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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski

What Holds Europe Together?

Concluding Remarks1

Kurt Biedenkopf, Bronisław Geremek, Krzysztof Michalski et Michel Rocard

Texte intégral

  • 1 Further referred to as “Europe Paper.”

11. The European Union now faces perhaps the greatest challenge in its history. It is expanding—dramatically so—with more than 70 million people becoming eligible for new European passports this year. Simultaneously with this expansion, the Union is attempting to transform itself into a new type of political entity, as it radically redefines itself through the process of drafting and ratifying a constitution.

2The Union’s expansion, bringing in ten new member countries, also brings into the Union people who are often much poorer and culturally vastly different from the majority of the citizens in the older Member States. The vast majority of these new EU citizens, many of whom endured decades of subjugation to Communist regimes, hold thoughts and values indelibly marked by experiences unfamiliar to long-time EU citizens. As a result, economic and cultural differences within the Union have, at a stroke, become much greater and more intense. The constitutional process to define the Union in a more ambitious way fuels this intensity to an even greater degree.

3Faced with growing diversity and the rigors of establishing a more demanding kind of unity, what forces can hold the expanded, redefined European Union together? What moral concepts, what traditions, what goals are capable of bringing together the Union’s diverse inhabitants in a democratic polity, and thereby underpinning and anchoring the European constitution?

4To examine these questions Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, appointed academics and politicians from a number of Union member countries to reflect on the intellectual and cultural dimension of an EU in the process of enlargement—in particular to consider the relevance of this dimension to the cohesion of the expanded and redefined Union.

52. Hitherto the Union has been enormously successful. It established durable bonds, which made a European civil war virtually impossible. The Union established a zone of peace founded on freedom, the rule of law, and social justice. Within its Member States the Union speeded the task of overcoming the economic consequences of the Second World War, promoting reconstruction and, later, unprecedented affluence across Europe.

6Economic integration and the gradual abolition of national economies led the way to this peaceful order. After the First World War, the French army occupied the Ruhr in order to prevent a revival of German heavy industry. After the Second World War, the French and the Germans decided to integrate their coal and steel industries. In doing so they laid the foundation for a lasting European peace.

73. A strong political will in the six founding states was needed both to make this development possible and to sustain it. Such a will was possible because of several factors that encouraged integration: the profound and widespread shock of the Second World War; the mounting threat posed by the Soviet Union, and the economic dynamism released by the founding of the Union’s precursor, the European Economic Community (EEC), and further enhanced by the integration of national economies.

84. As memories of the Second World War faded and the risk of conflict between the Atlantic Alliance and the Soviet Union receded, the transformation of the EEC into the European Community, and finally into the European Union, pushed the Union’s economic goals ever more to the fore. Economic growth, improvement in living standards, extending and enhancing systems of social protection, and rounding off the common market assumed priority.

9But given the growing number of Member States, economic and social differences expanded—as did the expectations of EU citizens. Over time, it became increasingly evident that economic integration— no matter how important it and its political consequences may be—is incapable of substituting for the political forces that originally propelled European integration and cohesion.

10This is why the aims formulated a few years ago by the Lisbon Council—to make Europe the most competitive economic region in the world by 2010, to establish a labor participation rate of 70 %, and to bring about lasting growth, affluence, and social justice—have effectively disappeared from public consciousness. Not only have these goals been overtaken by events; they also have done nothing to bring Europeans closer together. They do not and cannot establish the internal cohesion that is necessary for the European Union; nor, indeed, can economic forces alone provide cohesion for any political identity. To function as a viable and vital polity, the European Union needs a firmer foundation.

11It is no coincidence that economic integration is not enough to drive European political reform. Economic integration simply does not, of itself, lead to political integration because markets cannot produce a politically resilient solidarity. Solidarity—a genuine sense of civic community—is vital because the competition that dominates the marketplace gives rise to powerful centrifugal forces. Markets may create the economic basis of a polity, and are therefore an indispensable condition of its political constitution. But they cannot on their own produce the Union’s political integration. The original expectation that the EU’s political unity would be a consequence of the European common market has proven illusory.

12Indeed, the current debate over the reform of the Union’s Growth and Stability Pact shows once again that economic integration, symbolized by the launching of the Euro, can only continue as a basis of Europe’s peaceful order if it is followed by deeper political integration within the Union. A currency union means a common economic policy. But when the forces of cohesion based on shared economic successes wane or are overshadowed by internal competition, a common economic policy requires political integration, i.e. a level of internal cohesion that remains effective even when economic interests diverge.

