It’s quite noticeable that with the crisis, a lot of people have started throwing around more or less superficial ideas about how bad and expensive the EU is, and how much better things would be “if we just left” or if the whole construction broke down. But fortunately, some people take a more enlightened view. As Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said in a speech (PDF) in Berlin on November 28:
“What, as Poland’s foreign minister, do I regard as the biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland today, on 28th November 2011? It’s not terrorism, it’s not the Taliban, and it’s certainly not German tanks. It’s not even Russian missiles which President Medvedev has just threatened to deploy on the EU’s border. The biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland would be the collapse of the Euro zone.”
Unlike in the West where people with personal experiences of war and oppression are increasingly becoming a minority as time passes, Central and Eastern Europe existed under communist dictatorships until just 20 years ago, while the Balkans were embroiled in destructive wars as late as ten years ago. So Radek Sikorski knows what he’s talking about: He was a student protest leader in 1981 and lived in exile from 1982 to 1989. And what he’s telling us is that the significance of the Eurozone and the European Union as a whole is far greater than just a percentage point more or less in annual growth or the convenience of not having to exchange your money when going on a vacation. It is to establish a united Europe – in the words of the Schuman Declaration, “an organized and living Europe” where war will be “…not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”
As the Declaration also reminds us, “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” Although that solidarity has, to put it mildly, come under some stress in recent months, another major concrete achievement towards the end of a living Europe was accomplished at the European Council meeting this morning when the Republic of Croatia signed their Accession Treaty to the Union. With that, there remains a referendum in Croatia and the ratification of the Treaty by the current Member State parliaments before full membership is a reality; the whole process will probably be complete and Croatia will become the 28th member of the EU by July 2013, if everything goes well.
So I’m going to not just congratulate the Croatians on taking another step towards membership of the Union, but also sincerely thank them for providing us Western and Northern Europeans an opportunity for reminding ourselves not to take the incredible benefits that the European project have provided for granted.