The project of European unity has had a long and varied history. Ideas of European integration go back as far as the seventeenth century with Duc de Sully and his ‘Grand Design’ to redraw European boundaries, generate a European Council and defend the continent with a united European Army. Despite the rejection of de Scully’s idea Europe has experienced a series of similar ideas and attempts to create a more unified federation, from Napoleonic France in the early nineteenth century to Nazi Germany in the mid twentieth century.
In this essay I will briefly explore such attempts that have occurred since the end of the First World War, to ascertain the thinking behind them and the influences that brought the unity of Europe about as an ideal. I will also describe the events that took place leading up to the creation of the European Community and to the present day European Union, depicting the shift from European unity as an ideal to the European Union as a reality. All too often people assume that European unity is a modern concept, a post-war invention, a reaction to world war two and Nazi Germany.
But the truth is European unity actually dates back well beyond the 1940s. Some might even suggest that the Roman Empire was the original starting point bringing about a cultural unity that was particularly prominent in Mediterranean areas. Other signs that integration was occurring well before the outbreak of the Second World War include the Anglo French Free Trade agreement of 1860 and the German Zollverein creation of the first common external tariff. Indeed by 1900 there were already 108 administrative conventions and arrangements between European States.
However I pick the story up at the close of the First World War when European unity seemed quite unbelievable in the wake of devastation, and continental integration had very few advocates. Concerns lay mainly with preventing fragmentation in Europe rather than uniting it. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 saw an official end to the First World War and the birth of an international cooperative to achieve peace and security, known as the League of Nations.
The signing of this treaty and other discussions at the Paris Peace Conference lead to the reorientation of European territory and a refashioning of the boundaries and map of the continent in the pursuit of a policy of self determination. As Hoffernan (1998) explains the organisation of the new European States, which totally dismembered the Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empires, was totally impractical, ignoring any economic or structural aspects, concentrating solely on the encapsulation and imprisonment of Germany in fear of a German resurgence.
The result was an ever-worsening situation in Europe economically, politically and culturally. By 1923 the evident failure to establish a stable, let alone prosperous, order in Europe had prompted some people to turn to the idea of European union” (Stirk, 1996:18) In 1923 Richard Coudenhoue-Kalergi established the Pan-European Union (PEU) in Vienna. Originally a member of the League of Nations Coudenhoue-Kalergi began to think global integration (pursued by the League of Nations) aspirations were too ambitious and set about focussing on uniting Europe. His idea of the PEU was to unite Europe politically as a world region, which would rejected both communism and fascism but didn’t depend on ethnicity, culture, race or religion.
His ideas gained wide spread support all over Europe and in 1929 the Honorary President of the PEU made a formal proposal to the Assembly of the League of Nations, a proposal which came to be known as the Briand Plan. This plan was a confederal unification of European governments that operated within the League of Nations, but that ensured the maintenance of national sovereignties. His plan however was based heavily on politics and like the Treaty of Versailles, failed to incorporate economic and social considerations, in addition it disallowed any European involvement by Britain due to its imperial traditions and aspirations.
The Briand Plan had been dropped by the end of 1932 due to death of Briand himself and to Britain’s lack of interest. Britain meanwhile was still thinking globally, economically and closely alongside thoughts of the League of Nations. France on the other hand was still pursuing ideas of European unity, as Briand had been a French man and in his plan had tried to advocate the need for a leading French role in the unity of Europe. Whilst Germany was beginning to think, once again, of ideas of Mitteleuropa, the same ideas that had spawned the First World War.
By the 1930s any notions about uniting the continent were put on hold as governments began worrying about the growth of Germnay and the Germans’ second bid to reshape Europe, as World War Two broke out (Stirk, 1996). “The war itself saw an ambitious attempt by Germany to rip the heart out of Europe and refashion it into a German-dominated Mitteleuropa” (Stirk, 1996:1) The rise and fall of Nazi Germnay acted as a severe wake up call for European leaders. Only one real solution seemed both plausible and necessary, that is the continent must unite to establish and maintain peace.
