Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


2. To be a European: Natural Right and History

The prospect of enlargement has, of itself, caused a great increase in the number of references to `Europe' and its fate. This is apparent within Fischer's rhetoric of `Quo vadis Europa'. This discourse has similarly caused a great swelling in the ranks of those concerned with the `historical' side of the enlargement story: rather than using the terms `historical chance' or `historical necessity', Fischer opts for the phrase `historical challenge'. Having thus joined the ranks of the `anxious historicists', Fischer nonetheless proceeds in the same manner as other commentators and does not question the `historicity' of enlargement. He does, however, distance himself from this prosaic landscape by quoting the Jean Monnet foundational ideal relating to Eastern Europe.

Why question the ideals of enlargement? One must begin by asserting the importance of the philosophical realm for the process of European integration. But, as a matter of course in a political discourse like Fischer's, ideals serve only as political instrument with legitimisation functions. The analysis of the ideals seems telling to us, simply because it was supposed to be the main tool for the legitimisation of Eastward Enlargement. But it was not. The Fischer's debate is only the most recent piece of evidence for this.

B.Renaud expressed the philosophical dimension of the next European Enlargement in a thought provoking way: 1

In what could be seen as a surprising rupture, the process of Central and East European accession to the EU brings us back to the essence of European spiritual identity, all the way towards the European soul.

In the terms of political philosophy, the European soul may be equated with the European telos. This telos is, in essence, not simply a matter of the best form of government, but is also related to the individual, whose `natural' rights are inextricably bound up with the notion of justice. Every doctrine of natural right asserts that principles of justice and `the truth' should be accessible to the individual. At the same time, each standpoint has its own account of the nature of truth and justice, and any attempt to compare them, or to find a neutral principal, would be utopian. Accordingly, following this argument, the natural right to be a European could be a mere tautology.

The political modernity of the Eighteenth Century caused this natural right, and with it the European telos, to disappear. As demonstrated by Leo Strauss, the dissolution of this natural right was the result of a confrontation with historicism-the belief that all human values are historical-qualified and are relatives-and of the battle with positivism; i.e., the conventional understanding of the truth, given by a external law.

Nonetheless, a certain nostalgia for this human and political telos and for the establishment of a perfect relationship between natural right and justice remained a constant within the history of political ideas, albeit often with an anti-modern and an anti-liberal political focus. For example, the attempt to reconstruct and reinterpret the moral code of pre-modern societies was a common feature of Central-European political ideas during communism.

Although very different in their political attitudes, the Czech, Jan Patocka and the Romanian, Constantin Noica, leading philosophical figures within their own countries, took the question of the soul as their core philosophical concern. Both entertained reservations about integral humanism, and were obsessed with the potential for the spiritual reinvention of Europe, which they considered might be a possible solution for the crisis of modernity.

The legacy of this line of thinking is present in Vaclav Havel's essays and speeches. Havel's discourse is not only striking, it is also unique within modern Europe. He is, as a simple matter of fact, the only political leader for whom the discourse on European values does not possess an explicit instrumental connotation which is further related to specific interests and/or practical purposes, be they merely for purposes of legitimisation or mobilisation.2 Furthermore, Havel's thought fills the gap between the Husserlian vision of Europe as a solution to the modernity crisis and the post communist Europe of democratic return, and space of responsibility. Clearly, however, all the references to the idea of Europe failed to attain their goal. The section of Fischer's speech that deals with ideals seems to have been ignored by both `West' and `East' Europeans.

Why is it that today, when Europe is teetering on the brink of attaining its telos through enlargement, there is such a significant amount of indifference towards Europe, and even occasional outright hostility? One possible explanation might be the very major difference between the Europe of 2000 and the Europe of 1951; the former has attained the goals of the latter, having grown into what J.H.H. Weiler has termed a `fin de siecle Europe'.3 Accordingly, and set against this background, were Europe to come at all close to finding its soul or telos, the latter would nonetheless seem to be so remote from the ideas and values found within the current, shared, public political culture that it would no longer-and justifiably so-have an audience. To employ other words: in a world that is void of ideals-arguably the situation existing within the EU-latent ideals, such as enlargement, are incapable of commanding any enthusiasm.

