Europe has been a fascinating idea of peace, stability and social justice. After decades of unstable balance of power systems, disastrous conflicts and two World Wars, a new era in Europe’s history began when the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established. The idea ‘to create peace through integration’ became a reality. Following decades of war, battlefields and deep wounds, the peace project ‘Europe’ arose. Overcoming the fear of war and opening borders between Europe’s nation states was the dream of millions of people, which came true. Through the voluntary transfer of sovereignty from nation states to a supranational institution, an integration process started which over the years has evolved further and further. From the 1950 Schuman Plan – the beginning of the integration process – to the 1958 Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundation stone of the single market, and eventually to the single currency, the ‘monetary non-aggression community’ reached a degree of integration, which, if one pauses for a moment, is amazing.
The number of member states has expanded from the six founding states – France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – to currently 27 member states. Core principles like peace, freedom, democracy, prosperity and social development were extended to Spain, Portugal and Greece after the fall of their dictatorships; later, after the end of the Cold War, these principles were also adopted by the former Warsaw Pact states. The eastern enlargement of the EU eventually ended the artificial division of Europe through the ‘Iron Curtain’. A war between the EU member states is unthinkable today.
For decades, Europe was a project widely supported and accepted. Europe’s citizens wanted Europe because it brought peace, economic prosperity and social progress. They are still in favour of European integration but they have started setting conditions for further support of the European integration project. These conditions must be incorporated into the political process. Europe’s success story had always been that the economy and social security are two sides of the same coin – until the 1990s when the neoliberal spirit began dominating the EU Commission and national governments. Since then the motto has been ‘deregulation’. Instead of social stability, strategies for deregulation and profit increase have governed the implementation of the single market.
Conservatives and neoliberals claim that social and environmental regulations prevent growth and lead to lower wages; longer working hours and the lack of workforce participation in company decision-making, on the other hand, foster growth and higher wages. But employment and trade union rights are not cost factors. They are vital to our economic success as they contribute to motivating employees, improving the quality of jobs, promoting social harmony and fostering workforce participation in company decision-making. Economic growth does not mean anything if it benefits only some. The EU’s social divisions have to be overcome in the coming decades.