From 1986 the passports issued to citizens of the member states of the EC had carried the words ‘European Community’ as well as the name of the issuing state. In practice, however, the Community faced growing difficulties. Although the main central institutions - the Council of Ministers of Member States, the Commission and the Court of Justice - worked away, they did not do so without contention, while policy - notably over fisheries and transport - provoked well-publicized differences. Fluctuations in exchange rates were another source of awkwardness and institutional bickering, especially after the end of dollar convertibility and the Bretton Woods system in 1971 and the oil crisis. Yet in the 1980s there was solid evidence of encouraging economic success. The USA had resumed in the 1970s its pre-1914 status as a major recipient of foreign investment and two-thirds of what it attracted was European. Western Europe accounted for the largest share of world trade, too. Outsiders became keen to join an organization that offered attractive bribes to the poor. Greece did so in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986.

The latter turned out to be a decisive year, when it was agreed that a further step should be taken in 1992 to move beyond a mere customs union to a single, integrated, border-free internal market. Capital, goods, services and people were to move freely without let or hindrance across national borders at last. The negotiations about this were to prove the last for a decade in which member states could be brought to agree on fundamentals, but finally bore fruit at Maastricht in December 1991 in new arrangements for the single European market and a timetable for full economic and monetary union to be achieved not later than 1999.

Once again, reservations and special arrangements were made for the cautious British. Margaret Thatcher’s successor as prime minister, John Major, was something of an unknown quantity, but almost at once he found himself upholding his country’s position in the Maastricht negotiations at the head of a party divided over it. The treaty that resulted opened the way to a single currency and an autonomous central bank to regulate it. Maastricht also gave citizenship of the new ‘European Union’, which replaced the EC, to the nationals of all member states and laid down an obligation on its members to impose certain common standards in work practices and some social benefits. Finally, the treaty extended the area over which EU policy might be made by majority votes. All this looked like a significant accretion of centralized power, although in an effort to reassure the suspicious the treaty also set out agreement to the principle of ‘subsidiarity’, a word rooted in Catholic social teaching; it indicated that there should be limits to the competence of the Commission at Brussels in interfering with the details of national administration. As for agreement over European defence and security policy, this was soon in hopeless disarray thanks to events in Bosnia.

Maastricht raised difficulties in several countries. The Danes rejected it in a referendum the following year. A similar test in France produced only a slim majority in its favour. The British government (notwithstanding special safeguards it had negotiated) was hard-pressed to win the parliamentary vote on the issue. In the governing Conservative Party a split that had appeared was to cripple the party when it next faced the electors. European voters still usually thought of protecting or damaging traditional sectional and national interests and these loomed larger as economic conditions worsened in the early 1990s. But Maastricht was in the end ratified by fifteen member states. Debate continued over allegations of encroachment on the independence of member states by the Commission at Brussels and the comparative fairness or unfairness of individual countries’ use or abuse of the Union’s rules.

Much else was changing too. The bipolar Europe of Cold War had disappeared, and new questions, affecting European institutions at every level, were posed with the arrival of the first applications from former communist countries to join the EC. Economic circumstances had changed, too. For all its importance, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) did not mean what it had meant in the 1960s; in some countries it was evolving from an electoral bribe to large numbers of smallholders to a system of subsidy for fewer, but much richer, agriculturalists. Within the new Union, too, national responses were not what they had been in the 1960s and even later. Germany now provided the driving force and much of the Union’s financial support. Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s greatest triumph, reunification, had confirmed Germany’s natural position as Europe’s major power. Yet this had been costly. Germany was driven into deficit on its trade account and dissatisfaction with the terms of reunification began to be heard. As time passed, more was also heard of the danger of inflation, an old nightmare for Germans, and of the load carried by the German tax-payer as former East Germans moved to the west and unemployment rose. Economic recession, indeed, cast long shadows in most member states of the EU in the 1990s, reminding their peoples of disparities and differences of economic strength between them. Everywhere, too, fiscal, budgetary and exchange problems came in the 1990s to undermine the confidence of governments.

There was thus plenty for politicians to take into account. Views were changing everywhere. For the French, for example, the deepest root of the European impulse had always lain in fear of Germany. French statesmen had sought to tie Germany firmly into, first the Common Market, and then the Community, but as the German economy grew stronger, they had been forced to recognize that it would have the preponderant share in mapping Europe’s future shape. De Gaulle’s ideal of a Europe of nationstates gave way among Frenchmen to a more federal - that is, paradoxically, more centralizing - view of a Europe consciously built so as to give a maximum of informal and cultural weight in it to France - through, for example, appointments at Brussels. If there were to be a European super-state, France could at least try to dominate it. None the less, the French decision in 1995 to rejoin NATO was a clear break with the ways of de Gaulle.

The German government after 1990 had soon sought to express its new influence by seeking to befriend its ex-communist neighbours. The rapidity with which German businessmen and investors got to work in those countries and the speed and eagerness of Germany’s recognition of newly independent Croatia and Slovenia at the end of 1991 (it was the first country to do so) was far from reassuring to other EU members. This further influenced thinking about enlarging the EU, whose existing members were bound to be losers in cash terms if former communist countries joined them. Their applications also awoke concern in Moscow.

It was not clear what sort of Europe new members might join. The German Democratic Republic had entered the existing fold (as it had entered NATO) de facto in 1990, simply by being absorbed into the Federal Republic, but other aspirants to entry would provoke debate among existing members about what kind of Europe was desirable or possible. Expansion of the Community was bound to be crucial for world history. An EU of 500 million, stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Aegean and from Portugal to the Pruth, might be one conceivable outcome, but another is a break-up (not necessarily into its national components) of what Union there was. Meanwhile, what was left of EFT A was in 1994 united with the EU countries in a common ‘European Economic Area’ and Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU on 1 January 1995.

