Timothy Garton Ash drew attention to two impending events. On 12 March in Independence, Missouri, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland would formally accede to NATO. On 15 March, in Rambouillet, near Paris, another attempt would be made to prevent war in Kosovo.
Both events illustrate the European experience. On the one hand the success story of Central Europe over the last 10 years; on the other the failure of Western Europe to prevent war and atrocities in the Balkans. These two events symbolize the best and worst of Europe in the 1990s.
It was appropriate that Central and Eastern Europeans should open the deliberations of COEUR since they have kept Europe in their hearts for forty years. Travelling between East and West Europe during the Cold War he had often thought that Europe was divided between the West, which had Europe and the East, which believed in it. So it would be especially interesting to hear what the believers think of today’s EU. There is also something else which Independence and Rambouillet have in common. They were both orchestrated by the USA. Why not Europe? When travelling two months previously in Kosovo he noted that conversations often began with “The international community. I mean the Americans…”
President Havel began by remarking that 51 years ago to the day, the communist coup in Czechoslovakia had been the last in a string of events which had drawn the Iron Curtain across Europe and led to the creation of NATO.
Throughout its history Europe has been a single cultural and political entity. The Iron Curtain appeared to cut the East off from European dialogue. But this isolation gave East Europeans a special perspective. They saw more clearly than those in the West the need for pan-European arrangements based on this one culture and ethos of unification.
The Iron Curtain, which fell 10 years ago, has been replaced by a psychological iron curtain. East Europeans are still unsure of themselves, unsure whether they are the equals of those in the West who may view them as “strange unpredictable creatures”. Joining NATO may help overcome this new barrier. Looking ahead, what can East and West Europeans together bring to Europe? Each can be said to owe a debt to the other. From the East is a debt due to the failure to articulate the experience of life under totalitarianism, and the struggle to maintain a system of ethics and decency. The East owes it to the West to convey this experience. The West owes it to the East to transcend the framework of its consumerism, materialism and questionable media sensationalism.
Combining the two, Europe owes a debt to the whole world. Europeans have a duty to set an example to rest of the world as a means of overcoming the dangers besetting our civilization. Europe cannot export its principles by force but rather show by force of example what a region, which was the cradle of our civilization, can achieve. Attempts at European unification originally took place against the experience of war and totalitarianism. Those external threats have receded and people now wonder whether the impulse to unification will continue. Today the imperative should be that Europe has a responsibility to show an example to the world. We need “a new ethos with which our continent can enter a new millennium”.
Bronislaw Geremek recalled that two weeks previously, Warsaw had celebrated the tenth anniversary of the round table which set in motion the velvet revolutions in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. They were true revolutions. But in showing restraint they had shown a degree of responsibility which had contributed positively to the destiny of Europe.
To overcome the global challenges it now faces, Europe needs a new synergy. Europe needs the East. Enlargement is not just enlargement but rather unification. What is the meaning of European integration ? The answer lies in culture. Europe is a civilization which has always been critical of itself. There is no spontaneous tendency towards thinking and acting in European terms but rather a natural tendency towards nationalism. Politics are still national rather than European. This is understandable in that our democratic structures are national, but the reversion to nationalism brings the dangers of the national interest becoming the reference point of politics. The idea of a European interest is still too weak, and because it is weak the concept of national interest is becoming stronger. A weak European strategy could engender a return to nationalism and the extreme right.
European integration began with economics and is now a question of European identity. But European identity needs a memory. The creation of a European history is a conscious act. It should not be a well-intentioned effort where all differences are smoothed out. Instead, it should be objective account of Europe in all its conflicts, follies and stupidities, and alongside these the great success story of the EU.
The EU is in reality an unbelievable success. That is why East Europeans wish to join. Who could have imagined French and German reconciliation? In South East Asia people want a similar system based on the rule of law and democracy. Europeans should assume responsibility for all the disasters of the past and on their doorstep and continue integration because it is something good, based on values, and opposed to what is happening in Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. Europe needs more confidence and more of a sense of its own identity.
A Pole cannot forget the 1939 slogan “Nous ne mourrons pas pour Danzig” In the end those who said that, did not die for Danzig but for their own countries. What of Kosovo and Pristina today? It is important to know about such places, peoples and cultures. COEUR should make this one of its principal missions.
Timothy Garton Ash underlined the link between teaching history and building a better Europe. There is wisdom in the words of a Hungarian historian “You know. I think we should be more optimistic about the past”.
György Konrád struck a more doubtful note. The EU is the child of the Enlightenment, but has as its antithesis an anti-integrative or disintegrative romanticism. This romanticism can be seen in operation in the Balkans. The rhetoric of Europe is superficial if responsibility is forgotten. During the Cold War the West spent heavily on armaments, but did not feel secure. Then the Eastern bloc collapsed from within, no arms were needed and societies themselves dismantled their systems of government. Culture proved the most effective tool. “Words crumbled the Wall without bloodshed”. Citizens of the West can thank East Europeans for having escaped the danger of a Third World War.
Today gradual integration of Eastern Europe into the EU is justified but evasiveness is damaging. There is no need to trick East Europeans. The rhetoric of Europe will not be relevant if expansion to the East can only take place “when cows jump over the moon”. If integration slows down and becomes uncertain, the feeling of exclusion could give way to romanticisms of resentment and anti-Western nationalist etatisms”.
