Even critics of the European integration would concede to the argument that it has undisputedly contributed to an unprecedented era of reconciliation between hitherto hostile nation states.
Many factors played a part in reaching a consensus on the continent.
The tragic common experience of horror and devastation on all sides in two subsequent world wars only partly explain the joint endeavour to build a European cooperation.
Nothing ever was built on negation and negative experiences only. Creativity, goodwill, trust and vision are all necessary to construct a lasting mechanism. Without the cooperation and wisdom of a generation of like-minded political leaders, reigning in the Western hemisphere European integration could not have become reality.
The Western political elite of the time predominantly adherent to the Christian-Social school of thought understood that in the evolving bi-polar geopolitical reality the key to success is an integration based on a mutually beneficial economic cooperation with a strong element of solidarity and inclusive social dimension.
In this process, the role of the US was critical at least in three significant areas. Firstly, learning the lessons of misguided policies after the First World War, Western leaders were wise not to humiliate Germany but help it get back on its feet. In a historic gesture of reconciliation, in 1953 the Truman-administration brokered the so-called London Debt Agreement to liberate Germany of its asphyxiating debt burden. Its Western creditors instantly wrote off over 70 percent of Germany’s pre-war debt. Furthermore, the US extended the largest financial assistance known in history to ailing European economies in the framework of the so-called Marshall Plan. Additionally, by forging a military alliance the US guaranteed the security of Europe at a time of nuclear threat in the Cold War era.
This act of solidarity, i.e. a combination of debt write-off and substantial financial impetus, as well as the guarantee to security, was key to launch the socio-economic upsurge of Europe with unprecedented decades of peace, welfare and stability to follow.
If the European Union wants to counter successfully economic, environmental, security, health and social challenges of our times it can only do so by leaning on the experiences of post-war Europe and work ever harder on strengthening social cohesion between its member states.
The greatest threat to social cohesion in the EU today is the enormous geographical imbalance persisting in income levels between the periphery and core of the EU.
Although an enticing perspective for any candidate country, with the benefit of hindsight it is fair to say that many member states joined the common market or indeed the common currency prematurely. It is a cliché of economic theory that economic integration and liberalization can only be successful if it is mutually beneficial and by definition it cannot be between unequals. In a common market with free movement of labour and capital, it is inevitable that the former will leave for higher salaries and the latter for higher returns. Equally, a common monetary policy is rarely suitable in the long run for countries with contrasting economic structures and fundamentals. Such a mechanism cannot result in a desired equilibrium, but more likely to bring about social disaster.
Today the EU is characterized by enormous geographical social differences with mass migration of labour from the periphery and an ever-increasing gap in welfare between East and West, North and South.
Cohesion funds, the EU’s official policy instrument for closing the development gap and furthering closer economic integration between members have rarely fulfilled their mission. It is a common responsibility of donors and recipients that cohesion funds, which represent European taxpayers’ contributions, are targeted efficiently, spent effectively, and not subject to corruption.
To this day, cohesion funds have contributed more to the sustainment of corrupt political establishments, corporate interests across the EU than to closing the income gap by enhancing competitiveness.
Therefore, it is fair to say, that the cohesion policy of the EU that should contribute to establishing social cohesion across the continent cannot compare to the post-war arrangements that helped Western Europe to get back on its feet. Apart from the moral hazard of misusing great quantities of European taxpayers’ funds, persisting social inequalities will inevitably lead to the surge of right wing extremism, populism on the one hand, and overstretched extreme-left activism. Signs of both are abundantly visible, with less and less space and time for sensible and constructive dialogue to find solutions.
If there is anything that all Europeans can be proud of regardless of their nationality, origin or identity, it is most certainly the rule of law, transparency, access to legal representation and equality before the law. We can be proud of how our continent has been governed by these principles for centuries and, even if an aggressive regime has occasionally been able to drag its country away from them, we could always find our way back to them eventually. On the other hand, there has always been another system lurking at the frontiers of Europe, ready to spread its untransparent and self-interested laws – let’s call it tribalism, clan mentality or mafia. Weak monarchs or governments have been known to give in to or at least co-exist with the mafia or the oligarchs but strong leaders and strong societies refused to tolerate them.
For a long time, we may have thought that the European Union was such a strong community since we have heard so much about its values and strict but fair laws. We Hungarians had long been hoping to become a member of this alliance because we thought that its norms and regulations would protect us once and for all from the backward forces that have regularly attempted to drive our Central European country to another, Asian road. In short, we thought we would be protected from the political mafia, the oligarchs, the obscure informal networks and the consequent vulnerability, weakness and general social deprivation.
Parliamentary elections held in Serbia last weekend did not hold too many surprises for those familiar with recent political developments in the small Balkan republic. In an election originally announced for 26 April but postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Alaksandar Vučić’s populist right-wing Serbia Progressive Party (SNS) snatched over 60 percent of the vote and some 190 mandates in the 250-seat Skupština, the Serbian parliament. The dominance of SNS is further underlined by the fact that virtually all real opposition parties dropped out of parliament regardless of parliamentary threshold cut down to 3 percent prior to the elections. Ivica Dačić’s Socialist Party scoring second place with just over 10 percent of the vote functions more like a satellite organization in a permanent governing coalition with the SNS. Thus, the strongest and only opposition party in the Serbian parliament will be the novel formation of Aleksandar Šapić, barely scraping through the threshold.
Let us be clear at the outset: it is entirely unacceptable when a police officer kneels on the neck of a defenceless person until they suffocate. However, it is equally revolting when some take advantage of the tragedy of George Floyd and use it for their political purposes to annihilate opponents. Brutality of US police is a long overdue problem that roots deeply in American society. It did not start with the inauguration of Donald Trump as some would like to see it, and it is not only aimed at black people. It is undisputedly related to the ultraliberal right to keep and bear arms or the enormous social inequalities characteristic of the US.