There had of course been some cultural convergence within the Common Market Community and EU over more than thirty years. Increasing standardizing of consumption, though, owed less to European policy than to shrewder marketing and growing international communication at a popular level (the outcome was often, as in the past, deplored as ‘Americanization’). And such slow convergence as had been consciously promoted in, for instance, agriculture had been very costly and the CAP understandably irritated non-farming voters. The Union seemed feeble, too, in its handling of external affairs; it blatantly failed the severe tests posed by Yugoslavia’s dissolution. Many uncertainties thus still hung over the future of Europe as the end of the century approached. Among them was the project of a single European currency. Although the argument for it had always had a predominantly political flavour, it was asserted that great economic benefits would flow from its introduction and that lower prices and lower interest rates would be likely to follow. With equal assurance, it was pointed out that participating states would lose control over important aspects of their economic life. A common currency, in fact, implied further loss of sovereignty. Politicians brooded over what voters might think when choices had to be made that would bring home to them the consequences of a monetary union. It was not hard to agree, though, that were monetary union to slip, and were enlargement not to take place, the EU could settle back into not much more than a simple customs union.

When Helmut Kohl was defeated in the German elections of November 1998 and the first socialist chancellor of united Germany took office, this had made no difference to the monetary union goal of the German government. The French government, too, stayed behind it. Denmark and Sweden firmly announced they would not wish to participate. Under the Conservative government that had held office until the summer of 1997, it was impossible to predict what the United Kingdom might do; the new Labour government, though, affirmed with what appeared to some to be cautious but increasing enthusiasm as time passed, that a future British government would probably join the common currency when the circumstances looked right - but went no further. So, on 1 January 1999, most of the member countries agreed in principle on its first shared currency since the age of Charlemagne. In a telling avoidance of offence to national susceptibilities, the possibilities of great historic names - crowns, florins, francs, marks, thalers and many more - were set aside and the new unit of currency was to be called a ‘Euro’. Three years later, its notes and coins began to circulate among the 300 million citizens of twelve member states.

The difficulties of enlarging the Union were by then much clearer. The longest standing candidate for admission was Turkey, of whom some asked whether it was a ‘European’ country at all since most of its territory lay in Asia and most of its people were Muslim. Worse still, the modernizing Ataturk legacy was under challenge there after a sixty-year ascendancy. Islamists had always resented the regime’s traditional secularism. Yet if the test of Europeanness was modernity in institutions (representative government and women’s rights, for example) and a certain level of economic development, then Turkey clearly stood with the Europeans rather than with the rest of the Islamic Near East. Turkish treatment of political opposition and minorities (particularly the Kurds) nonetheless met with much disapproval abroad, and the record of the Turkish government as a guardian of human rights was questioned. Turkey thus posed yet again old and unanswerable questions about what Europe really was. Additionally, an EU member state, Greece, engaged in a quarrel with Turkey over Cyprus, was likely to oppose any ready admission.

Sweden, Finland and Austria had fitted into the EU easily as developed economies and effective democracies. It might be that not many problems would arise over Hungarians and Czechs as the passage of time reduced the economic disparities. In 1997 it was possible to agree that negotiation should begin virtually at once for the admission of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, although at the same meeting it was decided that conditions in Turkey were not satisfactory. But some other eastern countries still seemed unattractive recruits and would raise problems for relations between the EU and members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), some of whom were as sensitive about political alignments on their western boundaries as had been the USSR.

At the end of 2000, in negotiations at Nice, it was agreed to try to admit the first candidates from the ex-communist world by the end of 2004. An eventual EU of perhaps twenty-seven states was envisaged as possible by 2010. Voting qualifications were changed, but France succeeded in hanging on to the same ‘weighted’ voting rights as Germany, now indisputably much the largest and wealthiest member state. Ratification of the Nice treaty had still to be obtained in national parliaments, of course, and the Irish government soon had to face the problem posed by losing a referendum on its proposal; this sent another shock through the system. Agreement at the end of 2001 that a special convention should take up the consideration of the working of EU institutions, and of possible changes in them, only slightly offset this.

To an extent, then, the end of the Cold War seemed at last to have revealed that Europe was more than the geographical expression it had so long seemed to be. Equally, though, there seemed less point than ever in seeking some innate European essence or spirit, let alone a European civilization, the major source of a world civilization though it might be.

It was as ever a collection of national cultures resonating vigorously to their own internal dynamics, for, as the twenty-first century began, there was little sign of a European patriotism able, like the old national allegiances, to stir the emotions of the masses, for all that had been achieved since the Treaty of Rome. Participation by voting in elections for the European parliament had fallen everywhere except in those countries where voting was compulsory. Linguistic chauvinism threatened a new unworkability in the institutions of the Union - whose huge, disordered complexity already baffled those who sought political logic in them and undoubtedly contributed to a larger public sense of boredom with the idea of Europe.

But much had in fact been achieved. Above all, the Union was a community of constitutional democracies and the first successful essay in European integration not based on the hegemony of a single nation. As the twentieth century ended, too, the EU was, even in rising economic gales, in the long run evidently an economic success. Including Switzerland (which, of course, the EU does not), western Europe already accounted for some 75 per cent of world trade (most of it between her own member countries) and 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. Its own GDP was in that year larger than that of the United States and more than twice that of Japan. Europe was one of the three prime movers of the world economy that had emerged in the previous fifty years. If Europeans still seemed to worry a lot about where they were going, they were obviously a team many outsiders wished to join - even if 1999 had brought a major constitutional upheaval in the Union and the resignation of the entire Commission after an adverse report on mismanagement and worse in its conduct of business.

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