On the 25th of March the European Union turns sixty. Congratulations are in order for the EU and for ourselves!
Andrius Kubilius
Andrius Kubilius
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

There are those who predict that the EU will not see the likes of another round-numbered anniversary: Brexit and Donald Trump’s resultant delight, refugees, Putin’s hybrid scheming, Greece’s economic paralysis are all challenges that Eurosceptics gleefully believe foretell the rapid death of the EU. However, as we know, the frequent rumours of Mark Twain’s death were greatly exaggerated and it’s exactly the same with the rumours of the swift demise of the EU.

I am convinced that in celebrating 60 years, the EU is only now maturing. This is where the EU and I differ as several months ago I celebrated my sixtieth birthday because I feel solidly mature. The European Union’s coming of age points to difficulties and hopelessness but to talk of its death makes no sense.

In this article I would like to share a few celebratory observations on Europe’s path to coming of age and why those who are quick to see it buried are wrong. There are also some observations about ourselves and that very same European Union and the challenges with which we are faced, what we must achieve, what there is to be happy about and what not to resist.

Sixty years of the Union – Youth, Maturity or Old Age

Why is it that in 2017, 60 years after the Treaty of Rome, I am speaking of only the start of maturity of the EU? It doesn’t seem that much especially when we compare it with a person’s lifetime. Still, as world history has shown, it’s a rather short period of time in terms of the lifetime of countries or a union thereof.

Just as the EU celebrates sixty years inspired with a little more optimism, its history is a lot healthier when compared with that of the United States. In 1787 the United States approved its constitution and in 1791 the Bill of Rights was appended to it. So began the modern history of the United States. 70 years on from this important date, in 1861, the US underwent a great and tragic existential crisis – the southern States decided to secede from the Northern states, plunging the US into civil war.

It was almost 60 years later when at the beginning of 1917, after President Woodrow Wilson’s speech, the US decided to enter the war in Europe. So began a century of global domination of the United States. It’s worth remembering that in 1861 the US federal budget was just 4 percent of the entire GDP of the country. It increased slightly to only 5 percent in 1900. It was only in the twentieth century with the two World Wars and thereafter that the increased role of the states the US expenditure was increased to 30 percent.

The European Union in celebrating its sixty years, is experiencing a similar trial not unlike what the US experienced: the southern states wanted to secede from the United States; Great Britain wants to secede from the EU. Divorce is a painful thing. The integrity of the US was ensured by weapons, the EU cannot follow that example however it is probable that Brexit will end in an agreement good for both parties and in so ensuring the territorial integrity of Europe. It’s worth remembering that the EU budget this year came to 1 percent only of the EU’s GDP.

If in 60 years-time (around 2077) the EU follows the example of the US and steps into an age of global domination, something even more difficult to predict today, but the fact is that the EU, just like the US, is celebrating its coming of age at 60 years.

The six EU scenarios

On the occasion of this anniversary, the President of the European Commission Jead-Claude Juncker announced five scenarios according to which in the Commission’s opinion, the EU will further evolve. The entire intellectual and political elite of Europe hurried to vote for and debate which scenario is the most appropriate. Europe’s “greats” after voting at Versailles, announced that the EU will henceforth evolve according to “two quick” scenarios. Some were quick to get angry and protest.

On this occasion I’d like to make a few comments which I think prove that evolution of the EU according to a sixth scenario, which was never included in Mr. Junker’s menu of scenarios. The sixth scenario is special in that it does not have any defined features and as such is unpredictable. This I say observing the past 60 years of experience and trends in the evolution of the EU and not looking at any reasons why in the next 60 years those trends should change.

The most important law of evolution of the EU can be described very simply: the EU evolves on a path of “natural and organic integration” and not on a path of some contrived and implemented intellectual plan. That’s why the various intellectual ideas for European integration with which the Eurosceptics love to scare us (last year the scary “greater Europe” idea) are attractive intellectual gymnastics which however have little in common with the actual processes taking place in the EU.

