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From the September 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 9)

Europe’s Identity Crisis

More Unity in the European Union

Roman Graczyk, Gazeta Wyborcza (liberal), Warsaw, Poland, June 23, 2003

Young Poles show their support for the European Union during a pro-accession rally in Wroclaw on May 9. On June 7-8, Poland decided in a referendum to join the E.U. in 2004
Young Poles show their support for the European Union during a pro-accession rally in Wroclaw on May 9. On June 7-8, Poland decided in a referendum to join the E.U. in 2004 (Photo: Sean Gallup/AFP-Getty Images).
The situation is becoming grotesque: The candidate countries, lagging behind civilization as it is, rather than concerning themselves with catching up, choose to stress their independence and nearly threaten to withdraw from the European Union (E.U.). No one is likely to shed a tear over it. Our entrance into the E.U. has been a foregone conclusion since June 8. It is true that the members of the E.U. are reluctant to further expand, and it has been suggested in some capitals that Poland ought to be punished for its stance in the conflict over Iraq. Now—after a victorious end of the war and the recent referendum—it does not seem feasible that any of the 15 members of the E.U. would not ratify the accession treaty.

Yet, the union we are joining is an unfinished structure. The building of our Europe is constantly evolving, and we are to join it at a special moment: The E.U. is undertaking the greatest institutional changes since the [1957] Treaty of Rome.

Until now, the union was an alliance of nations with a small (though growing) number of domains governed collectively. In these common politics, many decisions are made almost automatically, according to previously negotiated long-term goals; there is no need for frequent conferences seeking all the members’ agreement on each matter. In this aspect, the union functions like a federation. In most spheres, however, including the most important ones—such as foreign and defense policies—the union functions like any other international organization: No decision is made without everyone’s approval. Efforts to revise this state of affairs and increase the level of integration, which call, first and foremost, for the elimination of the unanimity principle, have long been under way, though without much success. Ultimately, during meetings in Nice and Laeken, the leaders of the union agreed that some courageous decisions were in order and entrusted the European Convention with working out these revisions.

There is a long-standing awareness that an evolution toward a federalist character is necessary, but matters have become much more urgent in light of the greatest expansion in the history of the union. The new members have a different understanding of the concept of  “European unity.” They are joining the union as they would an exclusive club; the only thing they want is to get in. The old members know that the arrival of the new ones necessitates thorough renovations. But there is no clear plan on how to overhaul the club.

There is a growing sentiment that with the arrival of the new members the club loses its elite character. There are increasingly brazen suggestions to take advantage of the renovation process and create a club within a club—a place for the true elite. In the European press this is known as the concept of the “hard core” or “two-speed Europe.”

The general public of the candidate countries is usually not aware of the changes taking place in the union. Often brainwashed and intimidated by the nationalists at home, it has second thoughts about even joining the union. This also applies in Poland’s case: Just like the other novices, we do not see clearly enough that the union itself is on shaky ground.

Those who followed the convention’s efforts may have their doubts about the union’s reforms—nothing was coming together here. First, months were spent on research. Then, the convention’s board could not agree on set proposals meeting these two conditions: to introduce revisions in the spirit of greater integration and receive approval for these revisions from at least the majority of the convention’s members. The one—possibly the only—good thing about the convention is its high level of representation, as it consists of politicians who reflect the opinion of the government (sometimes even the public) of their countries. For instance, the German and French foreign ministers are members of the convention. Anything agreed to within the convention is truly resolved and can serve as a good basis for further development. The problem is the fact that not a lot is getting resolved.

The main division is drawn between the “federalists” (those concerned about things common to all of Europe) and the “autonomists” (concerned with their national identity). The former consist mostly of the representatives of the union’s two “engines”—Germany and France. The latter are mainly the British, supported by the representatives of mostly smaller countries. Mostly, but not exclusively—for instance Poland’s delegates to the convention (Poland being quite a large country in the context of Europe) kept up a “federalist” appearance while supporting the “autonomist” solutions.

