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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

29. A Common European Market

Texte intégral

1Standing in stark contrast to the autarkic dream expressed by Johann Gottlieb Fichte in Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (1800), Charles de Villers (1765–1815)i shows the need for a European common market which would bring together the major trading towns of northern and southern Europe. These towns, ports on rivers or seas, serve two commercial functions: one, direct, for the benefit of the local economic basin; the other, indirect, for the benefit of the whole continent. The term Entrepôt (warehouse), which is related to this second function, describes the commercial link between the northern and southern zones. The most favourable political model for trade is drawn from the three Hanseatic cities of Bremen, Hamburg and Lubeck, and should be applied to other cities, especially Italian cities such as Venice or Genoa. Finally, commercial activity, because it is noble in its purpose, requires vast knowledge. Villers dreams of an enlightened trader.

2The real and artificial needs of its inhabitants, their high degree of activities and civilisation, mean that they rely heavily on the reciprocal exchanges of the production of their soil and industry. One part of the continent abounds in wines, oils, exquisite fruits, silks, or wool, both raw and manufactured, and finally in aromatic and luxury goods—another one is abundant in grains, flax, and hemp (used to make tackle, canvas, rigging, etc.), in wood, in iron, in brass, in tar, tallow, and much more. In short, the climate, the soil, and the type of local industry make each region superabundant in one or several kinds of commodities, and completely lacking in a few others. Hence this exchange of what one has too much of, in order to obtain what one lacks. One who has an overabundance of wine can use it to procure grain; one with an overabundance of grain can procure wine in return. One who has too much metal uses it to buy grain and wine, etc. And it is in vain that each area, rebellious against nature, would seek to isolate itself from the others, and force its own soil to provide it with the various productions it needs. […]

3This is what constitutes the second commercial function, that of the Entrepôt; a function of the highest importance, which binds nations that are distant to one another, seemingly forbidden by nature to engage in direct commerce, at least to a certain degree of activity. The trade of any port which dominates a river consists in the direct sale of the own commodities of its fluvial plains, and in the purchase of whatever it consumes in foreign commodities. But the Entrepôt does not participate by itself, as regards production, in the object of its activity. On the other hand, it is merchandise from foreign and distant countries that it accumulates in its stores, receiving some to exchange for the others, and offering only a guarantee in legal currency, in good faith and skill. The business of the Entrepôt is therefore intended to be indirect, and not limited to imports and exports from a single commercial province. The first function of commerce, ever referring only to a limited district, is local, and almost always restricted to a single nation; the latter encompasses masses of whole states; it serves the interests of all, and establishes systems of power, which are to be sacred to all nations participating in their beneficent influence. […]

4That which is necessary to all, which belongs to all, must belong to no one in particular. The great trading Entrepôts are the common property of all Europe; and it must henceforth be an inviolable article of international law in this part of the world, that in all the wars to come the absolute neutrality of these places must be respected, and that neither their lands, nor their ports, nor their premises should be touched, that no armed troops should be allowed to pass through their walls, and that no one should be permitted to draw any contributions from them. These arrangements must not be dictated by any sense of favour towards the Hanseatic towns; but by the general interest of all, and by a spirit of noble civilisation, which takes upon itself the duty of guaranteeing that attainment of all that has been put into place to make it flourish. […]

5These first lines of a general organisation of European trade show how the particular functions of the individual members of this great ensemble are precise and determined by the state of affairs. In order for each one to make the best possible use of their position and state of affairs, they must know both as well as possible, and not blindly adhere to routine. The merchant must be educated, and well educated! The perfect knowledge of the land, its productions, its inhabitants, its various languages, law, history, politics, finance, travel, and so many others are absolutely indispensable. For the trade to flourish and grow, it must be guided by enlightened perspectives and ideals. Unfortunately many traders are lacking in this regard. I have seen some who even displayed contempt for education. It is very desirable that a change should take place in this matter. The establishment of an Academy of Trade would be of great benefit to all Europe. Hamburg would be the ideal location. This academy could be placed in the small town of Bergedorf, near the banks of the Elbe, which is shared by Hamburg and Lubeck. Such an institution would be worthy of a city that has produced such men as Büsch, Reimarus, Ebeling, etc.

6Charles de Villers, Constitutions of the Three Free-Hanseatic Towns, Lubeck, Bremen and Hambourg, with a Memorandum on the Rank these Towns Should Occupy in Europe’s Commercial Organisation (1814).

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