Europe’s journey, as Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni called it, has come to a difficult turn. Once again Europeans must make “the oldest of choices: between good and evil,” he added. These are weighty words that oblige us to look inside our being European in order to respond to the call of history voiced by Pope Francis: “What has happened to you, humanistic Europe, the advocate of human rights, democracy and liberty?”.
All things considered, Tusk is right: after the furnace of conflict, Europe represents “simple dreams” like liberty, prosperity and “never again”. But nothing is simple in Europe. Let’s be honest: in world history, Europeans have always been difficult, ambitious, quarrelsome, violent. The only two world wars, which involved very far-away lands, were the consequence of European errors. Sixty years of peaceful superpower cannot delete the thousands of years of struggles, battles, hatreds, prejudices, occupations, and competition. We are difficult people, always ready to unsheathe the sword. European States have always had to face two large obstacles: language and geography, which often ended up counterposing them. Union was the hard-fought victory against these obstacles.
Turning back to the beginning of the history of European integration, we see that the founding fathers were not visionaries but responsible and reasonable politicians, as President Mattarella told the Chamber of Deputies. They knew the world they belonged to: the Cold War which entailed the fear (real, in that case) of the nuclear holocaust, the beginning of the war in Algeria, colonial wars, Dien Bien Phu, the adventure in Suez, the invasion of Hungary.... In 1957 the world was much more dangerous than now. Realistically aware of those dangers, the founding fathers promoted the beginning of an integration process in response to the weakness of the European States: a Union to tackle challenges together. This added on to the clear-minded awareness of European demons. As historian Tony Judt wrote: “it was to head off a return of the old demons (unemployment, Fascism, German militarism, war, revolution) that western Europe took the new path with which we are now familiar. Post-national, welfare-state, cooperative, pacific Europe was not born of the optimistic, ambitious, forward-looking project imagined in fond retrospect by today's Euro-idealists. It was the insecure child of anxiety. Shadowed by history, its leaders implemented social reforms and built new institutions as a prophylactic, to keep the past at bay.” It is from this very same awareness that we must restart today.
Long live Europe.