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