The response to the Nobel committee awarding this year’s peace prize to the European Union has been a mixed bag − and predictably so. The cynics pointed to the struggles of the EU to maintain momentum, as well as relative calm at times, amidst the strife over the euro. Those more positively inclined saw the award as recognition of a half century of putting Europe on a path toward one of the most important political experiments in world history.
The proverbial glass is either half-full or half empty depending upon your prejudices. Yet either way it does not really matter. Europe’s future is being forged by decisions now being taken in Europe, but also elsewhere around the globe. Europe faces challenges and choices it can in part shape and influence, but it will also be confronted with the consequences of decisions being made among those emerging forces in other continents. The question Europe has to face is: can there be a consensus on how to see and respond to those challenges.
The evolution of Europe out of the ashes of 1945 is a good story − better than the first half of the last century. It is one that involved a decisive transatlantic dimension along with an increasingly global impact. Yet, it is an unfinished story that will continue to spread beyond Europe’s borders as it develops.
Europe has become more than the sum of its parts – a fact that is not only to be measured in economic terms. Almost five hundred million Europeans trading with each other does make up one of the world’s largest trading blocs. However, it is also represents a political bloc of twenty-seven nations engaged in a complex project, one that sees many more countries knocking at the door for membership. The process of qualifying for membership is as important as membership itself. Both dimensions − process and project − are dynamic. The story of these past few decades has been one of decisions. These decisions have steered ever more Europeans in the direction of sharing their challenges and choices with the consequences of continually expanding a web of interdependence. Up until 1990, that web was defined by the divisions of the Cold war. After 1990, more Europeans became part of the web.
In less than seventy years, Europe has gone through multiple transformations in learning how to define and how to manage that web. While not all those opportunities were successful along the way, there was a widespread shared assumption that the process was moving forward toward a more integrated European future. That involved creating new, multi-level institutions and structures which have become a defining dimension of Europe’s project involving all facets of European life, be it regulations and subsidies, travel and food supplies, or taxes and governance. Apart from decisions to expand membership, the introduction of the euro was one of the more critical major milestones along the way, and it has certainly been one of the most complicated.