13So Europe’s political union demands political cohesion, a politically grounded community bound by ties of solidarity. Both the future of the Union and the dimensions of its political integration will be decided by whether these political forces of cohesion exist, and whether they prove to be adequate to times of crisis.

145. Recognizing this, the countries of the European Union deliberately set out on the path of political integration. The Union’s constitutional process expresses this decision. But how much political integration is necessary and how politically potent should the Union become? To what end does the Union need the political ability to act?

15First, because an economic order never evolves in a value-free environment. It requires a legal framework and protection, the development of necessary institutions, and the state’s enforcement of standards and duties forged and agreed among by the people. An effective and just economic order must also be embedded in the morals, customs, and expectations of human beings, as well as in their social institutions. So, the manner in which the larger European economic area—the common market—is in harmony with the values of European citizens, as varied as these may be, is no mere academic problem; it is a fundamental and political one. The constant need to make Europe’s political expression reflect the values of Europe’s citizens is as significant as the functioning of that common market itself.

16Second, this task, the full extent of which became evident with the completion of the common market, requires political institutions with legislative, administrative, and judicial functions. Only by developing such institutions (for example, a structure of economic governance that can manage the currency union) and assuring their political legitimacy, can a viable and vital political entity be created. The Union’s constitutional process and the subsequent adoption of the European constitutional treaty will, it is expected, provide lasting legitimacy for the institutional framework of a politically constituted Europe. The constitutional treaty is intended to define the Union’s political unity.

17Third, the Union also needs the political ability to act because it confronts a myriad of new tasks:

  • overcoming the consequences of Europe’s aging population;
  • managing, both politically and legally, the desire of people from around the globe to immigrate into the Union;
  • dealing with the increasing inequality that is the direct result of increased immigration, as well as of the Union’s expansion;
  • preserving peace in a globalized world.

186. So where are the forces of cohesion for the new political Union to be found if the common interests produced by economic integration are no longer sufficient? We believe that the older forces that animated European unification are no longer sufficiently powerful to provide genuine political cohesion, and that, therefore, new sources of energy must be looked for and found in Europe’s common culture.

19This does not, of course, mean that the powers that have served until now will play no role in the future. But what has changed today is the relative significance of the existing forces of cohesion, and their relative contribution to the future unity of Europe. As the old forces of integration—the desire for peace, the existence of external threats, and the potential for economic growth—lose their effectiveness, the role of Europe’s common culture—the spiritual factor of European integration—will inevitably grow in importance as a source of unity and cohesion.

20At the same time, the meaning of European culture needs to be better understood and made politically effective. A mere list of common European values is not enough to serve as the basis of European unity, even if the charter of basic rights included in the Union’s constitutional treaty points in this direction. This is so because every attempt to codify “European values” is inevitably confronted with a variety of diverging national, regional, ethnic, sectarian, and social understandings. A constitutional treaty cannot eliminate this diversity of interpretation, even if backed up by legislation and judicial interpretation.

21Still, despite such difficulties of definition, there can be no doubt that there exists a common European cultural space: a variety of traditions, ideals, and aspirations, often intertwined and at the same time in tension with one another. These traditions, ideals, and aspirations bring us together in a shared context and make us “Europeans”: citizens and peoples capable of a political unity and a constitution that we all recognize and experience as “European.”

22This common European cultural space cannot be firmly defined and delimited; its borders are necessarily open, not because of our ignorance, but in principle—because European culture, indeed Europe itself, is not a “fact”: it is a task and a process.

23What is European culture? What is Europe? These are questions that must be constantly posed anew. So long as Europe is of the present, and not simply the past, they can never be conclusively answered. Europe’s identity is something that must be negotiated by its peoples and institutions. Europeans can, and must, adapt themselves and their institutions, so that European values, traditions, and conceptions of life can live on and be effective. At the same time, the Union and its citizens must make their values endure as a basis of common identity through ever-changing conditions.

24Europe and its cultural identity thus depend on a constant confrontation with the new, the other, the foreign. Hence the question of European identity will be answered in part by its immigration laws, and in part by the negotiated accession terms of new members. Neither of these—either the immigration laws or the terms of accession— can be determined a priori on the basis of fixed, static definitions, such as a catalogue of “European values.”

257. If Europe is not a fact, but a task, neither can there be any fixed, eternally defined, European boundaries, be they internal or external. Europe’s boundaries, too, must always be renegotiated. It is not geographical or national borders, then, that define the European cultural space—it is rather the latter which defines the European geographical space, a space that is in principle open.

