On the face of it, the development of a European identity seems like a positive thing. Indeed, the establishment of the European Union has resulted in many positive developments for that continent. However, Europeans should not allow themselves to be seduced with a kiss.
In 1951, the European Coal Steel Community (ECSC) was formed, with the expressed intent of preventing industries essentially connected with the production of war materials to be wielded for that purpose. By coordinating production through a supranational “High Authority” the system was to remove trade barriers for these industries and form a common market. In principle this market could also be joined by other nations. Thus it represented in one regard a positive thing: the reduction of trade barriers.
It must be understood, however, that this was not “free trade.” It was supranational socialism. The coal and steel industries were not to be left free to trade across national boundaries, thus dissolving their national associations through mutually respectful and advantageous trading, they were to be directed in their activities by a supranational government agency.
The model of the ECSC was broadened in 1957 to other industries in order “preserve peace and liberty and to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.” The means were the same. Now, a broader “customs union” would be formed, which would remove internal trade barriers and establish a common tariff system for external trade. Again the system was open to other European countries. Again, however, it involved supranational socialism, especially in the area of agriculture, where price levels were to be established not by markets, but by government officials. Because the number of industries involved was greatly expanded, some countries were worried about their ability to manipulate industries themselves and the power of the supranational authority was reduced.
The removal of “internal” customs barriers was, of course, a positive development. As was the subsequent Schengen Agreement of 1985, which removed restriction on the freedom of movement of laborers. These both meant a decline in the power of national governments over the individual. They also can said to have fostered a great sense of “community” among peoples, who were now more mobile and interconnected.
In connection to this, I am reminded of a personal experience of mine that always stuck with me. I was riding my mountain bike across Europe with a friend after graduating from college–such a cliché, I know 🙂 . On this trip, I was impressed by this sense of community among the young people of Europe. I recall in particular sitting before the Trevi Fountain talking to another traveller. He noted, with considerable embarrassment, that he had never visited this famous place before, stating that this was strange given that this was his home. “Oh, are you from Rome?” I asked. “No, I’m from Holland.” I was briefly puzzled, but he clarified. “I mean, Europe is my home.”
As heartwarming as this sentiment seems, and admitting that for many European youths there is a certain benevolent idealism involved in the idea of European Union, when one moves past this youthful perspective and penetrates to the philosophical essence of the European identity, it takes on a different significance. The idea of being “European” is still fundamentally collectivist in nature, and thus necessarily exclusive and antagonistic as well. On an ideological level, Europe is largely being brought together in order to resist or counterbalance a perceived threat — the United States and the ideas of the American Enlightenment.
(Continued in Part 4.)