Robert SchumanThe debate about values underlying the proposed European constitution has seen many attempts by European leaders to pin down this elusive topic. Javier Solana has spoken of the post-war “spread of stability and democracy across the continent” and of Europe’s future task of being “a force for good in the world”. Margot Wallstrom invokes the “inclusive and universal” values of “prosperity, security, solidarity, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights”, and Wolfgang Schlussel the need for a “spirit” and a “common goal”.

These statements are all well and good, but leave much to be desired when it comes to clarity. Let us, therefore, go back to the European roots, to a founder of European collaboration, Robert Schuman. But first we should ask: how new or hold old is the idea of European unification?

Precursors of the European ideal

The nineteenth century French writer Victor Hugo once proclaimed: A day will come when you France, you Russia, you Italy, you England, you Germany, you all, nations of the continent, without losing your distinct qualities and your glorious individuality, will be merged closely within a superior unit.

But he was only echoing what Dante Alighieri had said six centuries earlier, when, against the backdrop of the spread of Ottoman Empire into Europe, he propagated the principle of “unity in diversity” — the motto of the present European Union — based on the strict separation of church and state.

In the 17th century, Cruce came up with a plan to unite not only Europe but the whole known world. The two power blocks, Turks and Christians, should be brought into agreement and then mankind should turn its attention to peaceful projects such as building canals and improving cultivation. His plea for free exchange of people and goods was also progressive, especially since national protectionism put great pressure on the European economy. He also talked about a uniform currency unit and standardisation of weights and measures!

A century later l’Abbe de St Pierre advocated principles of the free market and, just like Dante, allowed nations to keep their sovereignty as much as possible in internal affairs. The European budget reflects his idea that each member state should contribute to the expenses of a European alliance of states in proportion to their wealth.

In the 18th century the Turkish threat disappears from European thought, but subsequently Europe falls apart into national states, aiming to promote their own interests. The industrial revolution, which created the means to unite mankind, ends up doing the exact opposite. Every nation wants more, even to the detriment of others. The European ideal goes on the back burner. Yet Ernest Renan (1882) predicts: “Nations are not forever. They have begun, they will end. The European Conference is likely to replace them.”

The 20th century brings us the immediate forerunners of the EU as we know it today. Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi in the Pan-European Manifesto urgently calls on the democratic states in Europe to unite in an international, political and economic group, together with America, Russia and the Far East. Aristide Briand, Prime Minister of France, allows himself to be inspired by this and proposes a federal union between European nations in the economic, social and political fields. However, the time is not yet ripe. The European states are reluctant.

After the Second World War there is an entirely new situation. In 1948 the Congress of Europe takes place in The Hague, during which an appeal is made for the free exchange of people, ideas and goods, with a Charter for Human Rights and a Court of Justice which will supervise the observance of the charter, and with a European Assembly in which the nations are represented.

The first effective push towards the European Union, however, is seen in 1950, with the Schuman Plan.

The Schuman plan

Robert Schuman, born in Luxembourg in 1886 to a father from Lorraine and a mother from Luxembourg, was, at first, a German citizen. After the First World War, Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France and Schuman became a French citizen. From then on he was closely involved with French politics: as a member of the Resistance during the Second World War and afterwards as Minister of Finance (1946), Prime Minister (1947-48), Minister of Foreign Affairs (1948-1952) and Minister of Justice (1955-56).

Schuman’s government led the creation of the Council of Europe, based on the rights and freedoms he had spelled out. As foreign minister he promoted Jean Monnet’s plan for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which was established by the Treaty of Paris in 1951. The Schuman Declaration which preceded this move was made on May 9, 1950, the date still observed as Europe Day. Schuman succeeded Monnet as president of the High Authority of the ECSC and remained a member of it until six months before his death at Metz in 1963.

Schuman’s motives

Schuman was more than a respected politician who was untiring in fighting for reconciliation in Europe. He was a person who made his work a tool to serve God and the church. With the motto, “The saints of the future will be wearing a suit and a necktie,” Schuman entered the world of politics at the age of 23.

The motives that governed his ideas and penetrated all his actions, in politics as elsewhere, were his Catholic faith, democracy and human dignity. He stressed that democracy is based on Christianity, which is the basis of human dignity. Three of his sayings illustrate this. The first:

It is necessary to prepare minds and hearts to accept European solutions so as to combat everywhere not only pretensions to hegemony and belief in national superiority, but also the straightjacket of nationalism, self-interested protectionism and cultural isolationism. We have to replace these tendencies that we have inherited from the past with the idea of solidarity, that is, the conviction that the true interest of each consists in recognising and accepting in practice the interdependence of all. Egoism no longer pays.

In this, we can clearly recognise a forerunner like Cruce: neither individual nor nation is sufficient to itself, but is mutually dependent on other men and nations.

