'This Process Will Go On'

Posted by ProjectC 
"...So that was really what we were all dealing with from the very beginning: the possibility of creating not just a reconstruction of Europe, but of advancing a structure that might bring peace to the world as a whole."

'This Process Will Go On'

An EU visionary discusses the future of a united Europe —and whether it can be a counterweight to U.S. power


By Christopher Dickey
June 2, 2005

June 2 - If the European Union had “founding fathers,” then Max Kohnstamm, 91, was one of them. When French voters rejected the European constitution on Sunday, and Dutch voters appeared to give it the coup de grâce yesterday, many analysts wondered if the last half-century’s efforts to unite Europe might be coming to an end. Not Kohnstamm, who brings a longer view to the debate, and probably a wiser one, than anyone alive.

Born in Amsterdam in 1914, Kohnstamm joined a student resistance movement during World War II, but was soon arrested and interned. After the defeat of the Nazis, and the return of the Dutch monarchy, Kohnstamm served as personal secretary to Queen Wilhelmina. In the 1950s, after French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman first proposed the creation of a European “coal and steel community,” which was the forerunner of the Common Market and the European Union, Kohnstamm became one of the closest associates of the organization’s visionary president, Jean Monnet.

Kohnstamm, who now lives in the Ardennes forest of Belgium, spoke twice by phone with NEWSWEEK Paris Bureau Chief Christopher Dickey as the results of the voting in France and Holland became clear. Excerpts from his comments:

On the ideas driving Kohnstamm and his colleagues at the creation the new Europe:
The background was the second world war. I had only been in a real concentration camp for three months, and then I had been two years and a couple of months in a “hostage camp” where we were treated very well—at least, those who weren’t shot. Of course, there was an enormously strong feeling after 1945: “This cannot happen again.” We wanted to start anew, and the first thing was to reconstruct the home country and rebuild it as much as possible.…

If you had a rational mind it was quite clear that you never could reconstruct [Holland] if there was chaos across our borderline with Germany, because economically our country was, and still is, nearly a part of Germany. [But] what was the sense of rebuilding the Ruhr, which was the heartland of German industry, if it would again be the place where bombs were produced to bomb Rotterdam? So how did you come out of this vicious circle? That was the big question. To me the Schuman plan [for cooperative pooling of coal and steel resources among France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy] was a fantastic bit of luck.

On Monnet’s vision:
I became a member of the Dutch delegation who had to make a treaty out of the Schuman plan, and Jean Monnet was president of that conference. It soon came to be very clear that what he was driving at was, of course, a coal and steel community and friendship between France and Germany, and the reconstruction of Europe. But behind that was a view of how in this world, which he already saw as becoming globalized, you can organize lasting peace. So that was really what we were all dealing with from the very beginning: the possibility of creating not just a reconstruction of Europe, but of advancing a structure that might bring peace to the world as a whole.

About the reasons French President Jacques Chirac’s referendum on the constitution was defeated so soundly:
Well, this is a very complicated thing. In France I think the internal political situation plays a very big role—you vote against Chirac … But, you know, when you look at the discussions in France, you have a far-out right side and a far-out left side, and the left side still believes in Karl Marx and the right side still believes in Napoleon. When I listen to some of these nationalists’ [arguments], I am reminded of when Napoleon came back from his campaign against Russia, and his army had been destroyed, and he proclaimed to Paris that he had won the war! So there is a remnant of that. What was interesting is that half of the Socialists and a good part of the sensible right want Europe. But it has never really been explained to them.

On the reasons the Dutch turned out so heavily to vote against the European constitution:
There is a part of it that is unhappiness with the present government. I think the popularity of the government is about 32 per cent … The government was too late seeing what was wrong. Nobody said clearly: “The simple question before you is that we [the European Union] are now 25 countries; we started with six. We must change our structure to deal with that.”

About the Dutch unease with the pace of change:
The Netherlands is a country that has lived for several centuries with different pillars of society—Catholic, Protestant, Jewish—and these pillars were in areas of their own. But now these pillars have all broken down. People don’t feel secure when they are no longer surrounded by people with their own kind of thoughts … When I was in school there were 7 million in this small country. Now there are 16 million. It has gone from being a green country, to being one city with a few green parks.

On the future of European unification:
I’m not among those who say that if the union were ever to fail, we would have war again in Europe. I don’t believe that at all … The amazing thing is, still, if tomorrow the Dutch would say, “I want to leave this community,” there is no fear that the German Army will march in to occupy the country….

With all the steps forward and the steps backward, we’ve nevertheless managed to keep going with Europe for 50 years now. But it has never been well explained. If by any chance you have Monnet’s memoirs, you will see in the last lines of it, he even puts the question to himself: have I expressed enough that this is not building a new great power, but a new structure of international relations?

On what’s next for Europe:
I think the ratification procedure [of the constitution] should go on. Nine countries have ratified. If you look at the amount of people, it is about half of the European population. So let the other countries express themselves and then the governments will meet again to see what the situation is….

You know, when the European Defense Community, proposed by the French, was then voted down by the French Parliament in August 1954, people had to try again to see how you could move forward. There was a conference in Messina [Sicily] of foreign ministers from the six countries, and they started the process which led to the Treaty of Rome and to the Common Market. So you see, if you’ve been there from the beginning, you are used to setbacks. But thus far, every setback has led to further steps forward, and I am absolutely sure that this process will go on. But it will be slowed down. And in a certain way you might say that it has to be slowed down, because governments have failed to really explain what the deep roots of this thing are.

On Europe as a counterweight to American hyperpower:
To be a counterweight in itself is nothing bad. In any friendship, both sides must have their weight. But I quite agree that as the Chirac government still sees this, it starts from an anti-American point of view.

On the notion that the European Union might someday be a United States of Europe:
A lot of people say they are against it. But if you are against the United States of Europe, does that mean that you are in favor of the Disunited States of Europe? In any case, there is an extremely interesting speech which Monnet made in the ’60s in London in which he said: what I fear is that people will think that we are constructing a new power, a new conventional power.

That’s not the case, what we are trying to do is something quite different, to create a structure in which people do not say “that is your responsibility and this is mine,” but take common responsibility. We don’t put you on one side of a table and the other on the other side to negotiate. We put you at a round table, and in the middle of that table is the problem, and we are going to try to solve it together….

I know that, physically, I am not a young man, but I still continue thinking. What amuses me and gives me very much hope is that I have seen so many crises—and seen so many crises overcome—that I am absolutely certain that this process will go on … The show will go on, I’m sure.

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