Democracy, Winston Churchill famously remarked, is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. In 2007, we live in the worst possible Europe apart from all the other Europes that have been tried during the two and a half millennia since the ancient Greeks coined the term.
Measuring the EU’s success
Over the six decades since the end of the Second World War, Europe has achieved a level and combination of freedom, peace, prosperity, legality, diversity and solidarity which seeks its equal on any other continent – with the possible exception of north America – and in any previous period of European history. There has never before been a time when most European countries have been liberal democracies, joined in the same communities of political, economic, legal, social and military cooperation: the European Union, above all, but also NATO, the Council of Europe, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Until the end of the Cold War, half of Europe lived under dictatorships. Now, among countries that may be accounted unambiguously European, there is only one nasty little authoritarian regime left – Belarus – and I hope and trust that will change in a year or two. Even post-Milosevic Serbia is a ropey kind of democracy. The prospect of joining the European Union has encouraged country after country, from Spain and Portugal a quarter-century ago to Croatia and Turkey today, to transform its domestic politics, economy, legal practice, media and society – for the better. The European Union is one of the most successful engines of peaceful regime change in the history of humankind.
For centuries, Europe has been riven by war. There were wars in Europe until the very last year of the last century – remember Kosovo in 1999. Now there is no war in Europe. There is a long-term struggle against a range of diverse terrorisms, including global Jihadist terrorism, but that is a different matter. The EU, working closely with the United States, has prevented a return to war in the Balkans.
Most Europeans are better off than their parents were. They travel freely and cheaply across the whole continent, enjoying its rich diversity of language, culture, lifestyle, cuisine and sport. Most of Europe's sick, disabled or unemployed can rely on a social safety-net to prevent them falling into abject want. When Europeans travel around the world they do not encounter the resentment, sometimes mounting to hatred, that Americans currently face. This may be unfair, but it’s a fact.
If, on the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in 2057, we could look back on 50 more years of this – extended to countries such as Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Serbia, which should by then be old-established members of the European Union – that would be an extraordinary achievement. But to preserve this historic achievement we need to make significant reforms. As that wily old European Giuseppe di Lampedusa wrote in his novel, The Leopard: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”.
What are the key things that have to change? We do not need a United States of Europe to consolidate our already great achievements. We do need institutional changes to enable a vehicle originally designed for six to work with 27 and more – and that’s 27 drivers, not passengers. But such institutional or constitutional arrangements are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Equally, the EU needs a greater capacity for power projection, especially in our own geopolitical neighbourhood – but the enhancement of European power is also a means to an end, not an end in itself. To treat unity and power as ends in themselves, as 19th century European nation states used to do, is European nationalism – not the European patriotism that we so badly need.
Economy, energy, ecology
I would single out three areas on which we should concentrate in the next few years. First, we need to run hard in order to stay where we are economically. We are faced with dramatically increased competition from the rising economic powers of Asia. Very soon, this will not just be low-cost, low-skill competition but low-cost, high-skill competition. Our native-born populations are ageing. Our wage and associated social costs are high. Our investment in research and development, science and technology is, in most fields, behind the United States and will soon fall behind the advancing powers of Asia – unless we do something fast. Added to this is the ecological challenge of doing more to slow down global warming, and the growing competition (especially from China) for energy, much of it supplied by authoritarian states in Eurasia and the Middle East. This triple-E – economy, energy, ecology – is a decisive challenge for what Europe can deliver to its citizens.
The second great challenge is to have a more coherent and effective external policy of the Union, especially in relation to those states now rather arbitrarily lumped together in a box marked European Neighbourhood Policy. Enlargement has been the great success story of the European project, from the 1970s to the 2000s. I hope it will continue, to include countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and Turkey, as well as the rest of south-eastern Europe, over the next 15 to 20 years. But we are reaching the beginning of the end of the logic of enlargement. The EU has to end somewhere. If Europe is everywhere, it will be nowhere.
Using our external levers
Therefore we need a policy towards those of our neighbours – many of them currently undemocratic, impoverished and volatile – who will not become members of the Union. We have a Neighbourhood Policy in name but not in reality. We do not begin to make coherent use of the instruments at our disposal (for example, in respect of any given neighbour in the Maghreb or the Middle East) 27 + 1 economic relationships, 27 + 1 cultural relationships, 27 diplomatic services, 27 EU host countries for migrants and temporary residents. The whole is less than the sum of its parts. In this respect, I hope we will remain true to the neo-Kantian insight that, in the long run, consolidated liberal democracies are the best neighbours you can have. Hence my specific proposal: a European Foundation for Freedom (see box).
Wanted: a new narrative for Europe
Last but by no means least, the European Union needs a new narrative: a story that links a (necessarily selective) history of where we have come from with an inspiring vision of where we are heading to. For all the differences of national and political view, the project of European integration had such an overarching grand narrative from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. Today, we don’t. We have lost the plot. What I wrote in the first few paragraphs of this article is a contribution towards such a new narrative, but it needs to be worked on. A political community that will soon embrace half a billion citizens can only be sustained if there is such a sense of common purpose. Only then can we realise my vision of a still coherent and vibrant European Union of up to 40 member states in the year 2057: the same, only more so.
Timothy Garton Ash: «Europe needs a new story», in "European Union: The Next Fifty Years". © Financial Times Business and Agora Projects Ltd, London, March 2007.
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