26This also means that the common European cultural space cannot be defined in opposition to national cultures. Polish farmers and British workers should not see “European culture” as something foreign or even threatening. For the same reason, European culture cannot be defined in opposition to a particular religion (such as Islam). What constitutes the content of “European culture” is not a philosophical question that can be answered a priori; nor is it a merely historical question. It is a question that calls for political decisions that attempt to demonstrate the significance of tradition in the face of future tasks that Europe’s Union must address.

278. European culture, that open space that must be forever redefined, does not, in and of itself, establish European unity. That unity also requires a political dimension and the decisions that it engenders. But the common European culture is what gives politics the opportunity to make Europe into a unified political entity.

28The unity of Europe is not, however, only a political task. Politics can create only the basic conditions for European unification. Europe itself is far more than a political construct. It is a complex—a “culture”—of institutions, ideas and expectations, habits and feelings, moods, memories and prospects that form a “glue” binding Europeans together. And all these are a foundation on which a political construction must rest. This complex—we can speak of it as European civil society—is at the heart of political identity. It defines the conditions of successful European politics, and also the limits of state and political intervention.

29In order to foster the cohesion necessary for political unity, European politics must support the emergence and development of a civil society in Europe. It is through these institutions of civil society that our common European culture can become a reality. But this also means that politics and state institutions must be ready to recognize their limits.

30This self-limitation implies that the political culture of Europe must be compatible with the sense of community rooted in a common European culture. To lay claim to a common European culture and history as the basis of political identity, European political institutions must live up to the expectations engendered by the European cultural tradition. In particular, the exercise of political power must be based on persuasive and transparent political leadership, rather than express itself as bureaucratic action of questionable legitimacy. Decentralization of public discussion and the processes of decision-making are especially important. Indeed, only decentralization can do justice to the cultural variety and the wealth of forms of social organization that make up European civil society.

319. If the countries of Europe are to grow together into a viable political union, the people of Europe must be prepared for European solidarity. This solidarity must be stronger than the universal solidarity that binds (or should bind) all human beings together, and that underlies the idea of humanitarian aid.

32European solidarity—the readiness to open one’s wallet and to commit one’s life to others because they, too, are Europeans—is not something that can be imposed from above. It must be more than institutional solidarity. Europeans as individuals must feel it. When individual solidarity is not there, institutionally based solidarity is not enough to bring a polity into being.

33The cultural, intellectual, economic, and political tendencies of recent decades—not least of all the advance of individualism—have led to an erosion of many forms of social solidarity. The crisis of the welfare state may be understood as a consequence of this development. This erosion may also be felt in the context of the recent European enlargement: it is reflected in the diminished willingness among the citizens of older member countries—in comparison with earlier expansions— to lend a hand, economically and politically, to the newcomers.

34Strengthening of pan-European solidarity is one of the most important long-term tasks of European politics. In trying to accomplish this task, we should not labor under the illusion that the need for solidarity can be satisfied by institutional measures alone. Rather, all institutional measures must be sustained by the readiness of the population to manifest their own spirit of solidarity. It is thus important to give solidarity an active and prospective, rather than passive and retrospective, dimension: we must define it in terms of the new common tasks that Europe must address—rather than with respect to past achievements in sharing our wealth with the existing members of the Union.

3510. A particular challenge for European solidarity arises from the expansion of the Union to countries previously forming part of the Soviet empire. How we deal with this challenge will be decisive for the future of Europe.

36How will this expansion alter the conditions of European solidarity? What do the new members bring to the common table? Will they, as many fear, be mainly spoilers, and will they—traumatized by totalitarianism and lacking a strong Enlightenment tradition—slow down, or even bring to a halt, the process of the Union’s democratization? Will they, because of their historically and strategically determined closeness to the United States, frustrate Europe’s aspirations to a common foreign policy? Or will the new members not only expose the Union to new dangers, but also open it up to new opportunities?

37The year 1989 ushered Europe into a new age. It did not merely make possible the enlargement of Europe to the former Communist East. It also enriched Europe. That is why the new members, despite their economic weakness, should be taken into the Union as equal partners. They should be able to shape the new Union along with the old members. And we must also look for the European element in their traditions and experiences.

38That the European Union was given, in 1989, a historic opportunity of rebirth was in large part due to the revolutionary uprisings of people in Communist-ruled Eastern Europe. The East European revolutions were proof of the strength of the solidarity of a civil society. They are the best evidence that true political realism must take the existence of these bonds into account—and not merely those interests writ in the stone and mortar of political institutions.

3911. In the search for forces capable of establishing cohesion and identity in the European Union, the question of the public role of European religions is particularly important.

