Author: Walter Schwimmer, President of International Institute for Social and Economic Studies; Secretary General, Council of Europe (1999-2004). Vienna, 4 November 2019.
The fall of the Berlin wall opened many previously closed doors. But aren’t there also new obstacles and barriers to use these allegedly open doors? Are there new curtains and walls behind these doors? Are declarations like that of Minsk from February 12, 2015 just empty words, or will the leaders go to implement what they said: Leaders remain committed to the vision of a joint humanitarian and economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific?
Countries east of the Union, in Eastern Europe as well as in Central Asia created the Eurasian Economic Union. Getting these countries used to integration and supranational standards, EAEU and EU could be natural free trade partners. The sanctions against Russia and the countersanctions may be seen as an obstacle. But the free trade and the humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok are strategic and visionary goals. Getting rid of the sanctions regime by creating a climate of confidence and mutual efforts to solve the problems that led to the sanctions should also be a strategic goal. Dialogue on this item is urgently needed. European Union has 27 (28?) commissioners. Why not to mandate one of them with the relations with the Eurasian Economic Union and for security in the wider European space?
The visionary goal could be a Euro-Eurasian partnership, two Unions united for the common good of their citizens, for prosperity, stability and peace.
There is also the pressing need for European security architecture. This continent has seen so many wars that devastated often nearly the whole continent, like the 30 years’ war, the Napoleonic wars, WWI and finally the culmination in the horrors of the WWII. “Never again” is a common reaction to the bloody history. But how to realize this wish of the European people? In ancient times, and not only, many followed the Latin adage “Si vis pacem para bellum”, “If you want peace, prepare for war”. I am quite sure that this advice never worked. Good neighborhood, early warning systems, exchange of military information and above all inclusive security architecture may serve the goal of lasting peace better than arming. Again, we may find again conflicting messages. I learned on one day that the European Commission presented its plan to strengthen the military industry, so following the old concept, the same day I read that Jean-Claude Juncker thinks that there is no European security architecture without Russia which looks like the new model.
Again, the policy of President Trump who sees everything as a business – if the Europeans want security through the NATO umbrella, ok, we provide them with, but they have to pay for it – offers a chance to Europe. No, thank you, Mr. President, the Europeans NATO members stand loyal to the alliance, but instead of paying more for it, we are creating our own Pan-European security system built on confidence, good neighborhood and the belief in the common home of Europe. If somebody would be interested in a new Cold War, maybe we can not hinder it, but this time outside and without Europe, please.
In my book “The European Dream” I quote the historian Wolfgang Schmale who suggested “that a ‘myth deficit’ may prove fatal to the European project”. Should we leave myths only to the nationalistic, chauvinist, whatever country “first”, “No-to-Europe” scene? We neither live in the golden age nor in an epoch of disasters. But to be honest, 72 years after the end of WWII and 60 years after the Treaty of Rome, we have to admit that the situation is closer to the golden age than to the opposite. Of course, the “better” Europe will always be ahead of us.
But with Vaclav Havel I believe that “without dreaming of a better Europe we shall never build a better Europe”. The better Europe and Eurasia will certainly no be built by falling back to nationalistic divides, to failed ideas of the supremacy of some nations over the others, to protectionism, to hatred, stereotypes and ethnic prejudices. A vision of a future without these ugly attitudes shall prevail. We all know the famous question, whether a glass is half full or half empty. Applied to our theme, I would like to ask, whether neighbors are potential friends or potential enemies. Together with the optimist for whom the glass is half full, I choose the optimistic or visionary view of neighbors and declare them potential friends.