The idea of Europe

By Will Hutton

Today’s European Union is a remarkable, if still incomplete, achievement. Its founding six members have been augmented by another nine and up to ten additional countries in eastern Europe, as well as Malta and Cyprus, are now on course to join. The formerly communist countries want to guarantee their commitment to democracy and the market economy through EU membership in the same way that Spain, Portugal and Greece did twenty years ago. Europe at last has reached agreement on its core principles, and has constructed the institutional and security apparatus peacefully to protect them. If it seems that contemporary Europe could never again repeat the mistakes of the past, it is the fact that the postwar generation and its visionary leaders — men like France’s Jean Monnet and Robert: Schuman, Belgium’s Paul-Henri Spaak, Italy’s Alcide de Gasperi and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer — had the courage and foresight to lay the cornerstones of what has become the contemporary European Union that makes it probable if not certain that Europe will never again go to war with itself. It is an achievement that, given Europe’s tormented past — and the ethnic conflicts that overwhelmed the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s — is worth consolidating and protecting to the last.

The open question is what this European Union really is and what it could become.

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