years ago, you tried to convince skeptics of the need for European
integration. Would your former arguments in favor of integration be
the same today?
– With regard to
the specific tasks and methods for European integration, there
would be no changes to my arguments because the globalization
processes had already fully manifested themselves at that time. The
only major changes that have taken place over the years were the
fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Communist system.
But those events only made the need for a united Europe more
has united, but this factor has not put an end to predictions about
its “decline,” which have been echoed since the early 20th century.
The initial euphoria seems to have disappeared, and the European
integration process has begun to raise a number of uncertainties
and doubts about its success.
– You are right
to some extent. As a rule, people have short memories and lack a
global vision of the situation. Not everyone remembers that the
period between the beginning of World War I and the end of World
War II witnessed colossal human tragedies in the very heart of
Europe, together with civil wars and numerous conflicts.
Nationalism raised its head everywhere, and people refused to
respect the rights of others.
suggested to the Europeans that those tendencies could have grave
consequences. It was obvious that the epoch of internal European
conflicts must be stopped. It was no accident that the fathers of a
united Europe included many of those who had gone through that
painful period in European history.
of Europe was not only a political and economic undertaking, but
also a spiritual and philosophical movement. People who had
survived the Nazi and other dictatorships were able to reconcile
themselves to their past and look into the future. Naturally,
forgiveness does not mean forgetting. This experience would be
helpful to contemporary Russia, as well: it should accept its
history, without forgetting anything.
After World War
II, the youth of Germany needed to understand that they were part
of a single European community, despite the horrors that Germany
was responsible for. That would mean establishing genuine peace in
to help translate that spiritual European mood into real political
action. Peace and mutual respect between peoples, the formation of
solid European ties and, finally, a system of legislation with
which European countries could commensurate their actions
(naturally, within the powers established for the European Union
bodies) – all these objectives still remain vital.
There was a time when mutual integration developed very fast – for
example, during my presidency at the European Commission. We
started building a single European market, increased the amount of
aid that poor European states received from rich countries,
established the main principles for the social policy, and launched
technical cooperation. Finally, we formed a single economic space
and laid the foundation for a monetary union.
integration process has slowed down. Those individuals who were
always opposed to European integration are repeating their former
arguments. But what do they suggest instead? Nothing! Do they
really want to return to the traditional game of national
sovereignties and then live in fear of local accords between large
states? This would hardly deliver peace and prosperity, especially
since such compromise agreements are short-lived and they ignore
the role and historical destiny of smaller nations.
Look at the East
European countries. For centuries, they repeatedly fell victim to
treachery and were pawns in big games. The European Union gives
these nations hope for peace and recognition. It helps them to
embrace the political and social values that are important to many
people even beyond the EU, for example in the former Yugoslavia.
Yes, we are now experiencing a difficult period, but this is not
the first trying time in the development of Europe.
people believe that the European Union should slow down its
enlargement at this stage and take a pause before admitting new
members. Do you agree with this point of view?
enlargement per se does not create a problem. Difficulties arise
when we try to answer some important questions, such as, what
exactly do we hope to achieve in the united Europe? How should the
15 or 30 members interact in order to avoid over-bureaucratization
of the European institutions and their excessive concentration on
legal aspects? Receiving answers to these questions requires a
clear idea of united Europe’s objectives, shared by all the member
In the postwar
years, the idea that Europe would never again allow an armed
confrontation between its countries deeply inspired the youth, and
many young men and women actively supported policymakers’ efforts
to translate this dream into life. Today, we have the Europe they
believed in. Has it lived up to their hopes? I think it
Europe has gone
through three difficult ordeals, in which it proved itself to be
quite viable. The first moment came in the early 1970s when Britain
joined united Europe. Despite London’s special position on many
issues, and its close ties with the United States, on the whole we
coped with the difficult task of integrating the United
Second, I must
mention the time when three European countries – Greece, Portugal
and Spain – returned to democratic rule after years of dictatorship
and also became part of united Europe. I took part in the
completion of the negotiations on the admission of Spain and
Portugal. Should we have refused the entry of these countries only
because their integration seemed to be very difficult and could pose internal
problems for other members? Despite the difficulties, we lent a
helping hand to these countries – and look at the remarkable
achievements they have made today!
was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in
the East European countries. Should we have told these nations
that, since their economies were too weak and their mentality
differed too much from ours, they needed to wait another 20 years
to become members? We thought such an attitude would be against
European values, and therefore we admitted them into our union.
Perhaps, their admission could have been better organized, but in
any case, it was necessary.
talked about the need to set objectives. What objectives do you
think Europe should have today?
