Is there such a thing as a European family and can we actually unite under diversity? Should we consider the European project as a utopia or is us coming together a necessity in the 21st century? If there’s one thing that the Russian invasion has taught us; it’s that we are not alone on this continent. We have to share the land we’re inhabiting with not one, but two dictatorships. And as democracy and freedom continue to be a road that Russia and Belarus want to stray away from, we have to ask ourselves where we as democratic countries, and Europeans, lie on this geopolitical continent and furthermore, the world.
As world war two ends, many countries are devastated by the sheer brutality of war. Cities lie in crumbles, parents lost their children and vice versa, men and women are traumatized from the war and post traumatic stress disorder along with suicides, anger outbursts, grief and the inability to share feelings sweep over the continent. France loses 600 thousand people, Italy over 500 thousand, Belgium and the Netherlands 300 thousand, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania over 700 thousand, the United Kingdom 450 thousand, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway 218 thousand, Poland 6 million, Germany and Austria 7 million and the Jewish people around 6 million due to the Holocaust. Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the other Soviet Union members reach a death toll of 25 million people. If we include all deaths, civilian and military, from all over the world, an estimated 80 million people perished from this globe with more left behind wounded, scarred and alone.
To recover and shield themselves from another brutal and deadly war, six European countries; Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, decided to start the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. This treaty stroke the right balance between production and distribution of resources as the continent faced an economic recession due to the low demand of the two recourses. Subsequently, when the coal and steel industry actually went into a deep crisis in the 1970’s and 80’s, the ECSC played a big role in emphasizing and restructuring European worker rights which gave a real belief in a common destiny and a long-term vision.
In 1957, the six countries signed the treaty of Rome, building upon the succes of the ECSC. The treaty of Rome can be split into two agreements: the European Economic Community (EEC) and the treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC). Truly a historic day as the first Europeans decide to create a common market where companies were free to explore the first piece of the continent. Trade and co-operation started to show it’s benefits and secured competitive worker’s right and created a tangible sense of security between members towards the rest of the continent and the world.
Just one year later the European parliament was born. And another six years later, instead of MEP’s (Members of the European Parliament) appointed by the member states themselves, the European people could vote themselves on representatives to defend their interests and choose the path of the European Union. During these times also other countries showed their interest in the economic and peace project. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the European Community in 1973. In 1981 Greece joined the Union too and five years later (1986) Spain and Portugal chose European Unity as well. In subsequent years many others joined the project too with the European Union, as to date, now consisting of 27 member states (minus the United Kingdom that chose to leave in 2016).
But because we see the European Union as an historical and big project (which it is), we also fail to see how big the world actually is. Times where European countries could independently act as a world leader, both politically and economically, is over.
China is becoming a political and economical powerhouse that seeks a world leading position in terms of trade and politics through the ‘Belt and Road Initiative‘. It’s buying electricity providers, ports, railway and airline companies and other key infrastructure from all over the world. It even hands out loans to countries that struggle to pay it back and after a while have to hand over economic control to Beijing (capitol of China). This strategy has even reached the European continent with countries like Montenegro, Greece and Hungary in debt to China.
Part of the United States is favoring isolationism again with previous American president elect Donald Trump’s choice to put ‘America first‘ that pushed Europe to fix it’s own ‘messes’. On itself not an inherently bad thing, should the European Union be united. It could be good to have a United States that steers away from the EU to focus more on Asia and itself, but this increases the pressure on the European continent that seems to not know how it wants to unite.
Europeans should ask themselves the question weter or not democracy and freedom are pillars worth standing up for and defending. The stable and peaceful view Europe has (or had) about the continent has been shattered by Russia and Belarus and we are waking up in a world where a war on our own soil is back to being a possibility.
But I would suggest not to choose fear and quick emotions but to think about how free European democracies can stand together to represent a beacon where it’s doors will always be open to those who seek our values and way of life but where we acknowledge that we do not need to give into authoritarian regimes and dictators. Let them try. Let them knock on our doors. We stand above them and will look down upon them, until it’s time to face them. We do not have to choose for war though, but be prepared nonetheless as this is the free Europe where democracy stands proud on our flags.