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Is the "European Dream" still a reality?

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Rome , October 11, 2012

The reality  of "the American Dream" is a frequent debating point.  Some  deny it ever existed except as a slogan, while others instead assert that  the concept, which had an indispensable formative function  over several generations,  has been surpassed by  more concrete realities. A sizeable section of American Public opinion is, as yet,  firmly convinced that the American Dream has always existed, continues to exist today and has bright  prospects for the future.

Has a "European Dream" ever existed, and if so,  is it still redeemable, or is it lapsing into the old  European Nationalist nightmare?

Learned historians have explained why, after the fall of Rome,  the succeeding imperial ventures in Europe had  a divisive, and not a unifying effect, and how, from an essential, if fragile unity,  Nation States came to be formed and  thrived on  rivalries and wars. Over a millennium,  many  Emperors,  from Charlemagne to Napoleon,  ended up enhancing, sometimes even creating,   nationalist attitudes which reached their most ruinous effect in the World Wars  of the twentieth century.

And yet for Europeans of my generation,  a "European Dream" did begin to take shape, inspired by  a handful of  ageing statesmen (Adenauer, De Gasperi, Schumann, Monnet, Spaak and others) who really appeared to interpret the profoundest wishes of the people they represented and to work towards the  weakening of  those nationalist impulses which had led to such disasters. When the  Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 among the six founding  members of what was then called the "European Common Market" (France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg), many of us really felt that we were witnessing the dawn of a new era.

Even some years later, when the "Six" became "Nine", with the addition of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, and  later still, when the almost mystic number of twelve was reached, the meetings among the member states, either in Brussels or in the presiding country's capital, had an air of serious, meaningful informality about them, with officials, often on first name terms, meeting  around a table and openly discussing the principal problems.

By contrast, the  gigantic workings of today's "European Union" seem to have lost the original spirit and principles  and  at times come  close  to rekindling  those very nationalist feelings  which we so  purposefully,  at times, perhaps, a bit naively struggled to weaken and ultimately eliminate.

Three essential questions remain on the table. Firstly, has the fundamental vision of the founders been betrayed? If so what went wrong, and when did things begin to unravel? And, thirdly, is there a way back, or is Europe destined to  become ever more quarrelsome and disunited?

The term "betrayed" appears perhaps too strong, and  unfair to those leaders who, in the past years, have attempted to bring forward  the ideals which were at the base of the Union. Their essence, however, has been lost in a bureaucratic quagmire, complicated by the current world-wide economic crisis. Entire generations of  Europeans, by now, have lived in the awareness that a growing number of increasingly important decisions concerning their  destiny and even their day-to-day existence are being taken, in a political no-mans-land, by unelected officials.

As to the second query, it has to be said that  a rapidly shrinking minority will still insist that, in reality, nothing ever "went wrong", and that the E.U. is bravely and efficiently coping with a world economic crisis the origins of which lie outside the Union itself. Public opinion, however, even in the most traditionally "Europhile" countries (e.g. the Netherlands or Italy) appears to disagree and has developed  feelings of antipathy  towards the  "faceless bureaucrats" who seem to be in charge of the collective destinies of  European citizens. .

Even among those ready to accept the concept that, indeed, things  have been  going wrong,  the  moment and the motive for the apparent unravelling of a well-fashioned skein remain objects of acute controversy. Some  blame  the apparently abnormal growth of bureaucratic  regulations, while others decry the creation of a common currency without the guarantees normally associated with monetary policy.

On the basis of  nearly half a century of professional involvement in the workings of the E.U., my own view -- controversial but by no means unique -- lays the blame for the present crisis on the hurried, poorly planned post Cold War expansion of the Union, to its present, virtually uncontrollable size of 27 member States..

Solutions will have to be found -- and the elimination of the "Euro" is not one of them -- but there appear few and tenuous  possibilities of the European Union returning to its original sense of purpose and efficiency. All efforts will have to be concentrated in coping with the present situation in order to restore credibility to a wounded giant which instead of instilling hope and confidence in its citizens, appears to be a source of increasing irritation, suspicion and apprehension.

Carlo Ungaro

(The author of this Oped submission, Ambassador Carlo Ungaro, is a retired senior Italian Diplomatic Officer)


I am a former, now retired, senior Italian diplomatic officer. I have spent many years (over 25) in Central Asia (sixteen in Afghanistan).
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