It is often said that Europe is going through a major crisis. That its ‘founding fathers’ must be turning in their graves on seeing the obstacles that the ‘Eurosceptics’ are erecting on the path towards its unification. This judgment is greatly nuanced by the book European Construction: Received and Misleading Ideas, which Professor Quentin Michel and his colleagues at the ULg’s Department of Political Science have brought out through the University of Liège’s publishing house. Through a systematic analysis of the votes over successive treaties, they show that European integration has always been littered with pitfalls. Whether those nostalgic for a ‘great fervour’ of initial enthusiasm like it or not.
‘Union is not natural for human beings. Necessity pushes them to it, interest keeps them there.’ Now there is a slightly disillusioned observation. Which ‘Euro-pessimist’ delivered it? The half-heartedness of this disreputable character is maybe in keeping with the times, this bureaucratic routine in which each of the 27 countries pulls the bedcover to its own side, but in which genuine European integration seems to be marking time. In any case we are far from the enthusiasm of the ‘fathers of Europe,’ these visionaries who were able to impose a project which seemed inconceivable a few years earlier, on the eve of the Second World War: bringing together the peoples and countries of Europe within a community devoted to peace and economic and social progress. The German Konrad Adenauer, the Italian Alcide de Gasperi, the French Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, the Belgian Paul-Henri Spaak and several others: these ‘founding fathers’, who had experienced the two world wars of the 20th century, managed to convince the eternal protagonists of the European battlefield that the pacification of the continent would be shaped by the reconciliation of peoples and countries. And not through a balance of power, as the 1815 Congress of Vienna thought, after the defeat of Napoleon.
Half a century later, the incredible gamble seems to have paid off, as wars have deserted this continent which had stopped counting them. With one exception: the ex Yugoslav federation, whose break up, in the 1990s, gave rise to barbarisms of a different age. But this exception only confirmed the rule: these fratricidal conflicts in the Balkans took place outside the European Union. And today the countries which are heirs to the ex-Yugoslavia are knocking at the door of the Union because they see in it, above all, the most solid guarantee against a resurgence of past wars.
So, let’s go back to this sentence: who said ‘Union is not natural for human beings’? A British Prime Minister? A Czech or Polish Eurosceptic, or a French Souverainist? But no: this calmly clear-sighted observation was expressed by Robert Schuman, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of European construction. The man who has given his name to the famous Brussels roundabout, at the heart of the neighbourhood which houses the main Community institutions. But how is that possible? Why did this unifier, who devoted the best part of his life to European construction, allow himself to say ‘union is not natural for human beings’? Quite simply because Schuman (1886-1963) was the direct witness to the two great slaughters which brought bloodshed to Europe in the 20th century. And who had to battle very firmly, along with others, to bring triumph to the idea that nationalisms are surmountable in the creation of a common project.