how best to talk about mass organization. For what we have learned, it seems to me, is that an effective modernity kills superstitions; a failed postmodernism revives them. But with some inventiveness, and a certain lightness of touch, postmodernity can be an effective dialectical partner to modern times.’

    From Willard’s Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy (1996).

  2. Being young and European and full of idealism, my vision of Europe is best reflected by Cédric Klapisch’s films L’Auberge espagnole and Les Poupées russes. Yes, that is my Europe.

  3. Being an ex-European, my thoughts are that while Professor Borgen believes “it is always being constructed,” I believe it is in the process of deconstructing. The inability of Europe to stand up for what it believes in with conviction and consistency, the failure to believe in its own values and the atmosphere of daily despair in large portions of Europe will ultimately doom the EU. No one will die for the EU.

  4. One non-substantive note concerning the previous comment: if you are Hans Blix, it is great to see you are reading our blog. But, assuming you are not Hans Blix, I would like to remind you (as was done one time previously by someone else) that choosing a tag that is the name of an actual living person is not proper “netiquette” and is frowned upon. We haven’t gone as far as other blogs that delete any comments that purport to be from someone that they’re not and would prefer not to have to cross that bridge. Please don’t make this an issue.

    But then again, if you are Hans Blix, ignore all that and please give me a call. 😉

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