In the face of looming failure, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the convention’s chairman, submitted proposals concerning the constitution’s most controversial sector, dealing with the power structures. Giscard d’Estaing’s proposals bet on the strength of the member countries or, to be more precise, on the strength of the most important member countries and steered away from the popular suggestion that the leader of the European Commission play the role of  “Europe’s president” of sorts—the head of the parliamentary majority. These proposals have become the main subject of de-bate in the convention. Until June 13, Brussels was the site of dramatic debates, consultations, and bargaining.

It may appear simple—the federalists strive for strengthening institutions stemming from “collective logic” (the European Parliament and Commission) at the expense of those rooted in “intergovernment logic” (the Council of the Union). Giscard d’Estaing’s proposals were criticized openly in the convention and viewed as a betrayal of federalism, perhaps too hastily. There were supporters of non-federalist solutions among the critics, e.g., Polish delegates to the convention.

The official foundation of Europe governed by the commission (laboring under the collective logic) will not matter if the council (that is, the heads of European countries and governments) does not support its decisions. Hence Giscard d’Estaing chose to take a different approach: Let it be a brand of federalism relying on the good will of the heads of countries and governments. This system institutes a sort of democratization of the law-making mechanism, fortifying the voice of the larger nations, and it so happens that two of these (France and Germany) are proponents of the collective philosophy, in other words, of political Europe.

On April 29, a minisummit concerning European defense took place in Brussels. Nonetheless, this meeting is significant because of the prospect it confirms—the prospect of building a European defense force of 60,000 armed troops capable of quick deployment anywhere. If Europe had this sort of tool at its disposal, it would finally become an important player in global politics, which has been its long-standing aspiration.

There will not be a collective European foreign policy without the tools of its execution—a united defense system would be one such tool. Poland’s current attitude toward the union is just to get in and prevent any changes in the federalist spirit. Europe—in this case inexplicably referred to as united—is to remain exactly what it was in the Metternich era: a concert of great powers. Working from this premise, Poland’s only option for maintaining some sort of a position is its concern for equal distribution of power.

It will be a long time before the E.U. becomes a federation, but there are signs that smaller alliances will be created within it, according to their common policies in particular spheres. This will be the club within the club. We can already see its seeds: the Schengen Agreement [signed on June 14, 1985, between Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands to gradually abolish borders checks—WPR], and the euro-zone. An indication of this kind of federalist structure within the union is the April 29 declaration by France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg on the subject of the E.U. defense policy. These four countries are determined to build such a system; others are welcome to join in, but that requires political will and a certain level of technological advancement of their military. It is obvious that not all of the union’s members will find common ground here. This is how the “two-speed Europe” is created.

Giscard d’Estaing clearly does not believe that the process of actual integration will include all 25: “What we need is a plan presented and implemented in stages, just like the introduction of the euro. The decision to enter the final stage will be made unanimously before the end of the first decade. As time goes on, we may learn that some nations may not be willing to cooperate. In such a case, we will need to implement a clause of non-membership, perhaps even departure [from the union].”

Our concern in the E.U. is not preserving the status quo but catching up to the leaders. Clubs within the club will be created. If we remain in the competition, rather than take the lead, we need to be everywhere we are allowed. Europe will not be as cohesive as it used to be. It will be like a train schedule, where more and more express trains are added. Our task is to try to get on board these trains, even if we don’t receive a very friendly welcome, as newcomers rarely do.

This means that we are putting a stake in a thing terrible to mention in Poland: federalism. We ought to start supporting the E.U.’s transformation by increasing the number of its common policies—not through our previously empty words but by actually striving for a makeover of its structures, which will allow for cooperation on a collective level. That means transcending nationalism. If we want to be successful, we cannot hide in the corner. Since we are joining the E.U., let’s bet on “more unity.”

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