Thursday, November 29, 2012

Commonplace: the significance of local nations

THE THREE DOMINANT statesmen in the main member states [of the European Coal and Steel Community, the early predecessor formed in May 1950, which led ultimately to the European Union] — Alcide De Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman — were all from the margins of their countries: De Gasperi from the Trentino, in north-east Italy; Adenauer from the Rhineland; Schuman efrom Lorraine. When De Gasperi was born — and well into his adult life — the Trentino was part of the Austro- Hungarian Empire and he studied in Vienna. Schuman grew up in a Lorraine that had been incorporated into the German Empire. As a young man, like Adenauer, he joined Catholic associations — indeed the same ones that the Rhinelander had belonged to ten years earlier. When they met, the three men conversed in German, their common language.

For all three, as for their Christian Democrat colleagues from bi-lingual Luxembourg, bi-lingual and bi-cultural Belgium, and the Netherlands, a project for European cooperation made cultural as well as economic sense: they could reasonably see it as a contribution to overcoming the crisis of civilization that had shattered the cosmopolitan Europe of their youth. Hailing from the fringes of their own countries, where identities had long been multiple and boundaries fungible, Schuman and his colleagues were not especially troubled at the prospect of some merging of national sovereignty. All six member countries of the new ECSC had only recently seen their sovereignty ignored and trampled on, in war and occupation: they had little enough sovereignty left to lose. And their common Christian Democratic concern for social cohesion and collective responsibility disposed all of them to feel comfortable with the notion of a trans-national 'High Authority' exercising executive power for the common good.
—Tony Judt, Postwar, pp. 15-58

WE VISITED RATHER A TOUCHING memorial to the six founders of the ECSC last March, as we were walking through Belgium and Luxembourg. It's set in a small field on the Meuse, where Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg meet at Trois-Frontières, as I recall. The ECSC was significant principally for being the breakthrough cooperative moment between France and (then West) Germany, and since it also included the Benelux countries and Italy it was truly international. It had been the brainchild of Jean Monnet, who was a Luxembourger, and brought to fruition primarily by Robert Schuman.

What I hadn't realized, until tonight in my return to Judt's magnificent history, was that Britain and Scandinavia's refusal to join the agreement was prompted in part by their mistrust of an accord that had been forged, after all, by Catholic political leaders. (Netherlands had also had its reservations, but was pulled along by Belgium and Luxembourg.) I suppose they were afraid of the possible return of the Holy Roman Empire.

There are lessons here. First: trust men from border regions, whose instinct it is to accommodate, not impose. Second: that Catholic-Protestant disagreement, which has spilled so much blood, just doesn't seem to want to go away. Are you listening, Shiites and Sunnis?

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