To avoid a new war that would devastate Europe. This was the ultimate aim of the European leaders who came up with the idea of supranational integration following two world wars. Some 40 million dead on a “savage continent” provided sufficient support for the arguments of those who could not imagine a peaceful European future without nations giving up part of their sovereignty. To unite people, not just states: this was their plan for Europe.
A single market, citizenship, economic and monetary union, cooperation in “sensitive” areas (justice, internal, defence, external relations). Everything seemed to be going according to the plan laid out by a group of visionaries more than sixty years ago until, in a short space of time, the failure of the Constitutional Treaty and the financial and economic crisis came about. These events have strengthened criticism of the European integration project in some quarters, reopening wounds that some of us, perhaps naively, thought had permanently healed. Criticism of the Commission’s bureaucracy is mounting; the operation costs of the Parliament are seen as unacceptable; the principle of solidarity is called into question; unacceptable stereotypes of countries in the North and South are revived; fundamental freedoms – the true pillar of the Union – are threatened; difference stands out and is rejected, in the form of a Sub-Saharan immigrant, a Turk or even a Romani, a European citizen.
All these facts may give the impression that the European project is seriously wounded, that a step backwards is likely, or, in the best possible scenario, that supranational integration in politics and economics may be replaced by a large free trade area. However, although the evidence cannot be denied, it does not seem wise to draw hurried conclusions from the present Eurosceptic climate. The rights which give form to European citizenship, the single currency, free circulation, the existence of a legal community founded on democratic values, among many other fruits of the Union, give substance to a project that remains valid. Since 1987 more than three million European university students have enjoyed the Erasmus programme, which would be inconceivable outside of the EU framework. We just have to ask these students about the meaning of European integration to understand the extent to which the concept has become deeply rooted in our societies.
Unity in Diversity was the maxim for the European Union proposed by article I-8 of the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty. This rejection has not stopped the Treaty of the European Union defining itself as “a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” (article 1). Never before, in this continent’s twenty five centuries of history, have European nations freely shared sovereignty in order to achieve common goals for the benefit of their citizens; never before has the diversity of all types that enriches Europe been so secure.
Alejandro Saiz Arnaiz
Professor of European Constitutional Law, UPF-IDEC