Since the birth of the EU with the Rome Treaty in 1957, the EU has been evolving according to that logic for the past 60 years: going from crisis to crisis the EU naturally and organically in various areas has sought new and shared tools which help to defend itself from such crises and by applying such tools the EU has become more integrated and more consolidated. Practical, natural and organic EU integration has brought us from the Rome Treaty to today’s Treaty of Lisbon which reflects the considerably more consolidated and integrated state of the EU when compared to the Treaty of Rome days.

Today the EU is forced to seek completely new responses to completely new crises and challenges. Recently a common EU response to the challenges of the refugee crisis was being sought by strengthening security of the external borders and by creating a common refugee acceptance policy. Slowly and previously as with the response to the world financial crisis the Fiscal Insurance treaty and the Banking Union were born. So the EU moves forward on the same natural and organic path to integration.

Moreover, since the end of the twentieth century, Europe has had to find a response to global challenges. A common market and common currency made a strong start at the beginning of 1990 when it was understood that that a giant like China would return to the world economy and realised that it would be worthwhile for Europe to compete as a united entity only.

That fact scaremongers are saying the EU will collapse and predict that its further integration is impossible because there allegedly is no longer a basis for uniting “European values” or “European peoples, shows how critics of the EU up to now still haven’t understood the reality of the processes of “organic integration” taking place in Europe; the EU is uniting not on the basis of some contrived fancy intellectual idea or plan, but on a basis of “great common need”. That “great common benefit” at times is clear and at times difficult to agree on how it is best achieved. However, being frightened by such an organically evolving consolidation and integration is not at all prudent.

One can assume that Europe’s path to natural and organic integration as a way of further evolution is being shaken by newer crises and challenges and it is by being able to take up the practical tools of the “great common benefit” which are needed that a response is found on how to overcome crises and challenges like these.

Today it is difficult to say how the EU will be 60 years down the line, i.e. in 2077 when the Treaty of Rome will mark its 120th anniversary. Still, I can predict that the EU will be far more consolidated and integrated compared to what it is now. And that will take place naturally and organically, overcoming all new crises. For Lithuania, a natural and organic path to integration will be useful first of in a geopolitical sense. Natural EU integration like this will be accompanied by constant intellectual debate that integration like this is condemned to fail and that the EU has no future yet such criticism will also become a natural part of the organic path to evolution of the EU. However, it would be extremely unwise to resist at all costs such a long-term natural and organic integration.

“Natural Integration” and its “Natural challenges”

After 60 years “natural integration” of the EU will clash with “natural challenges” but not with the challenges with which the eurosceptics like to scare everyone.

A few thoughts on what “natural challenges” we can expect.

a) No to “Brussels bureaucracy” but simple economics is a threat
Lots of people like criticizing Brussels for its bureaucracy stating that there’s too much of it, it’s not democratic, that it creates mostly unnecessary and absurd rules and that it tries to impose its powers in areas where only national governments should be. There is some truth in this criticism but the EU’s challenges and problems come about not only because of bad “Brussels bureaucracy” but because of the global challenges that the EU economy and its social model face.

It’s not only in Lithuania that there is deep disappointment because life isn’t improving, it’s also something in Great Britain and even in Germany. It’s determined by objective processes – in 2016 a Mackenzay Global Institution report conducted in rich countries showed that over the last decade 85 percent of people living in those countries are confronted with a situation where their earned income is either is not increasing or is even decreasing. This is the first decade since the Second World War in which this is happening.

That’s the main reason why people on both sides of the Atlantic are disappointed and have lost hope for a better future, surrendering to their frustration and directing their anger against a “system”. That creates a good space for politicians of cheap populism to point out what’s to blame: in Europe it’s most often the “Brussels bureaucracy” that’s to blame; in the United States it’s immigrants from Mexico or global free trade. The disappointment that has spread in societies was one of the main reasons why Brexit took place and why Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or Marine Le Pen enjoy such popularity.

