EVERYWHERE there is talk of the "integration" of Europe. There is a tendency to use the word as a panacea for all the problems of the Continent; and for many people the idea of "integrating" Europe implies the realization of the age-old dream of reconciliation and human fraternity. But though integration is not a panacea, a profound transformation of Europe certainly is necessary, and I am one of those who believe that such a transformation must include not only organization of Europe's resources but eventually the union of the European countries.

The Europe of which I speak is, alas, a mutilated continent, cut by the iron curtain. As a result of Russian policy and Soviet Communism, the Continent is now, more than ever, a "cape of Asia." "Europe" is merely a long strip of land stretching from Stockholm to Ankara. But this Europe possesses a magnificent tradition and represents an impressive sum of spiritual values. Examined closely, it also represents a great material force. Individually and collectively, however, the Western European countries no longer hold the place they occupied at the end of the last century. In absolute figures, their production and trade are still considerable, but proportionally their share in the world's total wealth is becoming smaller and smaller. Their political and military importance, as well as their intellectual influence, are likewise declining.

Militarily, the distinction between the Great Powers of Europe and other European countries no longer has much meaning. Even in concert the European countries cannot defend themselves from attack from the East unless the United States gives them powerful assistance. Moreover, since the First World War, Europe has managed to maintain itself economically only with the help of the United States. Those who believe that the Marshall Plan is an innovation are grossly mistaken; actually it is only the most recent manifestation of a policy that has been in effect since World War I. During the period between the two wars, the United States invested in Europe, or gave or loaned, more than 100 billion dollars, of which approximately 20 billion dollars were returned, the remaining 80 billion dollars being swallowed up in the Continent's misfortunes. But it is no less true that without Marshall aid, Europe would have suffered an economic crisis worse than anything it experienced in the worst days of the war, and would very probably not have been able to prevent the Communist wave from spreading to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Those who believe that in the long run it is impossible for Europe to solve its problems by grace of American generosity seek to organize the forces of the different European countries in order to utilize their maximum power. This task of organization has recently made rapid progress in the creation of the O.E.E.C., the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty and the establishment of the Council of Europe, but large obstacles remain. Americans sometimes imagine that the problem is the same as the one which confronted the authors of the American Constitution, and tend to attribute the refusal of Europeans to follow that precedent to a lack of good will.

The question is not as simple as that, however. There are points in common between America at the end of the eighteenth century and Europe today, and I believe that the farsightedness and courage of Hamilton, Madison, Jay and the others hold great lessons for Europeans. But the two situations are not analogous. We must not minimize the importance of the absence of a common language in Europe, of the existence of age-old national traditions and of the memory of rivalries expressed down the centuries in long, bloody and often cruel wars.

With good will, obstacles such as these would be surmounted, but economic obstacles offer a greater difficulty. In recent years it has been pointed out, in all sorts of conferences, that the prosperity of one country depends upon the prosperity of others; but it is one thing to accept this truism in principle, and another to accept the immediate consequences of putting it into practice. Europe must be rebuilt; but to rebuild Europe means, at the beginning, injuring certain legitimate interests. It may mean creating unemployment in some places for a period of time. It may mean ruin for certain individuals and certain groups. To create a new and better economic balance in Europe we must first destroy the old one. The implications of this are formidable, and those who are not aware of them or deny that they are important make the solution of the problem more difficult. Indeed, such an attitude can lead only to bitter disappointments all around.

For example, those who oversimplify things ask: "Why doesn't Western Europe at least organize itself into a customs union?" I can speak on this point with some authority, since one of the things that I am most proud of in a rather extensive political life is the share that I had in constructing the Benelux economic union among Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in London during the war. Two of the three countries--Holland and Belgium--are practically identical in size, and two--Belgium and Luxembourg--had previously been joined in an economic union. They possess economies which may be said to be complementary, in so far as this is possible today. Yet there have been many difficulties since the union was decided upon in principle in 1944, and a great deal of patient work has been needed. At the start of our efforts, we saw that an economic union required not only the abolition of customs duties among the participating countries, but the adoption of a single tariff for all other countries. We saw, moreover, that the interests to be protected were not always the same; indeed, the more the economies of two countries complement each other, the more their interests differ. Above all, we very soon realized that in order to make our economic union a reality, we had to harmonize not merely the financial and economic policies of the member countries, but even their social policies.

