Germany tries to dominate Europe 1
Dr. Otto Schmuck is a lecturer at the Free University of Berlin and was head of the European department in the Representation of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate to the federal government and the European Union, Berlin, until August 2014. His main research interests are the participation rights of countries and regions in Europe as well as institutional reforms of the EU. He has taken over the coordination of the magazine.
Contact: [email protected]
The European Union is undoubtedly a success story. Even if this is now often in danger of being forgotten or taken for granted, European unification has brought great advantages. Many goals could be achieved:
- Europe today is a continent of peace and stability. A war between the member states of the EU - as the generation of grandfathers and mothers experienced between Germany and France, for example - is hardly conceivable.
- The realization of the common market laid the foundation for economic prosperity in the EU.
- Since 1979, the citizens of the EU countries have been able to vote directly for the European Parliament.
- The borders between the Member States of the Schengen area have been removed.
- In 1999, the euro was first introduced as the common currency in eleven EU countries. The euro area now comprises 19 EU member states.
- In addition, after Croatia's accession, the number of EU member states has risen to 28 today, and several other European countries have applied for membership.
It was not the national parliaments or the directly elected European Parliament, which had been elected since 1979, that had the say in the key decisions on the establishment and further development of the EU and its predecessor organizations, but the most important national politicians - above all the heads of state and government of the states involved. Wherever possible, they tried to find pragmatic compromises in which they could keep decision-making power in their own hands. Considerable progress has been made with this method. But there were always setbacks and phases of stagnation.
The following stages are of particular importance in the history of European unification:
1949: Establishment of the Council of Europe based in Strasbourg;
1951: Establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC is the first forerunner of today's European Union - it includes the six "founding states" Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg;
1958: Entry into force of the "Treaty of Rome" establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Community for the Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy (Euratom) by the ECSC states. The EEC Treaty, which provided for a common customs and trade policy as well as a common agricultural and transport policy, became particularly important;
1967: Creation of the EC through the merger of ECSC, EEC and Euratom;
1970: The EC states set up European Political Cooperation (EPZ) to better represent their foreign policy interests;
1973: First expansion of the EC to include Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark ("northern expansion");
1979: Introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament and introduction of the European Monetary System (EMS);
1981: Second enlargement of the EC to include Greece; Spain and Portugal follow in 1986 ("southern expansion");
1987: Entry into force of the Single European Act with the aim of completing the internal market by January 1, 1993;
1993: Completion of the internal market and entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union (EU);
1995: Accession of Austria, Sweden and Finland ("EFTA" enlargement);
1999: Entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty;
2000: solemn proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
2001: Signature of the Treaty of Nice;
2002: Introduction of euro cash in twelve EU member states (as of 1999 as a single currency on the foreign exchange markets and in electronic payments);
2003: Drafting the Treaty on the European Constitution (failed in May and June 2005 due to negative referendums in the Netherlands and France);
2004 and 2007: Accession of ten Central and Eastern European countries as well as Malta and Cyprus;
2009: Entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty;
2010: Agreement on a euro rescue package by the then 17 euro states with the involvement of the IMF with a total volume of 750 billion euros;
2012: 25 of the 27 EU states at the time passed a "fiscal pact" with strict debt rules outside of the Community framework.
2013: Croatia's accession to the EU;
2015: Lithuania is the 19th EU country to introduce the euro, after Greece (2001), Slovenia (2007), Malta and Cyprus (2008), Slovakia (2009) and Estonia (2011).
Berlin Declaration of March 25, 2007
Fortunately, we citizens of the European Union are united.
We are realizing our common ideals in the European Union: We focus on people. His dignity is inviolable. His rights are inalienable. Women and men have equal rights.
We strive for peace and freedom, democracy and the rule of law, mutual respect and responsibility, prosperity and security, tolerance and participation, justice and solidarity. [...]
The European Union will continue to thrive in the future from its openness and the will of its members to jointly consolidate the internal development of the European Union. The European Union will continue to promote democracy, stability and prosperity beyond its borders.
