What is the event that made the biggest impression on you since the EU was created in 1957?
Raymond Barre, commission vice-president (1967-73), responsible for economic and financial affairs.
Raymond Barre: Since 1960, as the EU has developed, I have witnessed many events, often unexpected but always beneficial for our grand venture. You won't be surprised to learn, however, that the event that made the biggest impression on me since the creation of the EU was the economic and monetary union. In 1969, I presented the first proposals for this great project and these were taken as the basis for future action by the summit of EU leaders in December that year. Then, as prime minister in Paris, I had to deal with setting up and operating the European monetary system in France. In 1999, after much effort and political determination by France and Germany, economic and monetary union was launched. As with any EU project, patience and a long-term approach are essential.
Mario Monti, commissioner for the single market (1995-99) and competition (1999-2004).
Mario Monti: Our integrated Europe is not a state, but rather a dynamic process unfolding through achievements and setbacks, both of which play a vital function in this unprecedented historical adventure. Equally, integration’s “non-events” play a fundamental role. Against this background, for me, three dates stand out:
- the most significant positive event is the reunification of Europe on 1st May 2004. A model conceived fifty years ago proved its ability to work, under extremely difficult and totally unpredictable conditions, to fulfil the aspirations of countries and peoples for democracy and economic and social progress.
- the most significant negative event is the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by the French on 30th May 2005, and a few days later, by the Dutch people. This slowed the process of enabling Europe to deliver its objectives more effectively, and revealed how large a comprehension gap had developed between European citizens and the EU institutions supposed to serve them. It also showed, to a distasteful degree, how far the cynical game of blaming Europe to hide one’s own responsibilities had in many countries pervaded national political leaders or followers, given the scarcity of leadership. Nevertheless, this huge setback may well prove to have been a badly needed moment of truth, to inspire deep reflection on how to move up to a more mature pattern of behaviour by all those entrusted with political functions in Europe, at national and EU levels.
- the most significant "non-event" of these fifty years and hopefully well beyond, and by far the most important event of them all, is peace among the members of the European Union. Had they not been induced to work together in a community, the founding states – in particular, the two largest among them - might have returned after a while to their more habitual incarnation, that of warrior nations.
Your hopes for the next 50 years of the European family?
Raymond Barre: I don't share the fears that the enlargement of the EU will lead to its collapse. I believe all member countries, old and new, are convinced that their interest lies in consolidating and developing the EU. Again, this will not be accomplished overnight. Two areas strike me as essential for the next 50 years of the EU: crafting a foreign policy that will enable it to assert its views and interests more effectively on the world scene and, if it wants to be taken seriously, developing a commensurate defence capacity. To achieve the progress needed in both these fields - which, like the euro, go to the heart of national sovereignty – constant effort and determination is needed. But these two areas would go a long way to completing the really strong EU that I would love to see.
Mario Monti: I hope my vision will have come out clearly from my reply to the first question. I would like to say just one more thing, not so much as a Commissioner for ten years (and trainee for three inspiring months, when the EU was, er, just 7 year old), but rather as a European. And that is THANK YOU! These words I address to current staff of the EU institutions, and all who went before them. Of course, they, like everybody, can and must do even better. But we all owe them a great deal for their work to create and maintain a united Europe.