by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor
What does the year of 1951 have in common with 2020? For now, not much. Given the circumstances we live in, few periods of recent history have anything in common with the strange year of 2020, which closes the first fifth of the 21st century. The pandemic crisis exposed some fragilities and unimaginable weaknesses, until not so long ago, in the construction of our current lives. It is clear that we are still very far away from a conclusive ending to the crisis we are living; it is still too early to draw conclusions of a more philosophical character, or even structuring lessons! Moreover, in times of war, we cannot rest, and it is in some kind of contemporary war (at least relating some of its effects) in which we are currently moving, on a planetary scale. To some extent, we are, indeed, experiencing a type of third world war, with no formal declaration of war!
But let us return to the question at stake and place ourselves in the European context, rectius, of the European Union. It is important to remember that the 18th of April this year marked 69 years since France, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany and the three Benelux states (Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg) formally signed the European integration papers. The Paris Treaty was signed on the 18th of April of 1951, which established the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community), leading to the creation of the first common market which, then, covering fundamental raw materials for the so-called “war industry” (coal and steel), emerged loaded with symbolism, but also distrust in the various public opinions of the Member States that founded the project.
There was a clear political will of these States: to fully dispense themselves from the capacity to engage in war with one another, considering that the basic resources to support a war industry were to be shared. It should be noted, also, that Europe was still in ruins; probably more than now, since the degree of destruction caused by the second world war had left a nuclear part of the continent transformed into a huge field of ruins and a huge shipyard. Moreover, the psychological wounds from the war (many of them) were still alive; the coexistence of several peoples, in the sociological field, was still not as peaceful as one would wish it to be.
The lack of trust between peoples (more than between political elites) in France and Germany was hardly contained. Episodes such as the demand by the Federal Republic of Germany regarding the extinction of the High Authority for the Ruhr, controlled by the Allies and especially by General De Gaulle, almost made the signing of the Treaty impossible. Indeed, the German Ruhr Valley was the epicenter of German heavy industry and had been the producing center for the National Socialist war industry. However, the political elites then were able to overcome the pressure from the respective public opinion, and they guided themselves by the common interest of all states and peoples involved, and they finally understood and found the key to the European problem: peoples, territories and states which are too small to survive in a near future in isolation, however, sufficiently capable of auto destruction, fighting each other and engaging in inconsequential (because unrealistic) interests and local/national pride.
Fortunately, this pandemic did not put Europe in the state it was in 1951, which is, completely in ruins. However, in reality, Europe and a big part of the planet are experiencing something which is more substantial than just a crisis or an economic recession. There is something new taking place: simultaneously, a big part of the economic activity in the world stopped; simultaneously, there is neither supply nor demand. Moreover, in the present era in which we invoke Human Rights Law as the fundamental engine for deepening political integration, our civilization watermark, we find ourselves happy because a certain statistic shows, from one day to another, less… dozens of deaths! It is still ironic!
Despite health policies and disease control not being a part of the European Union’s competences, but matters of national responsibility, it is peremptory, in today’s world, the existence of a coordinated European policy; I would go further by stating the need of a common policy, somehow institutionalized, with common resources. And – I repeat, even though we are formally and technically faced with the responsibilities of the States – just like in 1951, maybe now is the moment to re-found European integration, and give it a new boost and level of responsibility. There is nothing worse than, in terms of the strength of a collective project, not taking the opportunities that History gives us!
In 1951, the Heads of State who signed the Treaty of Paris did not miss the opportunity they were given. And now, how will the Heads of State in office in 2020 proceed? Will 2020 constitute a return to the European spirit of 1951?
Pictures credits: Signature of the Treaty of Paris… by Europarl.