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EU: West Europe Celebrated 50 Years Of Integration

European Union institutions in Brussels yesterday celebrated Europe Day, the 50th anniversary of the so-called "Schuman Declaration," which called for the establishment of the earliest precursor of today's EU. The European Commission and the European Parliament held a joint conference to mark the occasion. Correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports.

Brussels, 10 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Schuman declaration, signed 50 years ago on Tuesday by then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, is generally considered to be the starting point of European integration. Barely five years after the end of World War II -- and after three Franco-German wars in 75 years -- Schuman's idea was revolutionary. He called for the pooling of French and West German coal and steel industries, and a common supranational authority to oversee them.

Invitations to join France and Germany in the common coal and steel authority were later extended to a number of European countries. Some of them -- like Poland, then under Communist rule -- were not in a position to accept. Some -- like Britain -- chose to decline the offer. In the end, France and West Germany were joined by Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In 1951, the six nations signed the Treaty of Paris, which established the European Coal and Steel Community.

The treaty contained provisions for four community bodies -- a Special Council of Ministers, a High Authority, a Common Assembly and a Court of Justice. In 1957 -- when the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community -- these bodies became, respectively, what are today the EU's Council of Ministers, Executive Commission, Parliament and European Court of Justice.

The Schuman Declaration was inspired, first and foremost, by a desire to remove the traditional engines of war in Europe -- the coal and steel industries -- from the control of national governments. This was a formidable task, made even more difficult by the suggestion implicit in the declaration that the old divisions were to be gradually replaced by an integrated continental identity.

The enormity of the challenge was underlined yesterday by the chairman of the EU Brussels conference, Henry Schermers of Belgium's Leiden University. In 1950, he said, those who dreamed of a united Europe had not much to build on:

"European citizens were rare [then]. Most Europeans knew other Europeans only in situations of war and tension, as prisoners of war, as members of an occupying army, as refugees or as forced laborers. At that time, there was no European identity."

But West European cooperation did take root. The six founding countries were joined in 1973 by Ireland, Denmark, and Britain. Greece joined the European Community in 1981, Portugal and Spain in 1986. The 1991 Maastricht Treaty formally changed the community into a union, and in 1995 Austria, Finland, and Sweden swelled the EU to its current 15 member states. Today, another 12 countries -- among them 10 from Central and Eastern Europe -- are engaged in concrete negotiations and hoping to enter the EU by the middle of this decade.

Much of the discussion at yesterday's conference was devoted to the EU's future, especially the challenge implicitly presented by its planned expansion. The difficulties involved in moving toward greater integration while enlarging at the same time were underlined by Jacques Delors, a former president of the European Commission. Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing echoed Delors' concerns, saying that improved and more effective EU institutions are a precondition for enlargement.

Both Delors and Giscard d'Estaing had earlier said that those EU countries which have the desire and capacity to move more quickly toward greater political integration, should be allowed to do so without having to wait for others. Yesterday, they repeated their calls for the creation of what they call an "avant-garde" of nations willing to limit their sovereignties even further and move to what Robert Schuman said in his memoirs was his ultimate aim in 1950 -- a United States of Europe.

But this is far from a universally popular idea in the EU. Britain and the Scandinavian countries are outspoken opponents, and there is some doubt about Germany's enthusiasm as well.

In his remarks to the conference yesterday, European Commission President Romano Prodi also sounded a cautionary note. He said that the commission and other EU institutions still needed to become more transparent and fully accountable to enjoy maximum legitimacy and public confidence across Europe. And, he added, the commission was not in favor of what he called an EU "super-state:"

"What is to be the end point of this [integration] process, and who ought to decide? Robert Schuman and other European politicians of his generation may have spoken -- or at least thought in terms of -- a "United States of Europe." But this is not necessarily the way our people see their destiny today. Certainly, no one wants to see a homogeneous, centralized European super-state, and the commission has no such goal."

The quest by some EU members for deeper and faster integration worries many Eastern applicant countries -- at least, as long they are themselves are not part of the process. A Polish participant in the conference, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, said yesterday proposals for the creation of an avant-garde of member-states on a fast track to integration threatened to leave others behind. In his view, they were therefore not compatible with the spirit of Schuman's ideas of 50 years ago.