Despite the defeat of the Axis powers by mid 1945 European unity had to be carefully planned “in the light of Stalin’s motives in the east and of a possible resurgent militarism in Germany in the heart of the continent” (Heater, 1992:148). What happened next was a series of plans and implementations that sought to bring about a united Europe. Firstly was US Secretary of State, George Marshall’s proposal for a European Recovery Programme, as the continent lay in utter disrepair and devastation and was dependant on outside help in its reconstruction and recovery.
In 1947 the Marshall Plan evolved from this, a programme of US Aid for European redevelopment. The US was keen to see Europe recover and pull together as it feared in its post war state that it might be susceptible to Russian influences. 1948 saw the establishment of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) within which the Marshall Plan was administered. Following the creation of the Council of Europe a plan called the Schuman plan was unveiled in 1950.
This plan superseded any before it as it clearly rejected any notion of a single framework of unification, preferring a step-by-step approach that united the continent in a piecemeal fashion, concentrating first on integration between France and Germany. As a result on the 18th of April 1951 the Treaty of Paris was drafted and signed by France, Germany and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), leading to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and what became known as the ‘Little Europe’ of the six.
After the rejection of a proposed European Defence Committee (EDC) that would amalgamate European Armed forces, the Treaties of Rome were signed, setting up a common market in 1957 and the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) and Euratom, a cooperation of nuclear power. 1967 saw the EEC, Eurotom and the ECSC pool together to become a single Economic Community. At this point we begin to see the realisation of the ideal that was the project of European unification but in answering the question of this unity being a reaction to an external other, we must consider what factors brought us to this situation.
It is clear that debate over the unification of Europe was ignited at two points as a result of world war. In both cases European unity as an ideal was certainly a reaction to an external other, namely Germany. “It is plain that what was constructed was in large measure conceived in conscious opposition both to Nazism and to the recurrence of any alternative hegemonic aspiration of one state over the continent… he form of reconstruction on which future unity was premised was motivated, therefore, by the need to express in new social and political arrangements the antithesis of the years that had just so violently disunited Europe” (Smith ; Stirk, 1990:4). The ideal of European unity was sought to seek peace and resist the advances of the Germany following both wars and indeed in resistance to Russian influence following the Second World War and the onset of the cold war.
The realisation of unity in the late 1940s and 1950s was achieved in order to reconstruct and protect the continent, seeking to establish economic stability in order to prevent vulnerability to external others. Stirk (1996) however points out that “according to the men behind the Marshall Plan, the prime threat to western Europe was economic, not military. Internal instability rather than external aggression was the challenge to security” (Stirk, 1996:298). Williams (1998) agrees believing the birth of the EEC was as much to do with global competitiveness (especially in relation to the US) as it did with peace.
Stirk (1996) also notes that we must remember that conversion to integration was not immediate or universal. It took four separate accessions to achieve the 15 state members of the European Union we have today. Britain did not join until 1973 while more recent converts include Austria, Sweden and Finland. In the 1980s there was a revival of old arguments such as the creation of a united military but with the easing of the Cold War, European leaders concerned themselves with the EU’s global competitiveness.
Questions over the weakness of European Technology trading and ‘Eurosclerosis’ emerged. This again can be interpreted as a reaction against external forces, with Europe wanting to establish itself as a competitor to the USA and other world leaders. With the Maastricht Treaty and the creation of the Euro-zone in the 1990s we have seen Europe continue to pursue these efforts of international competition. What we have today, the EU, the reality of the project of European unity is the result of a series of different attempts to unify the continent.
Debates over the nature of the European Union will continue to flourish for some years to come, as questions over territory, sovereignty, internationalisation and, of course, globalisation continue to stir social and political unrest. What is clear, however, is that both the ideal and reality of European unity has clearly and comprehensively ignored any inherent sense of common identity or purpose. It was a combination of internal and external pressures that led to planned change in European political geographies.
The project of European unity has, however, invariably rested more on a reaction against an external ‘other’ in the form of Germany, Russia and the USA in recent years, but also others such as France in preceding years. Even today as the EU celebrates ten years of the Single Market, one of its principle objectives is to assert Europe’s role in the world. European unification has always been about the world stage and it’s survival is inevitable as long as there continues to be an external ‘other’ or until someone decides fragmentation, rather than unity, is the best way for Europe to resist such ‘others’.