There are various economic problems in Europe caused for various reasons some of which are perhaps caused by “Brussels bureaucracy” however the biggest problem arises because of the structural problems of the EU’s economic model which already in 2015 Angela Merkel best described in 3 points:

1) about 7 percent of the world’s population lives in the EU countries;
2) EU countries produce about 20 percent of the world’s GDP and
3) EU countries finance about 50 percent of the world’s social expenditure.

Europe’s traditional big national social obligations drown its economic competitiveness and only Scandinavia shows an enviable ability to match large social expenditure with global leadership in a contest of the competitiveness. All the talk that EU political consolidation has destroyed the EU economy is completely baseless because the United States and China are politically better consolidated than the EU however that is not an obstacle to fast growth or to being drivers of innovation.

Serious Europeans and politicians, while hearing in the EU popular dissatisfaction with “Brussels bureaucracy” which accuses Brussels for all of Europe’s economic and social woes which Europeans are experiencing in their daily life, must find an answer not by asking how to change Brussels bureaucracy but what must be done with the economic social “European model” in which the big social obligations traditionally dominate. It may just happen that in the long run Europe will be forced to radically review its traditional economic/social model and not the powers of Brussels (which Europe’s intellectuals so love to scrutinize).

It’s worth seeing from Lithuania’s experience that after 2004 Lithuania made more progress where it was necessary to implement clear EU policy (finance, energy, the environment, economic deregulation) and made less progress where such policy didn’t exist and still doesn’t: education, social care and health care. Lithuania’s progress therefore was purely pragmatic, “more Europe” and more power in Brussels would be useful for our social and economic progress let alone for our geopolicy.

b) “Differences” between European expectations and European realities.

More and more often I think that some of the increasing disappointment in the EU is due to the commonplace and large discrepancy between expectations linked to the EU itself and its “Brussels bureaucracy”, and the realities as to which powers and resources actually held by Brussel’s.
Listening to the criticism levelled against the EU or Brussels it seems at times that the critics would like the EU to solve those problems that people encounter in their daily lives more effectively. Expectations are also high when it comes to high salaries and high pensions and a more effective common market and border security and if there’s none of these national politicians are quick to point fingers at Brussels saying that they aren’t solving or are not allowed resolution in places.

People want “more and want quickly” from the EU and national governments however it’s always worth bearing in mind that between 40 to 50 percent of the GDP of the national governments is redistributed across the budgets of the national governments. In the meantime the annual total EU expenditure budget reaches only about 1 percent of the entire EU GDP which consists of the GDPs of the national governments. In other words, EU financial resources are around 40 to 50 percent less than the combined resources of the national governments. In exactly the same way, actual EU powers to solve something on an EU scale are by the same token less than the powers of the national states.

We are in the meantime in an exclusive position because we are in the meantime getting great structural support from the general EU budget and such support reaches 30 percent of our annual budget expenditure. We can therefore get the false impression that the EU has a lot of power and the resources to solve all of Europe’s problems. The reality unfortunately is otherwise and that means that we are living doing the splits between “illusory European expectations” and manifestly softer European realities. It will not be easy when life forces us to understand this. I do firmly believe however that in the future natural European integration will inevitably bring about huge EU disposal financial resources. That’s the way it happened in the course of history with the US budget.

Furthermore, it will become all the more apparent that the attempts to keep some political areas of the country exclusively under national responsibility, and thereby paying the price of patriotic expectations, has its own reality; those areas remain the least reformed and most incapable of being handed over to people of high quality public services. In Lithuania we can plainly see that the best managed areas are those that were forced to adapt under the intensive supervision of EU or other Western organisations.

As I have just mentioned, in Lithuania it is the state finance, energy, some economic areas and military administration where such supervision and assistance were particularly intense. The worst areas are those which in the EU have traditionally been left to national responsibility: education, health care, social care. In wanting to move forward in these areas, we would need to decrease our local expectations and wish for a more European reality.