40Over the last few centuries, European democratic societies, learning from tragic experience, have attempted to remove religion from the political sphere. Religion was considered, with good reason, as divisive, rather than conciliatory. That may still be the case today. But Europe’s religions also have the potential to bring people in Europe together, instead of separating them.

41We believe that the presence of religion in the public sphere cannot be reduced to the public role of the churches, or to the societal relevance of explicitly religious views. Religions have long been an inseparable component of the various cultures of Europe. They are active “beneath the surface” of political and state institutions; they also have an effect on society and individuals. The result is a new wealth of religious forms entwined with cultural meanings.

42Even in Europe, where modernization and secularization appear to go hand in hand, public life without religion is inconceivable. The community-fostering power of Europe’s religious faiths should be supported and deployed on behalf of the cohesion of the new Europe. The risks involved, however, should not be overlooked. These include a possible invasion of the public sphere by religious institutions, as well as the threat that religion may be used to justify ethnic conflicts. It must be remembered that many apparent religious conflicts have political or social causes, and that they may be solved by social measures before they become religiously charged.

43The questions concerning the public role of religion in Europe resurfaced recently because of the Balkan wars, the Muslim immigration into Europe, and (thus far less dramatically) the prospect of Turkey’s becoming an EU member. The question of the political relevance of Islam comes to the forefront in this connection.

44To be sure, it is hard to deny that the increasing presence of the various forms of Islam in Europe’s public space poses both new opportunities and new dangers for European integration. It potentially calls into question the prevailing ideas about public space. Among European Moslems, there is a tendency to detach religion from the specific cultural and social context of their homelands, and this may have potentially dangerous consequences. But the only feasible path toward a solution of the problems posed by Islam in Europe consists in understanding the consequences of transplanting Islam into a European context, rather than in a frontal confrontation between the abstractions of “Christian Europe” and “Islam.”

4512. What is the impact of the intellectual and cultural meaning of Europe on Europe’s role in the world? To the extent that Europe acknowledges the values inherent in the rules that constitute European identity, those very same values will make it impossible for Europeans not to acknowledge their duty of solidarity toward non-Europeans. This globally defined solidarity imposes on Europe an obligation to contribute, in accordance with its ability, to the securing of world peace and the fight against poverty. But despite this global calling, there can be no justification for attempting to impose, perhaps with the help of the institutions of a common European foreign and defense policy, any specific catalogue of values on other peoples.

46The fundamental dilemma of European foreign policy is the tension between the logic of peace and the logic of cohesion. Europe sees itself as both a zone of peace and a community of values. This dilemma cannot be solved a priori. There is no essence of Europe, no fixed list of European values. There is no “finality” to the process of European integration.

47Europe is a project of the future. With every decision, not only its zone of peace, its institutions, its political, economic and social order, but also its very identity and self-determination are opened to questioning and debate. In principle this has been the case throughout Europe’s history. Europe’s capacity for constant change and renewal was, and remains, the most important source of its success and its unique character. This source must always be recognized anew and given institutional form: through European politics, through civil society, and through the force of European culture. In the end, it all comes to this: we must sustain and use our European heritage, and not allow it to perish.

48October 2004


1 Further referred to as “Europe Paper.”


Kurt Biedenkopf is professor of law and economist. Prime Minister of Saxony from 1990 until 2002; former President of the German Bundesrat. Member of the IWM’s Board of Patrons and of the Reflection Group on the Spiritual and Cultural Dimension of Europe (2002–2004). Author of 1989–1990: ein deutsches Tagebuch, Berlin, 2000; Einheit un Erneuerung. Deutschland nach dem Umbruch in Europa, Stuttgart, 1994.

Bronisław Geremek is a scholar of Medieval European history and a politician. Member of the European Parlament. Former Foreign Minister of Poland and former advisor to Solidarność. From February 2002 Head of the Chair of European Civilization at the Colleg of Europe, campus Natolin.

Krzysztof Michalski is Rector of the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, and professor of philosophy at Boston University and the University of Warsaw. Chairman of the Reflection Group on the Spiritual and Cultural Dimension of Europe (2002–2004). Editor of Transit. Europäische Revue, Frankfurt am Main, and the series Castelgandolfo-Gespräche, Stuttgart, 1985–2000.

Michel Rocard is member of the European Parliament. Between 1988–1991 Prime Minister of France. Member of the Reflection Group on the Spiritual and Cultural Dimension of Europe (2002–2004). Author of Pour une autre Afrique, 2002; Mutualité et droit communautaire, 1999.

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