A second saying:

Europe, that is the task of a general democracy in the Christian sense of the word. Democracy owes its existence to Christianity. It was born the day man was called to realise in his temporal life the dignity of the human person, in his individual freedom, in respect for the rights of each and by the practice of brotherly love towards all… Christianity has taught us the natural equality of all men.

Here Schuman shows how his vision of democracy is based on Christian principles and how man is destined to experience his dignity as a free individual, with respect for the rights of everyone and for the equality of all mankind. The interests of the state, therefore, must never go against the dignity of the individual. The fact that membership of the EU includes being a democratic state under the rule of law, lies embedded in this thought.

A third saying:

Europe has procured for humanity its full flowering. It is up to her to show a new way, opposed to assertiveness, for accepting the diversity of civilisations, giving each the same respect as all the others.

Schuman’s call for the recognition of and respect for diversity remains topical, as also his idea of Europe enabling mankind to achieve its full development opening up new paths. The European Community, in his view, was built to become a continent “in the service of mankind”, or rather, the dignity and rights of the individual.

Realising an ideal

Schuman put his ideas into a concrete and effective form by creating European institutions and treaties which make collaboration of states possible for the benefit of the individual citizen. His ideals could be shaped like this because the political conditions were right.

Europe was in need of collaboration in order to regain its strength after the Second World War and was given the financial means to do it by the United States of America. The so-called Marshall Plan stipulated the condition that economic and political reforms and collaborative effort should be created among the European States. There was also the threat of Communism from the Soviet Union, and of a possible new war with Germany if this country were to re-invigorate its notorious armaments industry.

So it was that the day Schuman came out with his “declaration” about European collaboration in the fields of coal and steel in 1950, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer rejoiced. Adenauer later wrote in his memoirs that it was “the best day of my life”. According to Dean Acheson, then Secretary of State in Washington, Schuman had “a vision of his own of a united Europe in an era when it was difficult to have any views at all in France.”

As Jean Monnet emphasised at the time: “”Tthe basic principle of Schuman’s proposals is the transfer of sovereignty in a limited, but decisive field. A plan that does not start out from this principle, cannot contribute to the solution of the great problems which weigh us down. Collaboration between nations, however important, solves nothing. What is needed is a fusion of the interests of the European nations, not just the maintaining of a balance between these interests.”

This statement shows that a much profounder ideal was concealed behind the ECSC — which itself was epoch-making, in that powers which nations had in the field of trade in coal and steel were transferred to a supranational authority. For the first time in history six countries in Western Europe (France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries) voluntarily relinquished part of their sovereignty in order to achieve a common objective.

True, it was only in a limited area, but the trend of integration — unification of interests and room for free enterprise — started there. From there the legal body which was part of the ECSC, the European Court of Justice, obtained its rationale and has been the decisive institution in the case of conflicts regarding all further forms of integration in the European Union.

To Schuman, working together towards one objective and being strong together is a guarantee for peace and security because it nips in the bud any inclination to put national interests first. Now activities are undertaken from the perspective of crossing borders, which everyone will benefit from in the short or the long run.

In Schuman’s words:

Nations and continents depend on one another more than ever, both in terms of production and sale of goods, both in terms of the exchange of results of scientific research and the necessary labour and means of production. The political economy cannot but turn into a world economy. This mutual dependence has as a result that the wellbeing or otherwise of any nation cannot leave others indifferent. For a European who has the privilege of thought, it is no longer possible to enjoy the discomfort suffered by a neighbour(ing country); we are united, for better or for worse, in a common destiny.

Following the Treaty of Paris, further treaties of collaboration were initiated: the Treaty of Rome (1957); the European Economic Community (EEC) and Euratom; the Treaty of Maastricht (1992), which created the European Union and as a result of which Europe began to be shaped more as a political, social and financial unity; the treaties of Amsterdam (1997) and of Nice (2000); and the attempt to achieve a European constitution in 2005.

They have all stuck to the line of Schuman and carried it forward: collaboration among countries, not only on the basis of self interest, but with a transfer of powers to a supranational European level, and with the further objective of integration and fusion of interests, which should make a relapse into nationalism impossible.

The foundation remains the dignity of the individual; only when this aspect is guaranteed can a true unity be achieved in Europe.

Dr Margriet Krijtenburg is a Lecturer in Spanish & Core Course on Europe in the School of European Studies, The Hague University.

* This article is an abridged version of an essay published in the Dutch language in De Europese Gemeente, Volume 41, No 2, pp 11-13

Margriet Krijtenburg

Margriet Krijtenburg studied Spanish philology at the University of Utrecht and wrote her doctoral thesis in Salamanca about the Spanish philosopher and writer Unamuno. To understand his thoughts...