Europe in the seventies
AN EXTREMELY important meeting takes place in Brussels on November 17. The heads of government of the six Common Market countries are having a " sunlmit " to consider the future of Europe.
This meeting will determine whether or not the process of European integration is to go ahead energetically in the 1970s or is to be abandoned in favour of a Europe based essentially on the sovereign national state. For several years this fundamental question has hung in the balance pending the retirement of General de Gaulle. Now the decision can be postponed no longer.
Discussion, particularly in Britain and Ireland, centres around" enlargement," that is the admission of Britain, Ireland, Norway and Denmark as new members of the E.E.C. Enlargement is, of course, the dominant item on the agenda for the sununit meeting. The E.E.C. Commission itself in a recent advice to the member governments strongly recommended that negotiations for membership be opened as soon as possible with the applicant countries. At the same time, however, the Commission document makes very clear that the question of development of the community and its enlargement must be considered together.
For most committed Europeans the E.E.C. has achieved only limited success. The mistake we in Ireland often make is in looking for the E.E.C.'s shortcomings in economic terms, whereas for Europeans, its failure has been largely political. The E.E.C. was launched by men who believed passionately in the political ideal of a united Europe. For them, economic integration was simply a means to that end. They had little or no interest in free trade for its own sake. They believed that the building of an economic community must in turn lead to progressive politkal integration.
The implacable Gaullist veto
Unfortunately that has not happened. Certainly some of the individual steps towards economic integration have been taken-a customs union has been established and, less happily, a common agricultural policy. But these measures have manifestly failed to add up to an economic community because France under General de Gaulle seem implacably committed to maintaining the sovereign nation state. Ironically, although France vetoed Britain's application for membership of the E.E.C., France and Britain were closer in their
attitudes on this matter than were France and her five E.E.C. partners. Since General de Gaulle returned to power in France that country has stubbornly resisted the critical steps necessary to carry the E.E.C. over the threshold from being merely a glorified free trade area to a genuine supranational, political and economic European community.
It is because those critical steps werenot taken at the various stages of economic integration as originally intended that even the existing economic machinery is breaking down.For
example, the whole concept of the E.E.C.'s common agricultural policy presupposed a common European currency which in turn would require a common economic and monetary policy for the whole Community. Nobody intended the agricultural system to work in a situation where each member continued to operate an entirely independent currency and exchange rates were liable to vary between members of the Community. Recent events have vividly underlined this. Again the system presupposed a Community authority which would take decisions based on the interests of the Community as a whole. Instead, decisions have been tied to what was acceptable to each national state-in other words, each national state had a veto and in the case of agricultural policy the farming community in each state has been able to ensure that that veto is used, in a selfish national, rather than a Community interest. This obligation to meet every political pressure in each member state has resulted in decisions which are disastrous when applied to the Community as a whole.
A "strong and courageous political decision" is needed
The central fact which members and applicants both face is that an economic community cannot work unless it is to a considerable extent independent of the individual member states-so that for example the French or German farmer clearly ..mderstands that policy decisions will be taken in Brussels in the interest of the Community as a whole and will not be distorted by political blackmailing cf national Ministers for Agriculture. To take this step requires a strong and courageous political decision-a decision to abandon the sovereign national state in favour of a new, and, it must be admitted, untried concept.
Most people think that discussions with Ireland, Britain and the other applicants will begin early next year. In a sense we will then all be back at the beginning-back in 1958 before the signing of the Treaty of Romeand regrettably some people don't seem to have learned very much in the interval. The reason why Britain spent the 1960s chewing her nails oUtside the Common Market is because ten years ago she was unwilling to participate politically in the building of a European Community. That is one of the principal reasons why the founding ideals of the E.E.C. have been largely frustrated. Now, almost miraculously Britain is being given another chance but depressingly the same old uninspired, unimaginative shopkeeper mentality seems to be breaking through and all the talk is about the price of butter and the trade advantages and the balance of payments. If in fact Britain succeeds this time in persuading the Continentals to abandon the ideal of a European Community in favour of a souped-up customs union, it may frustrate the development of Europe for a generation. That is something which we in Ireland must resist strongly. Loose free trade areas suit the big men in international affairs. They don't offer much to the little country which must have strong community institutions to protect its rights. Within a European community we would have the opportunity to develop our distinct cultural identity and society: in a free trade area we would be in danger of becoming even more dominated by our large neighbour. In the forthcoming negotiations the application countries will be expected to contribute their ideas as to how the ideal of European integration can be achieved. This gives us an exceptional opportunity to establish ourselves on the European stage as a distinctive European nation with a unique contribution to make. In practical terms we must support the strengthening of the community's Civil Service (i.e. the Commission or its enlarged successor), to make it more independent of member states. At the same time the European Parliament must be strengthened to preserve the democratic principle of subordinating the bureaucracy to the legislature. At present the European Parliament has little power and its members are nominated by the Parliaments of each member state. This needs to be changed to a system of direct election of members. Also the European Parliament should be given increasing control of the community's budget.