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Robert Schuman and his idea of Europe


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Rafael Domingo Oslé

Full Professor Álvaro D'Ors del Institute for Culture and Society

Spain's forthcoming presidency of the European Union is an excellent opportunity to look back at one of its founding fathers, Robert Schuman, who represents the most genuine spirit of reconciliation, integration and European construction. A tenacious man of visionary mind and deeply Christian heart, Schuman gained international fame for the declaration he issued on May 9, 1950 in Paris, in the famous Salon de l'Horlogerie of the Quai d'Orsay, headquarters of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In that ornate and richly appointed chamber, only five years after the end of World War II, Robert Schuman launched his bold proposal that France and West Germany would work together in coal and steel production, "under a common high authority in an organization open to the other countries of Europe," making, in turn, "any war between France and Germany not only unthinkable but materially impossible." This high common authority would enjoy the decision-making capacity of agreement with the statutes, would be protected by a supranational jurisdiction and would constitute the beginning of a possible supranational Europe.

The Schuman Declaration, as it was called, marked the beginning of post-World War II Franco-German cooperation and the reintegration of West Germany into Western Europe. Today it is considered the founding document of a project European integration based on peace, solidarity and international cooperation. Schuman was always aware of the relevance of the event: "In 1950," he wrote, "France was the forerunner of a new ideal. It was revolutionary in its design and scope, but peaceful in the way it carried it out."

The Schuman Declaration has certain parallels with the United States Declaration of Independence. Both gave birth to important political and social projects: the United States of America and the European Union. Both were drafted by great men in complex historical circumstances. Both were inspired by purely religious principles. Both appealed to the common sense of the peoples: the American one, to justify the independence of colonies unjustly mistreated; the European one, to cement the union of a continent devastated by wars.

Schuman's European vision is reflected in his short essay 'Pour l'Europe', which is still of great value today because it is based on perennial principles. Its starting point is the realization that the division of Europe had become anachronistic. European borders hindered the exchange of goods, the development of ideas and the mobility of people.

Rather than a barrier, Schuman thought, borders should serve as a venerable and respected place of meeting for cultures and ideals. To this end, union, cohesion, cooperation and coordination among the various European nations were essential.

core topic to understand Schuman's approach to the organization of Europe is the idea of supranationality. The supranational, Schuman explained, distances itself from both an international individualism that considers national sovereignty untouchable and accepts no limit other than agreement between sovereigns, and from a state federalism that subordinates itself to a superstate endowed with its own territorial sovereignty. The supranational demands unity of purpose and destiny, solidarity among nations, not submission.

According to Schuman, this solidarity is based on the conviction that the true interest of all nations lies in recognizing and accepting their natural interdependence among themselves, a reality incompatible with any hegemonic pretension. Solidarity is therefore opposed to any exclusivist political nationalism, autarkic protectionism or cultural isolationism.

True political solidarity requires democratic equality among its actors. Therefore, Schuman's European project was not imperialistic but democratic in its essence. It implied majority decisions, organized cooperation between sovereign states and a free market, which in turn meant skill, trust and automatic selection. Finally, the European project demanded the cultural development of an authentic community of ideas, values and aspirations, nurtured by Christian love and forgiveness.

The last chapters of Schuman's essay on Europe are more circumstantial, but they also contain important contributions, typical of a person who lived far ahead of his time. First, Schuman asserted that without Germany, the construction of Europe would be impossible. Schuman was firmly opposed to the division of Germany into West and East. Moreover, he envisaged a unified Germany fully integrated into the European institutions, as in fact happened years later after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Secondly, Schuman warned that the UK would only agree to join an integrated Europe when forced by events. Schuman believed that the UK did not fully identify with the new European project . He adduced psychological, cultural and political reasons. For Schuman, it was inconceivable that the British government would grant a European body more authority than the Commonwealth itself. The 2016 Brexit vote and the United Kingdom's subsequent exit from the European Union in confirmed Schuman's prognosis. 2020

Third, Schuman believed that economic integration was not sustainable in the long run deadline without political integration. European political integration required a federation of states in the broadest and noblest sense of the idea. This federation should avoid two serious mistakes that most states were making: excessive bureaucratization and technocracy: "Paralysis management assistant - said Schuman - is the basic danger that threatens any supranational organization". Unfortunately, the European Union has ignored the voice of one of its most prominent founders on a point as relevant as this, which is increasingly hindering the development of the European project .

All in all, it can be said with satisfaction that our European Union has far surpassed the aspirations of Schuman and the other founders, just as the United States has exceeded the expectations of its visionary founding fathers. History, the teacher of life, never disappoints.