A Lesson from the EU Founders

The recent debate over Turkey’s accession to the European Union has raised questions over what constitutes a “European” country and what qualifications are necessary for entry. Valerie Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president who is leading a project to draft a constitution for the EU, injected his own polemic on Turkey’s status when he recently said Turkey is “not a European country.” Inviting it to join the Union, he said, would mean “the end of Europe.” D’Estaing’s language is particularly blunt, but it is not unrepresentative of the way Turkey has been treated over the last few months in which it endured the same rejection from EU decisionmakers that it has received over the past forty years. Yet this exclusion does not fit with the visionary attitudes of the European Union’s founders.

The founders of the EU based their arguments for union on the establishment, preservation, and extension of peace. Now, with debate over accession of Turkey, Brussels has the opportunity to forcefully disprove the accusation of anti-Islam policy and show the Muslim world an attempt to bring East and West closer together. An examination of the ideals of the EU’s founders reveals that their desire for peace would cause them to help bring the Muslim Middle East and Christian Europe closer together–not push them further apart. Thus far in the debate over Turkey and principles of expansion in general, the EU seems to be in danger of abandoning the vision of its founders.

Jean Monnet, called the “father of Europe,” was the single most influential person in the creation and development of the European Union. He saw the biggest possible picture. It is hard to imagine that he would have tried to deny entry to nations banging on Brussels’ door. More likely he would have welcomed the opportunity to lock them into the society that he hoped would be beyond conflict. Monnet showed this attitude first at the early date of 1940 when he was one of the architects of a failed proposal for a Franco-British union. He later would work to enlarge the European Union with the accession of Britain, Ireland, and Denmark.

In 1962 Monnet wrote: “European unity is the most important event in the West since the war, not because it is a new great power, but because the new institutional method it introduces is permanently modifying relations between nations and men. Human nature does not change, but when nations and men accept the same institutions … their behavior towards each other changes. This is the process of civilization itself.” Not a man of limited outlook, Monnet saw all that was possible of the European Union, and surely would have wanted to see these positive impacts of the EU spread as widely as possible.

Altiero Spinelli was also an early thinker of European unity writing the Ventotene Manifesto on the topic in 1941. He wrote: “The multiple problems which poison international life on the continent have proved to be insoluble … All matters which would find easy solutions in the European Federation.” The goal of the future “Federation” was to insure peace and end the perpetual strife on the continent. From this standpoint including as many nations as possible in the peaceful institution would surely guarantee greater security.

In 1952, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Luxembourg formed the European Coal and Steel Community, which was the core around which the European Union was ultimately established. Its goals were not to create just a club of rich countries. “The six” did not form this community for the financial benefit of a few and the exclusion of many. The goals were in fact much more wide-ranging and idealistic. The preamble of the treaty states: “Considering that world peace can be safeguarded only by creative efforts commensurate with the dangers that threaten it; Convinced that the contribution which an organized and vital Europe can make to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations . . . [The six] have decided to create a European Coal and Steel Community.” The goal was to replace “bloody conflicts” with “peace” and a shared “destiny.”

Robert Schumann, French foreign minister and one of the architects of the plan, sought to make war between France and Germany “materially impossible,” and to make this new institution “indispensable to the preservation of peace.”

The authors did not outline a limited vision, but an idealistic one. It was not one of exclusion, but of the widest possible inclusion to prevent nations from engaging in war and bind them in a shared destiny to insure peace.

The European Union is a truly amazing institution. On a day-to-day basis, it is easy to criticize the EU’s trade policy, weak will in foreign affairs, and current of anti-Americanism. However, in the bigger picture, it has ended strife on the European continent (of course with not a small amount of American help). Its founders have achieved their vision for those members of the club. It is hard to believe Monnet or Schumann or Spinelli would want to limit these benefits. When one hears the vituperativeness of d’Estaing, or the more diplomatic exclusionary attitudes of others, the question comes to mind whether these are the men and women who should be helping to develop EU policy. Instead it should be those who recognize the major achievements of the EU in peace and fraternity and want to extend these benefits as widely as possible.

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