– I see three
major objectives. The first is maintaining peace and accord among
nations in every way possible. Another is making every effort to
develop mutual European solidarity, which must help to balance the
development levels of countries and regions. The third objective is
preserving the cultural differences between the European
Preserving the differences? Doesn’t integration have the opposite
– In my opinion,
a united Europe means unity in variety. Every language is a
reflection of a nation’s soul, while the people that integrate into
a united Europe do not discard their own history. This is a major
condition for Europe’s genuine greatness.
If a limited number of the EU member countries wish to advance
along the path of integration, developing economic or monetary
ties, creating joint technological zones or acting together in the
spheres of foreign policy or defense, they certainly can do that.
The number of participating countries does not matter here. Other
countries can later join them, if they wish.
But we must
differentiate here, because the present generation of politicians
and leaders are confusing two things: united Europe per se, and
various collective actions. This confusion is particularly
incorrect when we speak of joint actions by countries of the
European vanguard. There is always a gap in countries’ development
rates, and of course it makes itself felt in various collective
should the EU have waited for the consent of all its 15 members
before introducing the euro? At that time, as it is now, only 12 EU
states were ready to use a single European currency. Should we have
waited until the other three member states finally agreed? In that
case, the single currency might have never been introduced. We must
tolerate the fact that some states may participate in joint
actions, while others may decline.
failed to convince my opponents that Europe could be really united
only by the three objectives that I mentioned earlier. Perhaps,
they do not look very attractive from the political point of view
or, to use contemporary language, they are not very sexy. Setting
only three objectives may be simplified, yet it is a realistic
answer to the question about the EU’s enlargement was poignant, but
I would like you to specify: What is your attitude to the present
enlargement of the European Union?
– Do you think a
poignant answer cannot be specific?
answer was so elegant that it may have been easy for you to hide
your personal position behind it. It is still unclear to me: Do you
support or oppose the continuing enlargement of the European
– I can tell you
that I personally am against fixing any certain boundaries for the
European Community. I proceed from the important problems that
Europe is facing and I have told you about those.
– I guess
you won’t be surprised to hear, after such an answer, a question
about Turkey, Ukraine and, with certain reservations, Russia. What
about these countries?
– Although I do
not outline the final boundaries of a united Europe, three cases
stand apart. These are the former republics of Yugoslavia, Russia,
and Turkey. Let’s leave Ukraine and Belarus aside for a while.
There must be a place in the united Europe for those states that
have emerged on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. This is the
only thing that can prevent ethnic conflicts between them. I do not
mean making their people forget everything, but rather stopping
conflicts and pushing into the background the mutual claims that
divided these countries in the past. This will help to avoid dramas
like the one that is taking place in Kosovo, for
Russia, it is a very large nation – and takes pride in this. But it
is too large to be integrated in the same way as with Poland or the
Czech Republic. The EU should sign partnership agreements with
Russia, clearing up in advance the issue of how much we share
opinions with regard to the objectives of our coexistence and forms
of cooperation. Work in this direction is already underway. But it
is a difficult process, equally difficult for both
Turkey, it represents an extremely symbolic case. Symbols play an
important role in the development of societies, in particular the
European Community. Turkey is a Moslem country; meanwhile, the
growth of Islamic extremism is threatening the whole world.
Moreover, there are Islamic fanatics who deny our right to
existence only because we, they say, differ from them. These
tendencies can easily bring about local religious wars – or even a
war of civilizations. Against this background, I say yes to
negotiations with Turkey in order to demonstrate that Europe is not
a “Catholic ghetto” or “Catholic empire,” and to emphasize: Despite
Islamic fundamentalism, we are lending a hand in order to try and
understand each other. But, of course, I cannot say whether these
negotiations will be crowned with success.
factors that I have mentioned, some European politicians
categorically oppose Turkey’s admission to the European Union. I do
not think they are right. We must act as a community of people who,
without being na?ve and boundlessly credulous, still want to have a
dialog with others – those who renounce their tunnel vision and are
willing to cast sectarianism on the garbage heap of history. I hope
I have answered your question, if not so beautifully, but quite
answer was specific enough. But the “Islamic factor” poses a great
danger to the contemporary world. Your political views aside, don’t
you, a believer brought up in a Catholic family, worry over the
present growth of Islamism in Europe?
– We have
maintained coexistence with Moslems in each European state. Living
side by side with people of different beliefs and even different
philosophies of life, we try to follow a principle of mutual
respect and the observance of the laws of each country. Of course,
this is not easy. But difficulties are not a sufficient argument to
refuse Turkey’s admission only because of our mutual
take different forms, and laws regulating it are not identical in
every country. This is due to a whole range of problems, many of
which are still a long way from a solution. Nevertheless, one
should not respond to a negative with a negative, hatred with
hatred, and force with force. If we enter into this vicious circle,
we will not be able to live together anymore. If we prove unable to
keep the peace with people of other creeds inside the European
Community, what can you expect from the rest of the world? What
signal would we send to other countries then?
