Washington 30 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Even as the European Union moves to introduce a common currency at the start of the new year, Europe has entered a period of hibernation, one without the ideas and leaders needed to broaden and deepen the integration of the continent.
That is the judgment of two senior European statesmen who for a long time were involved in pushing forward the idea of Europe: former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and former European Commission President Jacques Delors.
This week, Giscard told the Paris journal "Le Nouvel Observateur" that both economic growth and the possibility of expanding the European Union to the east have distracted many EU leaders from thinking about how to further integrate the current members into a new political body.
The former French president added that the current generation of leaders in Europe "prefers pragmatism" to pursuing such large dreams. "Pragmatism is a polite way of saying that there is no vision."
Delors seconded these views. Arguing that Europe today is like a household that wants to add new rooms but lacks "an architect for the whole thing," the former European Commission president said that most of its leaders lack the mental models that guided the founders of European integration.
As a result, Delors said, "I do not think we will see the development of a political Europe in the next ten years."
At a time of growing prosperity and just days before the introduction of the euro, many both in Europe and outside are likely to view these remarks as either wrong-headed or the reflection of little more than the bitterness former officials may feel about the actions of their successors.
But there are at least three reasons for taking the arguments of Giscard and Delors far more seriously.
First, the two have clearly tapped into an important undercurrent in European thought: the widespread sense that for Europe at least, the big questions have been answered and that the problems of the future are primarily technical ones.
As these two men know from their own experiences, such a belief is unlikely to contribute to stability and growth but rather to stagnation and decay. If Europe does not remain a dynamic concept, they suggest, it will ultimately wither in the face of national, subnational and external challenges.
Second, Giscard and Delors have called attention to the continuing importance of politics for the further integration of Europe. At a time when many appear to believe that economic development alone will produce a Europe whole, free and integrated, they are arguing for the primacy of politics in this process.
Economics alone, they suggest, would never have produced the European Iron and Steel Community. It would never have produced the European Union itself. And it will not on its own produce a genuinely federal European state, one that takes full account of the multiple unities within the larger community.
That step, like all the previous ones, will require political vision and political will, Giscard and Delors insist. Economic development can help support such decisions, but economics by itself has never been and will never be the sole motor of history.
And third, these two statesmen have highlighted an issue that many in Europe and outside have wanted to avoid: If the European Union deepens and expands, it will be transformed. But if it does not deepen and expand, it will fail to remain true to itself and as a result may begin to decay.
Such a view poses a serious challenge to those who want to see the Union expanded because it suggests they will have to accept a very different Europe than they now have. And it poses an equal challenge to opponents of expansion because it implies that they will lose the opportunity to create the Europe they want.
Faced with these challenges, many in Europe not surprisingly may have chosen to go into hibernation, as Giscard and Delors suggest. But if that retreat from the realities they have described lasts for very long, both Europe as it now exists and those who want to join it in the future are likely to face some very difficult times.