Their View: Fifty years is a solid start for fledgling government
The European Union is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week and the squabbling over the signature Berlin Declaration, basically a birthday card to itself, seemed to indicate that those critics who described the EU in mid-life crisis might have a point.
But in assessing where the EU is today, it's important to note its one, great overarching achievement. In the 50 years preceding the origins of the EU, Europe had fought two catastrophic wars and at the formation of this new and strange entity seemed on the verge of another at the hands of an expansionist Soviet Union.
The EU began life as the six-nation European Coal and Steel Community with the simple goal of easing tariff barriers. But one of its founders, the visionary Jean Monnet, foresaw “a European federation for preserving peace on the continent.”
In fits and starts, guided by an at-times maddening bureaucracy, the EU expanded its membership and its mission and today has 27 nations, dedicated to the free movement of people and capital, democracy, the rule of law and open markets.
Most anxious to join were the satellite nations of the old Soviet Union, who saw membership in the EU, and NATO as well, as a guaranty of their long-awaited political and economic freedom.
It hasn't been smooth. Although the common currency, the euro, has proved terribly successful, only 13 nations are using it. Two years ago, voters in France and the Netherlands rejected a draft EU constitution and efforts to revive or revise that document have flagged. Some EU nations are having thoughts about the candidacy of Muslim Turkey. Economic growth, particularly in France and Germany, has struggled with high employer taxes, overregulated labor markets and generous government mandates.
Beside the shambles and misery of postwar Europe, these pale as any kind of grave problem. The EU would be advised, however, to build up its military capability in tandem with NATO. The Europeans place too much stock in their “soft power,” their economic and diplomatic influence. Soft power without real power is just soft.
No one much uses the old phrase from the EU's founding - “the United States of Europe” - but that ideal no longer looks impractical or unobtainable from the vantage point of this 50th anniversary.
- Dale McFeatters,
Scripps Howard News Service