Theoretically, this is right. But if we recall the outbreak of
violence in the suburbs of Paris in 2005, there arises the
question: Why do Moslems seem to create so many problems while
demanding that other people have a special attitude with them? No
one has ever seen similar disorders in, for example, the Chinese
neighborhoods in Paris.
– Indeed, the
roots and mentality of these two ethnoses differ. But you cannot
say with absolute certainty that even the Chinese that have settled
in France will necessarily turn into ideal French citizens over
time. This is particularly true of some Moslems. Some politicians
have oversimplified views, and due to these public figures the
public has acquired the illusion that there is a certain machine
for turning out law-abiding citizens – like, for example, a
sausage-making machine: minced meat at one end, and finished
sausages at the other. But the reality is much more difficult. One
must realize and accept this fact.
Yes, we have
problem neighborhoods, but the difficult situation there is caused
not only by ethnic peculiarities of their residents but also by
social factors. And the more actively we address social issues, the
lower the ethnic tensions will be.
1996, when Russia joined the Council of Europe, Moscow did not rule
out the possibility that eventually it might receive membership in
the European Union. Today, this idea has long been forgotten.
Moreover, there is the impression that Russia, instead of getting
closer to Europe, is becoming increasingly estranged from
– I know the
history of EU-Russia cooperation very well. During the preparation
of agreements with Moscow, I headed the European Commission, and I
had many contacts with Mikhail Gorbachev, and later, with Boris
Yeltsin. Those were impressive times – first of all, because
despite the huge dimension of the events of 1985-1994, we managed
to avoid tragedies, which does not happen very often in history.
That period showed that mankind can be trusted – there were
situations when very serious friction between states was removed
thanks to the wisdom of the leaders involved. In those years, we
signed the first agreement with Russia.
distinction between the present situation and the former is that
Russia has again started to view itself as a great nation. It has
demonstrated this desire very often, starting from the tragedy in
Yugoslavia. I repeatedly said that we Europeans tried to close the
door on Russia, yet it entered through the window. I made that
comment following the events in Yugoslavia.
If Russia really wants to be a great nation again, why deny it the
right, or why put obstacles in its way? Especially since it no
longer acts at the bidding of the International Monetary Fund. We
know very well that Moscow seeks to take an active part in
international affairs and to show solidarity with its
relations with Russia reminds me of the process of integrating
Europe. We began by establishing direct ties – first within the
framework of the European Coal and Steel Community, and later the
European Community. Today, we continue to develop European
solidarity and integration. So if tomorrow Russia and the EU come
up with a good agreement that suits both parties from the point of
view of oil and gas supplies, this will lend credence to their
declarations that they are pursuing mutual forms of cooperation and
everything else, I believe the EU-Russia dialog may take various
forms – with some reservations, of course. Perhaps an agreement
will only require negotiations between the parties’ top leaders,
instead of numerous meetings of large committees with their
But since we have
not yet agreed on many basic principles, it is difficult to resolve
specific issues. These are classical relations between two great
powers. Other peoples only gain from our disagreements. Therefore,
our major task today is to show our mutual ability to solve
problems that confront us – and the whole world – through
negotiations and agreements. But relations must be allowed to take
their course. One should not put the cart before the horse, as my
grandfather, who was a peasant, used to say.
often reads today in Russian newspapers that Europe cannot do
without Russia, whereas Russia can do without Europe. Do you agree
with this statement?
– It would be an
exaggeration to say that Europe is tied to Russia. In politics,
like in the course of commercial negotiations, one can sometimes
see a veritable theatrical performance, with elements of tragedy
and farce. Oftentimes, one party plays arrogance, and then the
other party responds in kind.
The dialog between President Putin and the European leaders is far
from complete. This means that some important issues have not been
resolved yet: What exactly can we do together? Will we lose part of
our independence and freedom of maneuver if we act in concert? How
do we see the world in twenty years? Can our present line of
conduct bring about positive results?
Politicians do not like questions that ponder what might be in
store for us in the future. But since you yourself have said that
different countries may have different visions of the future, I
would like to know your own opinion on that
– First of all, I
would like to emphasize that I do not believe in imminent
catastrophes that will lead to the end of the world. Of course,
globalization brings about many problems. We must seek to regulate
the globalization processes more effectively, which means better
global governance. For example, rapidly developing countries, such
as China, India and Brazil, must be obliged to respect and observe
at least basic rules concerning environmental protection.
Furthermore, they should introduce certain social norms for their
population, instead of orienting themselves only to gaining
world is moving toward greater interdependence, with more attention
being given to social and natural factors. However, at the same
time, deviations from the general line cannot be avoided. Economic
development may destroy Mother Earth; preventing such a scenario
will take more than the efforts of the Europeans alone. China and
Russia, for example, must also make more efforts to counter this
In the sphere of
politics, there are many alarming factors. First, there are the
so-called war of religions and various manifestations of extremism.
