Whatever Happened to the European Dream?

A worker adjusts a 150 metre-square European flag during a celebration in Brussels' Jubilee Park to mark the expansion of the European Union to 25 from 15 states on April 30, 2004. Reuters

This article first appeared on the Brookings Institution site.

Soon after the end of World War II, Robert Schuman, then the French minister of foreign affairs, and Konrad Adenauer, then the German chancellor—along with French diplomat Jean Monnet, a cognac producer and advocate of European unification—thought they had found a magical formula to end the cycle of war that the continent had inflicted upon itself for centuries.

Simply put, they proposed that countries could transfer partial sovereignty to a supranational body that would exercise control over the production of the means of war: coal and steel.

Over the next several years, this evolved into a much broader idea: to aim for an integrated Europe, wherein labor, goods, capital and services could move freely. This would be secured by dismantling national borders (which, advocates believed, were instruments that stoked xenophobia and a politics of fear).

The ultimate goal was "an ever-closer union" among European states.

In the following decades, and especially after the end of the Cold War, Europe moved closer and closer to achieving this goal. But it was met with backlash too, from publics that saw the emerging supranational government in Brussels as an elitist project disconnected from the views and concerns of average Europeans.

The financial meltdown in 2008, and the economic crisis it unleashed, made matters worse. The economic realities of the European Union chipped away at the founding fathers' dream of consolidating a stronger European identity that would supersede national affiliations.

Pascal Lamy—a chief of staff to the father of the European internal market, Jacques Delors—once likened the founding fathers to medieval alchemists and remarked that "they thought they could transform the stone of economic integration into the gold of political integration."

In hindsight, what the founding fathers envisioned may indeed have been beyond the bounds of the possible.

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Robert Schuman, who with Konrad Adenauer, then the German chancellor, and French diplomat Jean Monnet are considered the founding fathers of the European Union. The author writes that after the end of the Cold War, Europe moved closer and closer to “an ever-closer union.” But it was met with a backlash from Europeans who saw it as an elitist project, and later it was weakened by the economic realities that followed the 2008 financial crisis. Postes France

Let us hope for the time being that the "politics of fear" that brought about the Brexit result does not spin out of control and make Europe (Britain foremost) regret its decision to reject the wisdom of Schuman, Adenauer and Monnet—and all the others who've chosen to walk in their path.

Kemal Kirişci is TÜSİAD senior fellow, Foreign Policy, at the Center on the United States and Europe, and director of the Turkey Project at Brookings. Within the project, he runs the Turkey Project Policy Paper series and frequently writes on the latest developments out of Turkey. He is the co-author of The Consequences of Chaos: Syria's Humanitarian Crisis and the Failure to Protect (Brookings Institution Press, April 2016), which considers the long-term economic, political and social implications of Syria's displaced people and offers policy recommendations to address the humanitarian crisis.