I do not say that such policies must be identical, for that would be impossible; but they cannot differ too greatly. Thus, the plans for Benelux were delayed by the fact that very soon after liberation Belgium abandoned her wartime rationing while the Netherlands was obliged to retain these restrictions. A liberal economy and a directed economy are incompatible, and it took a long time to work out the mutual concessions which eliminated the most striking differences. Then after making our customs duties uniform, we had to standardize our excise taxes, and in this field we encountered difficulties born of deeply-rooted habits. In Belgium, for example, beer is favored as a beverage over liquors; in the Netherlands, the preference is the opposite. The Netherlands has a salt tax which, in Belgium, was one of the causes of the Revolution. The regulations affecting gasoline and sugar industries, agricultural policy, production subsidies--all were different and had to be studied and changed to achieve harmony.

Now we are reaching our goal. The fact should inspire confidence and serve as an example. But if, instead of building an economic union of three countries, we had been obliged to build one of ten or twelve, the attempt would very likely have failed.

II

It is incorrect to assume that an economic union is the only means of improving Europe's position. It is the extreme, ideal solution, but apart from this there are all sorts of intermediate steps that can be taken with great benefit. One thing, surely, is clear. The organized international life for which we are working cannot be realized unless we destroy the dogma of the absolute sovereignty of states. A real international organization and absolute national sovereignty are contradictory and irreconcilable ideas. Either we accept a world of anarchy based upon force, or we build a world where peace and order are possible. If we choose the second goal, we must abandon the old idea that any one country, great or small, can do as it pleases. But once we accept this principle that national sovereignty is subject to limitations, we must allow day-to-day experience to determine the concrete measures which will take us to the objective of a world governed by law. If tomorrow we asked the people of the great European countries, or even of the small countries, whether they would allow an international organization to regulate their economic policies, the answer would very probably be in the negative. But what cannot be achieved by frontal attack can be done by dividing the problem and laying before the people a series of concrete steps that call for a gradual renunciation of sovereignty. Actually, every time a country concludes a treaty, it voluntarily limits its rights. In joining the United Nations each state, despite the veto, accepts a limiting set of rules and regulations, and theoretically, at least, renounces war and accepts the complicated processes of arbitration. If it is sincere it gives up its exclusive control over a whole series of things which, less than 50 years ago, every state considered natural and legitimate expressions of its sovereignty.

The Western European Governments are incapable of explicitly yielding up their sovereignty over particular economic matters, but in fact they are moving along a path that leads indirectly to this result. The problem which is insoluble if posed in absolute and theoretical terms is being solved by practical action.

M. Robert Schuman's recent bold proposal is a clear illustration of the thesis I am advancing. The French Foreign Minister has approached the question of state sovereignty in a practical way. In order to solve a specific problem--the pooling of Europe's coal and steel production--he has proposed a system that necessarily implies a supranational authority. This system also has the enormous merit of defining precisely the political aims it seeks to achieve. They are extremely important: what is in question is a permanent settlement of the problem of Franco-German relations and the explicit integration of Germany with Western Europe.

The Schuman proposal places inescapable responsibility on every government which professes itself interested in the common welfare. None can minimize the seriousness of the issue that has been raised. We have reached a decisive moment in the history of Europe. Even among the governments which at bottom disagree with the plan, none dares openly oppose the idea, for no government wishes to be responsible for causing it to fail. So farreaching an economic development as this requires for success not only a radical transformation of our old ways of thinking, but the creation of new administrative organs. Obviously, they must cross national boundaries. If they did not, the very essence of M. Schuman's proposal would be nullified. Henceforth the need is not for the enunciation of noble ideals, but for the readiness to take action. The Schuman plan implies that the living standards of the workers in the participating countries will be brought into balance, that social security charges will be equalized, investments coördinated, and less-favored industries compensated at the expense of the more favored. It implies a series of measures that would make it possible to close enterprises which can exist only if they are protected. All this can be done only if in each country the necessary powers are given to a supranational agency, acting for the good of all and consequently possessing the necessary authority. Timid or selfish people will shrink at the very statement of the problem. True, the problem is enormous, but so much depends upon finding a solution for it that great effort and boldness are justified. If the Schuman plan becomes a reality within a few months, the problem of the abandonment of a fraction of state sovereignty by the nations of Europe will have been given a practical answer. One of the great obstacles to the organization of Europe will have been overcome. We shall have only to follow this extraordinarily significant precedent.

