Posted by: Dirk | April 25, 2012

Barroso on European History

Celebrating 40 years of free trade with Switzerland, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso writes up his thoughts on European history at Europolitics:

It was in Geneva, in September 1929, at the 10th Assembly of the League of Nations, that French representative Aristide Briand and German representative Gustav Stresemann, both Nobel Peace Prize laureates in 1926, recommended a European federation. Briand declared: “I think that among peoples who are geographically grouped together like the peoples of Europe, there must exist a sort of federal link. These peoples must have at all times the opportunity to enter into contact, discuss their interests, adopt common resolutions, establish ties of solidarity”. Stresemann stated that this question “is of indirect interest to the entire world because it affects the global economic situation”.

Later, it was at the University of Zurich that Winston Churchill delivered, on 19 September 1946, his famous address calling for “reconstituting the European family, or at least in so far as we cannot reconstitute it, giving it a structure that permits it to live and grow in peace, in security and liberty”. This would enable Europe, continued Churchill, to live “as free and happy as Switzerland is today”.

What I find amazing is that Barroso writes about European history, about the Great Depression and the need for solidarity – and next up is 1946. European solidarity failed in the 1930s, just as international cooperation failed. You might think that this is not a big deal, but in fact solidarity was replaced by hate, and cooperation by war. There was no middle way – appeasement failed.

I think it is time for European politicians to reflect on their policies. Spain and Greece are going through depressions, with no policy tools available: no monetary policy, no fiscal policy. They are not allowed to renegotiate their debt burdens, neither those of government nor those of the private sector. The current policy of kicking the can down the road by bailing out banks and speaking of solidarity is clearly not a policy to address the problems. Rather, the financial symptoms of the real problems are addressed. If mainstream politics does not address the problems of the real world, extremist views will take over. After all, the story of Briand and Stresemann did not have a happy ending:

Gustav Stresemann died of a stroke in October 1929 at the age of 51. His massive gravesite is situated on the Luisenstadt Cemetery at Südstern in Berlin Kreuzberg, and includes work by the German sculptor Hugo Lederer. Stresemann’s sudden and premature death, as well as the death of his “pragmatic moderate” French counterpart Aristide Briand in 1932, and the assassination of Briand’s successor Louis Barthou in 1934, left a vacuum in European statesmanship that further tilted the slippery slope towards World War II.

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