Yet another hypothesis is that the European telos suffers-as it has done so from the very creation of the EU-from the fragility of idealism within political modernity. Today, the European telos has a very particular and historically-qualified meaning and is also subject to a transformation process initiated by the positive law that governs European integration. As is the case with any modern polity, the EU also experiences epochs when idealism takes over from realism. Undoubtedly, ideals must be instrumentalised and transformed into interests and practices before they can be mobilised.

What, then, of idealism under conditions of political modernity? In order to be operationalised, ideals must be accompanied by a common understanding of values, a favourable form of positive law and, on the procedural side, by political forces and elites capable of converting them into reality. Let us consider the enlargement process with regard to these three conditions.

First, the act of understanding the common European values that were supposed, automatically, to lead to the enthusiastic sharing of a future common destiny for East and West is not as simple a matter as current European discourse might suggest. It is an elementary observation that the East refers to common values more often than the West does so. At the same time, however, the notion of a European identity, which is even now being asserted in the East, is more in the nature of a `claim', rather than something that could be taken for granted.

Equally, however, the West's discovery of the East during the past decade has also raised certain question marks about the concept of common identity. Some commentators argue that the cultural differences that have given rise to such question marks are simply a temporary consequence of Communism. Others maintain that such differences have their roots in a distant historical past which was characterised by separateness, rather than commonality. According to this view, Western European integration was possible only because Western Europe was separated from Eastern Europe.4

Second, important challenges to European integration of Eastern states stem from the incorporation of European law. What can be taken as a fact, however, is that the process of accession to an international organisation, like the EU, is based on certain positive substantial and procedural rules. States were thus required to meet the criteria laid down in Copenhagen. If they failed to do so, they could not participate in the process of European integration.

Third, the conversion of the ideal of the reunified Europe into reality, which has been the core of the European agenda since 1990, has failed. Naturally, enthusiasm for the reunification of Europe was greater during the period that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall than it is today. However, the reaction of the EU was, even then, a cautious one, which probably explains Lord Dahrendorf's statement that he was ashamed that the European Union did not approve the accession of the East European countries immediately after their had cast their democratic choice.5 One might say that this was a moment of idealism, which favoured enlargement, that was nevertheless lost.

Fischer quoted the Jean Monnet foundational ideal relating to European reunification. One could make guesses about the predictive capabilities of the Founding Father, but it seems to us that the argument of Monnet extends beyond the somewhat simple ideal of reunification. First, Monnet invited Europeans to build `a fraternal Europe'; a Europe which would be able to offer `moral support' and `help with the transformation' of Eastern Europe. The `fraternal' European vision, capable of extending the integration model, is, in its political values, closer to the communitarian model of the polity, which is still a normative one for the EU.

We have very briefly discussed the manner in which the European telos and the ideal of reunification is now being called into question. Such doubts, however, should not be taken to mean that there is no potential for idealism within the EU, or with regard to enlargement. Why, then, is the year 1951 so distinct from that of 2000?

In effect, it is not the character of the European telos that distinguishes 1951 from 2000, but, rather, its `enemies', historicism and positivism: it is not the status of the ideals that is different, but rather the conditions in which they must be put to work. Firstly, although the history of `the six' was also marked by conflicts, there was, nevertheless, a marked awareness of the existence of a common identity and common fate that does not seem to be present within the current relationship with Eastern Europe. Equally, the creation of the European Communities within a new legal framework, or a `ground zero of European integration', was a great advantage and even a privilege, which cannot be reproduced today. Furthermore, in contrast to the early era of European integration, post-Cold War Europe is characterised by an inability to convert idealism into real-world structures and by disagreement between elites and the general public upon the appropriate nature of enlargement.

1 B.Renaud (2000:297).

2 See, for example.V.Havel (1998).

3 J.H.H.Weiler (1999:238-263).

4 See, T.Judt (1996).

5 Dahrendorf (2000:281).



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