Mr. Acheson has proposed the creation of a single, well-organized military force for all of Western Europe, and this proposal brings the West face to face with the same sort of problem in a different field. It calls for the same kind of practical solution. If the Western European countries want some day to be able to prevent or repeal an act of aggression, they must pool their military potential, and this they can do only by merging their military forces. In this field, too, it is high time we rid ourselves of prejudices and outworn traditions, and began to think in terms of the present era and of the danger that threatens us. To try to "coördinate" the individual activities of 15 different countries is an utterly inadequate way of meeting the danger. We shall not solve the vital problem of security until we have conceived and realized the Army of the Brussels Pact or, better yet, the single Army of the Atlantic Pact. We need as soon as possible a man of great experience, influence and prestige to lead this project and be personally responsible to the various Parliaments for the progress of the European defense organization. He would be not only a Commander-in-Chief, but a joint War Minister, so to speak.

The Korean episode is a solemn warning of the need for haste. I approve the action of the United States in Korea. I admire the resolution shown by President Truman. But why must heroism always be asked to retrieve for us what prudence might have given us at less cost? Why must it be that the democracies are always late and that for them only the hour of danger is the hour of wisdom? The effort necessary to meet this present danger cannot be called forth if national selfishness takes precedence over the requirements of the common safety.

For my part--and I say this in plain words, based upon reasoning as valid for an Englishman or a Frenchman as for a Belgian--I say that I prefer to prevent war and, if it comes, to win it under a foreign command rather than lose it under my own national command. The task we must accomplish is a common task. Our task is together to defend a certain civilization, a certain way of life and a certain philosophy. Each nation must contribute its share to this common task; each can do this effectively only if all our individual efforts are merged in a single effort.

If we approach the problem of our defense in the proper manner, once more the obstacle of national sovereignties will be overcome. We are beginning to get a clear idea of the borderline between dreams and reality with regard to the organization of Europe. Conceived and desired by idealists, the new Europe will nonetheless be a product of actualities. It will not be born full-panoplied from a few men's brains; it will be the result of long and patient effort in the course of which we shall first of all have to solve a whole series of difficult practical problems. But this new Europe is the end we must achieve if we wish one of the most glorious civilizations in history to survive two world wars and the threat of Communism.

III

What should be the reaction of the United States to these basic aspects of European integration? I would like to repeat once more what I have said very often--that Europeans and Americans should become more familiar with each others' special problems. I am sure that the fate of our civilization depends upon their friendship and their joint action. The gratitude that Western Europeans feel for so many real efforts and sacrifices by the United States is enormous and unquestionable, but I would like to be sure that Americans realize that by helping to save Europe, they are not only showing generosity to foreign countries, but are providing themselves with essential protection. The prosperity of Europe and the power of Europe are factors that can prevent a third world war. Russia has no interest in making war on Europe. If the Russians decide to make war, they will do so to destroy capitalism and democracy, so that the Communist ideology can dominate the entire world. For the Soviet Union, the key to this problem is not Europe, but the United States. A third world war will not break out until the Russians are sure that they can defeat the United States. They can never be sure of that if they find in their path a Western Europe that is proof against their ambitions. It is for this reason above all that the United States must continue to play her part in rebuilding Europe's strength.

I have always wanted the United States to take advantage of her own strength and her concern with the welfare of Europe to push the Continent toward "integration." At times I should welcome even more boldness; but Americans must at the same time clearly realize that the task will require many years--that progress in great and complex affairs of this kind cannot be uninterrupted. It would be wrong for Americans to turn away from Europe because they felt that the European countries were not advancing quickly and boldly toward integration. When there are interruptions I shall understand the disappointment of Americans because I shall share it. But the precondition of success is the awareness that this is a long-term undertaking.

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  • PAUL-HENRI SPAAK, three times Prime Minister of Belgium, most recently from 1947 to 1950; also Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1946-50; President of the United Nations General Assembly, 1946; recently elected for the second time President of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe
  • More By Paul-Henri Spaak