Missing the chance to expand eastward could mean that decay could spread to the West, and that the great product of the post-war period, Franco-German friendship could crack as well. If union is not a progressive operation, then it will turn inward and brood over its own internal conflicts. The dangling of deadlines does no good for Western politics either, because it institutionalises uncertainty and dishonesty as basic European attributes. Instead, there should be a continuous critical evaluation of the democratic practices of individual countries, to be prepared by the appropriate institutions under the aegis of the EU. Among the EU Commissioners there should also be a human rights commissioner.
European integration calls for moral commitment. It involves sacrifice and necessarily has to contain a utopian element, that of continuously expanding circles of responsibility.
André Glucksmann‘s assessment of the current European situation was pessimistic. He took as his theme the phrase by Goya “The sleep of reason engenders monsters”. These monsters are arising in Kosovo. Where there was incapacity to sustain peaceful action the consequence was a movement to arms.
Why is there still a psychological iron curtain? Europe has wasted 10 years. This is perhaps not a catastrophe but it is certainly a failure. Germany has helped millions of people in the East, but no-one else has done so on the scale needed. Germany has no higher unemployment than France. Helping others is helping oneself. When the US fell into isolationism the result was a disaster: when the US helped Europe through the Marshall Plan it also helped itself to adapt to a post-war economy. Europe has provided no such help to the East, but not for lack of material resources.
Why then is there a blockage? It is as if Eastern Europe is a terra incognita, a place beyond Western comprehension. The last Vienna European Council spent more time discussing Duty-Free than the crisis in Russia. Greens are more concerned about closing down nuclear plants in the West than the vastly more dangerous ones in the East. At the time the Berlin Wall tell, the libraries of the West were stuffed with books explaining how to make the transition from capitalism to socialism. None explained how to do the reverse.
However, the blockage is not total. It is possible to explain to the West that what has happened in the East is decisive. What is happening in the Balkans and other turbulent parts of the world are European experiences relived. Russia today compared to the Weimar Republic is comprehensible in Germany. European unification can be seen as a way of overcoming adversity, not overcoming an enemy. The European man in the street is no better, wiser, or more democratic than in the past. It is just that he has a better chance of avoiding political disasters today provided he draws lessons from Europe’s own history and does not pretend that the outside world does not exist. Vaclav Havel is right. Responsibility is Europe’s gift to the world.
Timothy Garton Ash noted that all the panelists agreed that Western Europe, by trailing to help the East, has also failed to pursue its own self-interest. Opening the discussion he invited comment from the floor. Who would dare to defend the priorities, the “Maastricht priorities”, which Western leaders have set over the last ten years?
Edzard Reuter (Stuttgart) emphasized that European unification has been a great success story. It has also been a major cause of the demise of communist regimes. This success has been achieved gradually. Would it not be preferable for the future to continue step by step? This approach would be the most acceptable to the man in the street, who is “much more in favour of European unity than most politicians believe”.
Göran Rosenberg (Stockholm) disagreed. A majority of Swedes are now opposed to EU membership. The EU has to solve serious internal problems before assuming its responsibilities towards the East. The EU’s biggest problem is language. The EU is supposed to create a European public forum but in a democracy such a forum is based on a common language. Expanding to the East will only exacerbate this problem. Communication within Europe is the main problem.
Ferdinand Kinsky (Nice) The EU is a victim of its own success. The historical reasons for unity, the desire for peace, tear of the Soviet threat, the advantages of a single market, have been achieved. Now the issue of costs and profits has become the overriding consideration; costs which the West is reluctant to bear and profits which the East is eager to share.
Vaclav Havel The European ideal also includes readiness to take on the burdens of the world. It is not a question of exporting its values but of setting an example. This requires a sense of responsibility.
Bronislaw Geremek recalled President Havel’s image about the enlargement of the EU. It is impossible to have a room in which one half is warm and the other cold. The question now is whether Europe is one room. Only the West can answer. The West needs the East to prove the success of European integration.
Alexandre Lamfalussy (Louvain) found the accusation that the West has failed to help the East exaggerated. If the West has not fully embraced the East it is because the public in the West is not well informed. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy is not a precondition for enlargement of the EU. The CAP would have to be reformed “even if we lived on the moon”. The dangers of migration from the East to the West are misrepresented. Polls show that only a small number would emigrate from the East.
Andreas Meyer Landrut (Moscow) Russia is part of Europe and it is our responsibility to keep her in Europe. Providing money is not the solution. Europe must help Russian society to evolve.
André Glucksmann The collapse of the Soviet Union has removed a unifying threat from Europe, but we must not reinvent another enemy. The EU is not a union against an adversary but against adversity. Europe must learn from its turbulent past and draw the lessons from it: democracy, tolerance and respect for others is the most responsible policy.
György Konrád saw danger that the West’s drive for integration is weakening. The concept of the nation state is strengthening now that the unifying threat has gone. Gone too is the generosity of the early years. Bargaining is getting tougher. Fragmentation is increasing. This is not dangerous so long as the disciplining framework of the EU and NATO remain. But it could easily deteriorate as has happened in the Balkans. The true function of the EU is to provide that discipline, not only through institutions, but also through Europeans understanding the historical dimension of the process of European unification.
Bronislaw Geremek The French historian Braudel had once remarked that what man needs to be happy is: the market, political freedom and “un peu de fraternité”, which must be based on a strong feeling of common identity. Europe must develop “a little bit of Solidarity”.
Vaclav Havel The cultural sphere must provide impulses for the political sphere. It is then up to politicians to absorb such impulses and translate them into politics. For this a quality is needed which is not often found in politicians: courage. The courage to be unpopular, to risk failure and, above all, to remain faithful to one’s beliefs. The post-war politicians had this courage. To breathe a new spirit and energy into European unification we need courageous politicians.