For more than two millenium, the central issue in European affairs was the conflict between the Germans and Romanized Europe. In modern times this evolved essentially into a conflict betweem the French and Germans. World War II was only the latest installment in that stuggle. It was movement toward European integration after the War that finally ended the conflict. At first Germany and France with four other countries (Italy and Benalux) formed the Europeam Common Market. The fenomenal post-war success of the Common Market jhas evolved into the inclusion of virtually all of Western Europe, including Britain, into the European Union (EU) which mow extends into Eastern Europe. The European Union is far more than an economic community, but the question the EU now faces is the extent to which people with such diverse cultures and languages can move beyond economic integration to political integration.
For more than two millenium, the central issue in European affairs was the conflict between the Germans and Romanized Europe. The Romans conquered and Romanized the Celts in Gaul. Then pressed east, but were defeated by the Germans in the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD). The Germans unlike the Celts (Gauls) were never Romanized. This created a permanent cultural divide in Europe.
Pushed west by the Huns and attracted by the wealth of the Roman Empire, the Germans tribes eventually overwealmed the Empire and conquered virtually all of Western Europe. The Germans in the West were a thin ruling class over a Romanized population. From Charlemagene Empire a French and German nation emerge. France emerged as a powerful, centalized kingdom. Germany emerges as the Holy Roman Empire. Struggles with the Papacy and later the Protestant Revolution prevented the Germans from developing a powerful centralized state.
In modern times, the conflict between the Germans and Romanized Europev evolved essentially into a conflict betweem the French and Germans.France in the 17th century was the most powerful country in Europe. France under Louis XIV and later Napoleon attempted to expand into neigboring countries primarily Germany. Two German states emerged from Medieval Europe (Prussia and Austria) which were able with Britain and Russia's assistance to block French expansion west.
Guided by Bismark, Prussia succeeded in unifying Germany, creating the mpost powerful state in Europe. Beginning with the Franco Prussian War (1870-71) and then with the two World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45), the conflict between France and Europe wreaked terrible destruction on Europe.
Europeans have for years been thining about integration. M.W. Penn (Britain) wrote about integration and the creation of a Europen Parliament (1693). Napoleon's Continental System was a early attempt at integration. Victor Hugo wrote about the United State of Europe (1851). Edourd Herriot and Louis Loucheur wrote about European integration (1920s). The aruments for integration, however, did not have the poweful force of nationalism, at least until the experience of World War II.
World War II was only the latest installment in that stuggle. It was movement toward European integration after the War that finally ended the conflict. The post-war European Community was primarily a French creation. [Judt] The first major to brach the idea was the same wincston Churchill who played such an important role in defeating the NAZI tyranny which had its own idea about European integtation. Churchill was the first major Europeam leader to advocate integration, speaking at yje University of Zuriuch (September 19, 1946). "If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy. Yet it is from Europe that have sprung that series of frightful nationalistic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations, which we have seen even in this twentieth century and in our own lifetime, wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind." DeGualle still set on punishing the Germans went apopletic. At the time he said it was the worst speech he ever gave. Jean Monet convinced DeGualle he was wrong. The result was the Eurepean Coal and Steel Community--the first concrete step in Europea nitegration. [Watson]
At first Germany and France with four other countries (Italy and Benalux) formed the Europeam Common Market. The two most important voices for integration after World War II were Jean Monnet in France and Robert Shuman in Germany. The preliminary steps were the Coal and Steel Community. This was followed by the CECA and Commun Market (1952-53). Preparatory work followed for the Conference of Venice (1955). The Eropean Union and Euratom were created (1957). The creation of the European Union resulted in a brief competion between the Iner-Six (the European Union) and the Outer-Seven organized by Bitin. In the end the combination of the French and German economies proved to poweful to resist. Gradually, Britain and the rest of the Outer-Seven joined the Common Market.
German cities and the country's industrial plant were destroyed in World War II. Most of the damage was die by the Allied strastegic bombing campaign, largely at the end of the War (1944-45). Many German cities were quite literaly piles of rubbel by the time the War ended. Many thought that it would take a generation for Germny to recover. The German Economic Miracle in the West began with the Marshall Plan (1948). Both American aid and the beginning steps in European integration were important factors. The major factor was that while the physical plant of German industry had been destroyed, the technological capability and skills of German workers and technicians were still in tact. Thanks to an excellent Civil Defense program, the civilians killed were suprisingly small. (Unlike the situation in countries the Germans occupied, most of the Germans who died in the War were military personnel.) The German Economic Miracle was fully underway by the 1950s. Conditions were tight, but improving rapidkly in the early 50s. One outcome of the destruction of old plants was that by the end of the decade, Germny had the most modern industrial plant in Europe. And workers were receiving higher wages than ever before. Parents at last had some disposable income in the 1950s. Most spent frugally, but at last they were able to afford the basics. There was a trenendous renewal of economic conditions during the 1950s. Germany by the late 50s had returned to prosperous economic condditions, at least in the west. Families were earning good incomes and expenditures for food and clothing increased substantially. Mothers could once again begin to exercize their interest in fashion. Despite the fact that the German industrial plant was destroyed, the recovery in German took place faster than in Britain.
