Tuesday, August 4, 2009

European (Dis-?) Union

The New York Times reports on disagreements among leaders in the European Union (EU), with a focus on disputes with one of the EU's newer members, the Czech Republic.

After World War II, the EU started out small, arising out of the idea that an organization promoting economic cooperation in Europe would reduce the danger of yet another pan-European war.

Winston Churchill was criticized as a warmonger in the early post-war years, for speaking about the division of Europe, e.g., in the speech at Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946, when he coined the term "iron curtain". But in a less-quoted speech that same year, he proposed that "we must re-create the European Family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe."

The first concrete step in that direction was the 1951 founding of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Despite Churchill's enthusiasm for European integration, the United Kingdom did not take part in the earliest organizational activity. Italy, France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were the founding members of the ECSC.

The narrow purpose of the ECSC was to create a common market in those two commodities. The broader goal was to make cooperation, rather than nationalistic competition, the theme for the continent. The largest specific issue along those lines was to integrate West Germany into the post-war European structure. (The remainder of Germany, along with the rest of the Soviet bloc was, of course, excluded from these ventures. If that sounds like foreshadowing, that's because it is.)

By 1957, that structure had been broadened to constitute the European Economic Community, with the goal of forming a common market for all goods, not just coal and steel. The six founding states gradually admitted new members over the years.

When Britain eventually decided it wanted to join, in 1960, its application was vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle. Finally, in 1973, the U.K. became a member.

Various events served as catalysts for further enlargement. For example, Spain and Portugal, which had been dictatorships when the organization was founded, joined in 1986, after they had instituted democratic government.

The largest such catalyst was the end of the Cold War, around 1989, and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, in 1991.

Countries that had been neutral in the Cold War, no longer saw a need to position themselves between the competing halves of Europe. Therefore, Finland, Sweden and Austria joined in 1995.

Then, starting in 2004, countries that had been part of the Soviet bloc started to join the EU. As a result of all of the various enlargements, the organization has ballooned from six to 27 member states.

In its early years, it was relatively easy for six countries to run the community by consensus, and the sharing of major jobs. That's more difficult these days. Efforts to adopt a new constitution for the EU (the current proposed version, called the Lisbon Treaty, is discussed in the Times article to which I've linked) have not, so far, come to fruition. Methinks I even hear a faint echo of Donald Rumsfeld's talk of "New Europe" and "Old Europe" in the disagreements between, for example, the Czech Republic and France.

In a future post, I plan to compare this process to that of integrating the American states into the increasingly-centralized federal structure of the USA.

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