Back to the Roots.

Today, the IHT reprinted post referendum reflections about Europe by former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt that were first published last Thursday in the German weekly Die Zeit.

I’m sure some will call it elitism in light of the recent constitutional referanda, but Schmidt still believes that real political leadership is now more important than ever in Europe, for

[b]ecause Europeans can look back on more than a millennium of national development, the Union cannot be brought to completion in just a few decades by ministers and diplomats: The EU needs the consent and will of its citizens. The coming experience of increasing helplessness of smaller and medium-sized nations acting alone will increasingly convince their citizens of the need for the Union, but that will take time and perseverance.

Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Val?ry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Delors, many of the old guard knew: We can repress the historically created egocentric nationalism of Europeans only gradually. Today’s statesmen and the overzealous Brussels commissioners should follow this example.

While many motives lay behind the “no” votes in France and the Netherlands, the most important were denial and a fear of changes whose consequences cannot be foreseen. With competition from new EU members and from countries like China and India, if we don’t make new discoveries, we will be unable to offer new products and services. That’s why research and development are so much more important to us than labor-market gimmicks. It is not possible to separate the European economy from the global market and competition. In fact, our wealth has been dependent on our success in the world’s markets for decades.

Abandon the euro? No one could be that foolish, certainly not the Council of Ministers or the EU Commission, even if long-term thinking has not been their strength up to now. Renewed, several national currencies, without links to a European currency system, would become objects of the speculators.

The EU institutions cannot heal the social and economic ills of the member states. And the Union cannot even remotely help new members financially as it once did Ireland, Spain or Greece. Instead, all the member states must identify their own ailments and draw their own consequences.

There will be no Europe euphoria for the foreseeable future. But that is no reason for pessimism. Europe is nowhere near the end of the road. The fact that so many diverse citizens and cultures have combined to create a union of their own free will and free of violence is a unique achievement in world history. The referendums’ failure will not change that.

6 thoughts on “Back to the Roots.

  1. Tobias – I suspect part of it is that Brits are far more likely to holiday in Spain or France than in Germany. With that and regular repeats of WW2 movies, stereotypical notions tend to get preserved. Let me ask, what books about Germany and current affairs in Germany since WW2 in English text would you recommend?

    I’ve no idea what your opinion about this suggestion but one highly readable book I rather liked was John Argh: Germany and the Germans (Penguin Books, 1996). It is rather out of date now and no revised edition seems to be in sight but I don’t know of an equally appealing alternative so your recommendations would certainly be appreciated by me, at least. Suggestions from others here would also be welcome.

    Btw John Ardgh has also written a series of engaging books about France, of which the most recent manifestation is: France in the New Century (Penguin Books, 2000).

  2. Instead, all the member states must identify their own ailments and draw their own consequences.

    vs.

    The coming experience of increasing helplessness of smaller and medium-sized nations acting alone will increasingly convince their citizens of the need for the Union

    —-

    Now what is it? As much as I admire Schmidt, he wants to have it both ways here.

  3. Schmidt wants it in the same way that Jose Ortega y Gasset wanted it when he wrote “Rise of the hordes” back in the interbellum when Europe seemed to have lost its way and its moral, now 70-80 years ago.

    To paraphrase a line from the book: “Once a gitano went to confession. The priest politely asked if he knew about the ten commandments. On that question the gitano answered ” I was planning to learn them father, but I heard from someone they were going to be abolished so…”

    And there we have it, at the end of the day, can people really be bothered to learn and abide by them?

    Ortega wanted to give people a goal, something to strive for, a common enterprise for Europe. At the time he warned against the lure of fascism and communism and we all know how that turned out.

    I wonder what the lures are today…

  4. Schmidt wants it in the same way that Jose Ortega y Gasset wanted it when he wrote “Rise of the hordes” back in the interbellum when Europe seemed to have lost its way and its moral, now 70-80 years ago.

    That is not enough. You cannot tell people that they have to reorganize their continent because of something their grat-grandfathers did.
    We will have to come up with a current, positive raison d’etre.

  5. Oliver,

    This isn’t about what our great-grandfathers did do. It’s about more about what they did not choose to.

    Ortega’s argument is about a common set of European values and beliefs. It isn’t primarily French, German, English or spanish. While the argument is old it remains remarkably vaild today.

    We need a grand common enterprise to unite us.
    Otherwise “Europe” doesn’t have a reason to exist.

Comments are closed.