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Reuniting Europe: Our Historic Mission

Aspen Institute, Wallenberg Lecture, November 14, 1999. Also available in German.

With the collapse
of the Soviet empire, History is once again on the march in Europe. But
although the fall of the Berlin Wall truly paved the way for the reunification
of Europe, the ten years which have since elapsed have been merely what might
be termed a “transitional” stage towards the market economy and
democracy. For many of the European countries in question the future is still
Today, we no longer speak of the “other Europe” as we used to
do, but of the CECC countries -the central and eastern European countries – and
I fear that that jargon betrays our underlying feeling that those countries are
not yet part of our world. Much remains to be done and – let us not delude
ourselves – the goal is not simply to enlarge Europe as we did in western
Europe when the Community increased from six to nine and subsequently to ten,
twelve and fifteen Member States. Our historic mission is to reunify Europe
behind its common values, while respecting its diversity.
When History began again in Berlin, it did so in its own haphazard way. It is
for us to give it a meaning, failing which we can only be its playthings and, in
all likelihood, its victims. This is why we must be absolutely aware of each of
those countries’ own individual personalities and also of the marks left by
forty years of totalitarianism and an economic and social organisation which
was at once centralised, paternalistic and inefficient. In that regard, we must
speak in terms of the cultural dimension of enlargement. All those nations –
some large or small to varying degrees – have memories and a genetic
inheritance of a whole history of tragedies and caesuras. That geopolitical
dimension should be borne in mind when considering the great ideal of peace
which is the centrepiece of the European edifice.
By stressing this change of scale – since we must now think in terms of some
thirty Member States in a Europe whose eastern boundaries will probably remain
uncertain for some considerable time – it is my intention to emphasise the
burden of the heritage that we shall have to assume, because we shall have to
reach beyond all the tragic events and errors of the dying century or risk
failure. We shall have to transcend this never-ending European civil war which
has twice become a world war and subsequently fed on the Cold War between the
two superpowers. The question is whether we can reach beyond the vicissitudes
of diplomacy between the two wars, with the failure of the Treaty of
Versailles, the Spanish Civil War, the shame of Munich and the shock of the
German-Soviet pact, in other words, whether we can transcend the powerlessness
of the large and the small European States, who were the supposed victors, and
that of those on the losing side and recreate, between them, order and peace on
the continent.
What sort of political project, I almost said what marriage contract, is
acceptable to or better, desired by the candidate countries? And, since it is
not possible to duck the issue, what institutional arrangements are best suited
to turn this greater Europe into an efficient, transparent and democratic