Many countries are sliding into nationalism or seek to play some
special role on the international scene. We have already witnessed
such behavior in the past. Take, for example, the history of the
Middle East before the Second World War when large powers, in
particular Great Britain, posed as peacemakers. But at what price?
There was constant conflict between the Sunnis and Shias, and
between national interests of various Arab states. These factors
brought instability into the world, which could no longer make
progress, except on a purely economical basis.
I believe that
future development must bring about a truly comprehensive agreement
between Russia, the European Union and the United States, which
will proclaim their common goals and show their common wish to
enter into dialog and look for compromises. It does not mean,
however, that these three parties will dominate in the world – one
must also take into account China, India and the Latin American
countries, especially Brazil.
Russia, the EU and America – three political forces that are
accustomed to disputing with each other – will play a very
important role anyway. Every time they become divided by
disagreements, when each party starts playing its own game, the
risk of global instability increases dramatically. Our conflicts
are a fertile ground for nationalism and serve as an excuse for
integrism [In France, this term is used to describe the ideology of
Islamic extremism. – Ed.].
Everyone is afraid of forgoing one’s independence. In Europe, too,
there are incessant discussions to the effect that the EU countries
have delegated too much of their sovereignty to the European
Commission, and now this overly bureaucratic structure is unable to
see the real problems that beset ordinary Europeans. What can you
say about this from the position of a man who for almost ten years
headed the European Commission?
– First, I would
like to emphasize that the European Commission only puts forward
proposals, while the Council of the EU and the European Parliament
make the final decisions. These matters should not be confused. You
are simply under the influence of dubious European sentiments that
have seized many countries, including France. The European
Commission has the rights it was given. In keeping with the basic
principle, it has the right of initiative, the right to make
proposals. But these are adopted either on the basis of mutual
consent of the Council and the European Parliament, or by decision
of the Council alone.
If Europe is
viewed as isolated from the vital needs of Europeans, this is only
because national governments do not sufficiently explain to their
citizens why a particular decision has been made. Unfortunately,
such things happen all the time. Often, national governments avoid
upholding pan-European decisions before the public opinion of their
country. But they must do this! The European Commission must not be
made into a scapegoat. For the European institutions to function
better, they should return to their original nature. The European
Commission is not a body that must explain to people in various
countries the need for this or that decision, nor is it a body that
imposes its will on other politicians. It is simply a place where
representatives of the EU member countries meet and plan their
decisions. Explaining to citizens how justified are its decisions
is the duty of each individual country (or rather, its national
– You are
an economist by training. Do you agree with those who believe that
a high rate of the euro undermines European
– Absolutely not!
This is a false idea. What is not questioned today is that the
weakness of the Chinese and, to some degree, Japanese, currency,
has become a serious monetary problem. Honestly speaking, we would
prefer the euro rate to be 1.20; but even the present rate of 1.30
is not at all catastrophic for the European economy. Germany’s
global leadership as an exporter serves as the best proof of
So all the talk
that a strong euro prevents economic development is no more than a
small lie, which is accompanying the present presidential campaign
in France. And if we do not renounce it, we will have a painful
awakening. It’s like as if you sleep in silk sheets and are told
that tomorrow you will grow rich and meet the love of your life.
The next day you wake up and see nothing of the kind. And then you
are given an explanation as to why the promise has not been
– Many of
the pre-election slogans seem to be frightfully unrealistic. Do you
agree that France is gradually losing its main distinction, namely
– Things in
France are going much better than it seems at first glance. Take,
for example, such an important factor as the demographic situation.
The birth rate in the country is very high, and even from this
point of view it is in a much more advantageous position than the
majority of other European states. The birth rate is always an
indicator of dynamism. But, of course, the situation could always
As regards the
presidential campaign, at times like this you can always hear many
promises. The blame for unfulfilled hopes will be placed on the
“malicious” euro. There is still enough time left before the first
round of the presidential elections to return to the real state of
what do you think France really needs?
– France, which
now looks overly restless and often discontent, must regain its
self-confidence. To this end, it must realize what exactly it
cannot do well and why. It also needs a more optimistic view of its
strengths. Once the country succeeds in those efforts, France will
restore its former dynamism.
presidency of the European Council is currently held by Germany.
What do you expect from this leadership?
– I have much
confidence in Germany’s presidency. This state possesses features
of both West and East European countries – thus its special
striving for mutual understanding through dialog. The German
economy is developing very well today. Furthermore, the coalition
government of Germany is, actually, a coexistence of two parties –
the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party,
which started the unification of Europe. And, of course, one should
not forget the personal qualities of Madam Angela
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