Germany was vital not only to European economic recovery. Germany before the War was the industrial heart of Europe. And developments there affected the rest of Europe. European recovery from the War would be in large measure dependent on German recovery. Recovery was slow after the War, not only in Germany, but the rest of Western Europe as well. The central steps were taken in the Western occuopatuon zones of Germany as part of a currency reform creating a strong currency--the Dutsche Mark. This was a joint effiort of the Western Allies and the West German authorities. Helmet Kohl, a future West German Chancellor, would play a central role. The Siovuers were fundamentally opposed to the currency reform. They wanted to be able to simply print money and have the West Germans foot the bill. It allowed them to buy anything in the Western zones with worthless bills. Stalin responded to the cuirrenhcu reform by blockading West Berlin. The currency reform, however, ignited the West German economy and with it the economy of the rest of Western Europe. Each of the countries were free to adoopt their own national policies and did so. The recovery in Germany, however, provuded the impetus for the recovery of other countries as well. And we see comparable economic miracles in other countries as well: Austria, Belgium, Denmark France, Italy, and the Netherlands. Also briought aling with the developments in these core indepently minded countries: Finland, Sweden, and Switerland. The one country which did not enjoy a post-War economic miracle was Britain.
Despite the possibility of economic competition, the Uninted States was a strong supporter of European integration. American officials concluded that integration was the bet way of preventing another world war as well as building a stringer counter weight toi the Sovit Union. The United states also provide the security of a nuclear umbrella under which Europe could recover from the destruction of World War II and persue economic integration without having to face crippling levels of military spending to confront the Soviet challenge.
European wars until the French Revolution were wars between dynasties which often reigned over multi-national territories. One unintended impact of the French Revolution was to implant the idea of nationalism througout Europe (Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and other countries). Nationalism introduced a new level of antagonism and the involvement of massive citizen armies equipped with increasingly destructive armaments escalated the fatalities and destruction. It resulted during 1860-70 in the creation of new new states, Italy nd Germany both of which felt they slighted and unfaiurly treated by the existing nations. This created support for expansism, not only by the monarchy, but by the citizenry at large. The powerful alure of nationalism were a major factor in the two world wars. One of the major accomplishments of Europea integration has been defusing the atagnositic natiuonalist feelings, especially that between French and Germans. A French reader writes, "France and Germany are now totally different. Thankfully Germany and France are now united. We French now feel very close to Germany. Personaly I feel in Germany as at home. The new generation of French and German feel no real difference between us, only the language can be still a problem. Most young persons learn English. France and Germany are now pacifist countries."
The phenomenal post-war success of the Common Market has evolved into the inclusion of virtually all of Western Europe, including Britain, into the European Union (EU) which mow extends into Eastern Europe. The European Union is far more than an economic community. A French reader writes, "Today we no longer have meaningful internal boundaries. We have the same money. A unified law code now governs Europeans. The European Parliament and the European Court has been established in Strasbourg (France). The European Commission and , Euratom are located in Brussels (Belgium) in 1956.
Lanuage has since the fall of Rome been a devisive factor in Europe. There is a close association between language an nationalism. Language was in fact a repository of nationalism within the great European empires (Austrian, German, Ottoman, and Russian). Counties with two language groups often have problems, such as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. The Swiss have proved, however, that the problems are not unsurmountable. A European writes, "Language is but a minor problem. While our our linguistic diversity makes for cultural richness, within a generation English will be our common working language, of course with ample guarantee for every individual subject to use the language of his choice in both the private and the public domain. In fact I think that after the coming of age of the British Empire in the 19th century and the establishment of the economic hegemony of the U.S. in the 20th, the unification of Europe in our century is going to further enhance and perpetuate English as the world's single most important language for a long time to come."
A French reader writes, "France and Germany are pacifist countries." Europeans no longer see military action as an acceptable manner of resolving international disputes.
The question the EU now faces is the extent to which people with such diverse cultures and languages can move beyond economic integration to political integration. Europe now has three major problems to solve. All of these problems are affected by the fact that the birth rate throughout Europe is falling, in some countries more than others. Countrirs like France and Germanty if current population trends continue will have substantially smaller populations at the end of the century than today.
The economic integration, well under its way now but still facing the task
of absorbing countries with unequal economic levels as e.g. Slovakia and the Baltic countries.
