(This article is based on an exhibition organized by the Hungarian Presidency in the Berlaymont building under the title “Central European Union”. The closing cocktail will take place at noon on 28/06)
We have stumbled upon some interesting Central European thinkers/activists, whose thoughts on European integration gain new meaning today, when we are looking for a recovery from the economic crisis.
In order to explain our point, we need to step back a bit in time. Talking about the origins of the European Union, even the Brussels bubble think of Western European politicians, like Schuman, Spaak, Adenauer, Churchill, etc. However the people who actually invented the theoretical foundations of an economic community and have started the political movement were mostly Central Europeans between the two world wars. The origin of their ideas lie in the political and economic situation in the 20’s and 30’s, when some brave politicians and experts in the newly formed small sovereign states in Central Europe started actively working for a federation of these small states in order to increase their economic, political and military clout vis-a-vis the bigger European powers (especially Germany). They argued that a fragmented Central Europe will fall prey to Germany and the Soviet Union – and how right they were!
Who were these people and what is their significance today?
The “inventor” of European integration as we know today was Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the son of an Austro-Hungarian diplomat and founder of the Pan-Europa movement.
The eminence grise of European integration was a Polish diplomat/activist, Józef Retinger. Without his energy and organisational talent, the EU might not exist today. Working closely with Duncan Sandys he helped found the European Movement and the Council of Europe. (By the way, he had an immensely interesting life, aged 56, in 1944, he was parachuted by the Allies back to Poland in Operation Salamander and in 1954 he founded the Bilderberg Group – the ultmate proof for conspiracy theorists about the EU’s real nature. His biography is a superb read, usually available at Amazon – see here)
The person drawing up the economic theory of a common market in the 30’s was the Hungarian Elemér Hantos: “It was Hantos who did the most to make known the necessity of a Danubian economic confederation to the world. Through the economic institutes he founded in Vienna, Budapest, Brno, and Geneva, Dr. Hantos focused strongly on winning over European opinion and putting Central Europe on the map economically.” (Jacques Droz, from hantosprize.org)
The highest ranking politician among them was Milan Hodža, PM of Czechoslovakia, who developed a federative project in exile, which he described in 1942 in his book ‘Federation in Central Europe’.
Another important activist-campaigner, was the Hungarian Pál Auer (Paul de Auer), who has been closely cooperating with Coudenhove-Kalergi and was later active in the European Movement. Finally, as political thinker, we must underline the role of the Hungarian István Bibó and his thoughts on nationalism and Central European identity.
(Our list is probably not exhaustive, but gives a good idea of the development of Euroepan integration thought.)
Why is it significant today? Because even larger European states feel their significance decreasing at the global stage today compared to the US, China and the other upcoming powers. This relative weakening is clear in geopolitical, military, political and economic terms, as well. What was true for small Central European states in the 1930’s, may become true for all European states. (Just think of Robert Gates’s latest Brussels speech on NATO’s state of affairs.)
Quoting Milan Hodža’s argument on the economic necessity of the federation: “When planning for Central Europe they are anxious to present themselves as a unit; not in order to be self-sufficient, but to be instead of small, helpless would-be sovereignties partners on an equal footing through the intermediary of their federated unit. If any of their big neighbours were able continuously to force on them bilateral commercial treaties, they would become the objects of international trade instead of its subjects. Treaties between bullying great powers and bullied small nations, though they are contemplated as bilateral, become in fact unilateral, because they establish obligations deliberately. A bilateral treaty of a Central European Federation, however strong its partner might be, should enable this important portion of the Continent to enter into fair trade relations with anyone according to the effective interests ofthem both.” (Federation in Central Europe, p 167.)
Apply this to the role of Europe in the world economy today and no need to explain any further why we need a Strong Europe as advocated by the Hungarian Presidency.