With European unification, a dream of earlier generations has become a reality. Our history admonishes us to protect this happiness for future generations. To do this, we have to continually renew the political shape of Europe in a contemporary way. [...]
Because we know: Europe is our common future.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The "tentative pragmatism" as a European method of unification
The founding and development of the European association did not follow a well thought-out and generally accepted construction plan. The politicians involved pursued different models and objectives. As a compromise, mostly pragmatic reform steps with limited scope were agreed. European cooperation began in a few policy areas classified as particularly important: coal and steel, economy and agriculture. On this basis, new unification steps of small and medium scope were undertaken. This approach can aptly be referred to as the "method of tentative pragmatism".
The creation of a European internal market developed considerable impetus for deepening cooperation in other policy areas. The single market goal of 1958 already included the introduction of a common European currency and the opening of internal borders in the EU. The European customs union created by the EEC Treaty also required the full transfer of trade policy competences from the Member States to the Community. The cross-border transport policy was seen as a common concern, as was the cooperation with the so-called "overseas countries and territories", by which the then still existing colonies of the founding states, especially France and the Netherlands, were meant.
The decisions of the EU in the economic policy area also had a direct impact on other policy areas. Without accompanying social and environmental policy measures, the opening of the market might have resulted in production facilities and the flow of goods being relocated to EU countries with the lowest standards in these areas. Goods with a health hazard could have flooded the market, and dangerous machines could have posed additional dangers for workers. With the realization of complete freedom of movement towards the new EU states in Central and Eastern Europe, the danger was also seen that considerable wage pressure could arise in the economically stronger states due to possible immigration.
The EU has been able to address many of these concerns through extensive legislation. Common rules have been enacted, particularly in the areas of labor and consumer protection as well as social and environmental standards. The European Parliament proved to be an important representative of the interests of European citizens. However, even today there is still a lot of criticism that in the EU economic interests are too much in the foreground over social and environmental concerns.
In connection with the discussion about a permanent strengthening of the euro, voices have also grown louder calling for greater economic policy coordination in the EU. Indeed, there are many arguments that a common currency is unlikely to survive without common economic governance.
From the outset, one of the goals of the founding fathers of European unification was the abolition of the borders between the participating states. The opening of the border made the benefits of the unification process particularly clear to the citizens. Schengen cooperation is seen as a successful model with regard to the "European area without borders" and possible further institutional developments in the EU. Initially, not all of the EC states at the time were ready to cooperate, but finally the contracting parties agreed not to allow themselves to be hindered by the hesitant states and to look for solutions outside of the community framework. In view of its great attractiveness, more and more countries have joined the Schengen Treaty. The Amsterdam Treaty, which came into force in 1999, succeeded in transposing the so-called Schengen acquis into Community law. Today 26 European countries - including non-EU countries such as Switzerland - have joined the "Europe without borders" project.
In the European policy debate, the tension between the "deepening" of the unification process and the "enlargement" of the EU to include new members is still often pointed out. Indeed, a relationship between these two elements that is difficult to resolve can be observed. This is because new member states often had to get used to the procedures and constraints in the Community before they were ready to take further steps.
The European Council in Copenhagen in June 1993 established a number of criteria for accession to the EU, which are still valid today:
- Political Criteria aim at the stability of democracy: The accession states must, among other things, have constitutional structures and a multi-party system that respect human rights and the protection of minorities.
- Economic criteria are aimed at the existence of a functioning market economy and the ability to withstand competitive pressures and market forces within the Union: these include a functioning legal system, macroeconomic stability, trade liberalization and a well-developed financial sector.
- Adoption of the "acquis communautaire": Furthermore, the applicant countries must undertake to adopt the entire legal framework of the EU. This also includes agreement with the goals of political union and economic and monetary union.
- Maintaining the EU's ability to act: In addition to the entry requirements for the candidates, the EU has formulated a voluntary commitment for internal reforms. According to this, it must remain capable of acting in the future.
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