Due to the fact that before that I explained that I am a champion of “natural, organic integration” and because I am convinced that in the future we’ll see more of it, I firmly believe that it would not be wise to resist - for us living here in Lithuania especially. We would on the contrary, need to orientate our expectations to the fact that European realities will increase and that in actual fact means that in Europe there will be “more of Europe”. That however will happen naturally and not by implementing some artificial intellectual plan.

c) Opposition to European consolidation and national fragmentation

As a consequence of natural and organic EU consolidation, it is Germany that is becoming more and more evidently Europe’s natural power house and leader. This is being felt more and more post-Brexit. France, Poland, Spain and Italy will fight for their place. We in our turn do not have to fear the German leadership because it is a natural and organic leadership.

On the other hand, Europe is being confronted with another somewhat intense consequence of natural and organic consolidation in that the trend toward national fragmentation is strengthening in different countries; the efforts of Catalonia and Scotland to seek independence while maintaining their dependence on the EU are just two examples of the process. Looking ahead, we can hope for more such processes because natural processes define it. As organic EU consolidation takes hold, more and more power in various areas will be handed over to the “Brussels bureaucracy” which will as a result decrease power in the national capitals.

As I have said, a natural redistribution of power like this is in itself not bad and is conversely a tool for realizing the “great common benefit”. However, it’s consequence is that during a natural process like this, as political and juridical power lessens in the capital cities of national states (because some of them are going over to the level of Brussels), various regions while maintaining strong historical and ethnic sentiments, will while not heeding and not being apprehensive of their weakened capital cities, become bolder and bolder in starting to seek their own regional independence together with declarations of allegiance to the EU.

Processes like this that encourage the spread of the sentiment of a “Europe of regions” or a “Europe of fatherlands” in Europe, can peter out because the image is that in Europe the only thing that grows is chaos. Without a doubt, nationalist feelings are a powerful force - we ourselves experienced the Sąjūdis years – and they can destroy great empires. I am however not particularly apprehensive about the link emerging today between natural European consolidation and increasing regional fragmentation.

These processes simply mean that thanks to Europe’s organic processes of consolidation, historical regions in Europe today feel markedly stronger and bolder and will need to be considered capital cities as Brussels is. The strengthening of regional sentiment is unavoidable and something to which the EU will need to adapt, maybe by searching for a new European tools that would be satisfactory to the regions and national capitals.

Finally, as in other cases, economic problems, disappointment at one’s own social predicament mixed with historical nationalistic sentiments are things that bring people onto the streets. It’s never difficult for them to prove who is to blame: sometimes the national capital, sometimes Brussels (In Lithuania without a doubt, Kubilius ). If in Europe or in its separate countries there were less economic problems it is probable that there would be less Euroscepticism and in some parts less regional fragmentation.

And in conclusion

As Vytautas Ališauskas some months ago was saying of the European Union – the unknown is scary. It is difficult to predict how the world, or closer to us, Europe, will evolve. This is especially so when we see chaos on the increase, political processes that are difficult to understand and frivolous populism spreading. It is alarming. Yet in such daily life of these times, we must consider the long-term processes and their underlying and unchallengeable reasons and that will help us understand what’s happening.

We must first of all must be concerned about the EU. I have tries to discuss some of its underlying processes. They do not scare me. On the contrary, for me their natural trends answer the question as to what we can expect. We’ll see “more of Europe” come about in Europe but it will happen naturally and take decades.

It would be bad if we were to succumb to the mode that’s spreading in Central Europe and try to resist the trends that are natural. We’d gain nothing only go against our vital interests which mean being a part of Europe. The EU and consequently we have all the capability to move on boldly on that same path that the EU started on 60 years ago, a path of greater maturity and greater consolidation. A natural and therefore attractive path. I like this path despite the fact that in places it is unexpectedly bumpy.

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