The EU countries all have generous social welfare programs. Socialist parties have created vast intitlements as part of the European welfare system. The specifics vary from country to country. They all include national health care, old age insurance (often very generous benefits with many workers retiring in their 50s), annual vacations, limits on dismisals, unemployment insurance, disability, and many other benefits amd worker protections. In most EU countries, Socialist politicans have made commitmernts and promises without any real consideration of the financial ability of the state to maj\ke these commitments. Many workers have benefited from the generous benefits, although some economists maintain that the sysytem has created an inflexible employment situation which has caused high rates of unemployment with young people having problems finding jobs. Americans talking with European here terms such as 'free' health care as if thge Europeans were not paying for their health care. The Europeans are all committed to national health care system and there are strong arguments for these systems, but they are certainly not free. National health care systems require major expenditures of public funds. And in addition to the massive expenditures, as far as we can tell, most Europeans are unaware of the impact of national health care on retarding reserarch on innovation in new drugs and medical equipment and procedures. Likewise there are arguments for and against every individual element in the social welfare system such as the age of retirement. Overhanging the cost benefit analysis of each of the items is the iron laws of economics. Europeans may feel that their benefits are free, but in fact someone has to pay for them. Any every EU country to pay for those benefits have been borrowing and quite a few have been borrowing very heavily. Not only have they accumulte huge debts, but the acturarial commitments of the EU government to future benefits as a result of aging populatuiins are even more enormous. International lenders have as a result begun to demand much higher interest rates fearing defaults. Some EU countries are now paying more than twice the interest of the bench-mark German bund and this disparity in growing.
Sociaslist politicans can win elections by promising 'free' bebefits, but what they can not do is to defy the iron laws of economics. These higher interest rates are unsustaninable for the countries involved. The European Union has created a stability facility funded by Germany and the stronger countries which have more prudent fiscal and social welfare policies. These countries have demanded austerity from the bankrupt countries. The EU has already steped in to bail out Greece and Ireland and will soon have to do so for Portugal. It is unclear, however, the level of austerity the governments will be able to institute in the bankrupt countries. Greece, Ireland, and Portugal are small countries which can be assisted with manageble amounts. The problem for the EU is that Spain will also need aid and will require much larger amounts. It is unclear just to what degree German voters will tolerate outlays to rescue their more profligarte neighbors. And if this was not bad enough the problem does not stop here. Even major countries like Britain, France, and Italy have the same massive and growing debts. Many EU citizens seem unaware of the consequences of the growing debt. An Italian reader tells us, "We have had oour social welfare system for 60 years now, I see no reason why it can not continue." The British at this tiome are the only country to make major cuts in bernefits to avoid bankruptsy. A British reader writes, "The EU will have to revamp its social security systems. A European writes. "We are a lazy and pampered lot. Spoilt by decades of either communism or social democracy we think we are entitled to every kind of luxury - without having to work too much for it. The State is being perceived as the provider of a dream come true, including long holidays, early retirement, low housing cost, free health care and whatever. We have to realize anew that we must fend for ourselves and create riches before we consume them."
A European reader writes, "We have to come to terms with new realities of the global village, including some unprecedented immigration of economically, religiously and culturally alien newcomers. Political correctness of the left, supported by a sense of guilt over times colonial has had it that we had to accommodate anybody who presented at our doorstep and treat him or her to the luxuries of the welfare state that we thought was our own due to begin with. Requiring of them even a modest respect for and ajustment to our own ways could earn you depreciatory epithets of which antiquated was the mildest and Fascist one of the more vicious. But the pendulum has swung and we are now living under the dominance of right wing political correctness which is greatly enhanced by fear and indignation over events like New York 9/11 and Madrid 11/3. And therefore France will impinge on the freedom of religion and implement laws against the wearing of Muhammadan head scarves and some Dutch lawmakers seriously suggest penalizing 60-year old Turkish women who do not succesfully conclude a language course. Hilarity could easily prevail over indignation were it not for the fact that it's more often than not the very same political parties that once extolled the virtues of unlimited multiculturalism and have pampered illiterate migrant workers with patronizing benevolence over the past 40 years, who now advocate forced integration and acculturation as their grassroot supporters are feeling inconvenienced by the immigrants' impact on their environment. Europe has yet to strike a balance between harshness and indulgence,generously accommodating those that have been persecuted for reasons of race, religion or politics but henceforth accepting of whoever seeks the advantages of the European welfare state only those that our economy can absorb and this on the basis of mutual respect and the understanding that they will - except for matters of religion - 'do in Rome as the Romans do'. There now, I' ve been far too outspoken again, this Dutch vice of mine will not be contained, so be it."
The old multi-national Europe was eradicated in the 20th century by two World Wars and the Cold War. Economic integration has led to increasing political integration and the Europeapn Union is gradually admitting almost all of Europe except Russia and a few isolated states such as Belarus and neutrals like Switzeland. Despite complaints about Polish plumbers, Western Europeans seem to be adjusting well to living with other Europeans. Europe is now beginning to look more like the Europe before World War when much of the continent was dominated by multi-ethnic empires. It is unclear, however, if Europe will be able to overcome the issue of race. Nor is it clear if Europe's ability to blend European cultures can deal with the even broader cultural spectrum of Islam. [Judt]
Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin Press, 2005), 878p.
Watson, Alan. Churchill's Legacy: Two Speeches to Save the World (Bloomsbury Publishing: 2016).
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