In the World War II aftermath, The European Coal and Steel Community forced economic dependency between France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands to deter the continent from its belligerent tendencies. It created an economic and identity niche that disregarded sovereignty over financial security: “the Europeanization of identities,” a term coined by French political economist, and diplomat Jean Monnet. Considered as “the unifying force behind the birth of the European Union,” Monnet pictured that shared economic advantages brought by a “super-state” process would eventually form a single and common identity between countries and fight extreme nationalism.
In 1957, the appellation changed to “European Economic Community” and established a customs union. In 1993, the Maastricht treaty favored economic liberalization and the opening of frontiers, which further diminished the countries’ sovereignties. The European Union was born.
Although relatively successful with a coherent identity of peace and prosperity, Monnet’s vision of the European Union started to fall apart in the 1990s.
Over the past couple years, the EU strained itself with competition from emerging markets in China, India and Southeast Asia, dealt with the PIIGS’ (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) economy crises and security threats from the East.
Such factors critically triggered an identity crisis in the 21st century. As Europe still fails to assure its economic purposes, the social construct perished, and financial insecurity led to a general animosity regarding open borders.
One of the current sparks that threaten the EU is Brexit, where the European identity is once again being tested to its core.
On the other side of the Channel, French politician Marine Le Pen and her extreme political views are gaining more popularity among those who no longer want to participate in this exclusive club and want to focus on saving their country from all that is pressuring the EU. Others are stuck between enduring hard times or leaving the EU, an option still considered as a potential risk for economic security.
However, Monnet and the founders of the European Union were right to an extent; European countries are stronger together, and the EU has its perks.
The single market and free movements of capital made the EU the largest economy in the world, generating almost 17% of the global GDP in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund. The European Bill of Rights and system of supranational decision-making favor a high Human Development Index. In a whole, Monnet’s project evidently led to progress in many fields since the creation of the union.
On the EU’s 60th birthday, the next presidential elections all over the continent could further undermine the union’s already-weak mechanisms if leaders do not find a way to remind their people of their precious European identity and how better off they are together. As Jean Monnet said: “Europe will be forged in crises and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.”
Article by Rebecca Giovannetti