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.