Since the end of the first
world war, France has
consistently risen to the challenge of restructuring Europe
in times of crisis. In doing so, it became the catalyst not only for building
European unity, but also for creating the prosperity that marked Europe's post-war decades – a prosperity now under threat
because of the global financial and economic crisis. If we are to see a
stronger Europe emerge from today's
challenges, visionary French leadership is needed again.
The first moment when
decisive French leadership began to unify Europe
came when Robert Schumann and Konrad Adenauer created the European Coal and
Steel Community. By rooting the then West Germany
in the political, economic, and social fabric of the west, that step heralded
the start of Germany's
rebirth and economic miracle.
The second time that France consolidated Europe's internal
architecture came in 1983, during the debates over the stationing of American
cruise and Pershing missiles in Germany
to counter the deployment of SS20 missiles by the Soviet
resolve to stand with Germany
helped prevent it from drifting into a dangerous neutrality that would have
shaken the European community to its core.
The third moment came after
the Berlin Wall fell, and it was feared that an enlarged Germany might destabilise Europe.
After initially trying to delay reunification, France
embraced it, in exchange for Germany's
reaffirming its commitment to European unity and Franco-German leadership of
the European community. As a result, Germany bound itself to the idea of
"ever closer union" even more definitively by pledging to join the
common European currency, the euro.
It is now urgent that the
insights that have animated Franco-German relations be applied to all of
central and eastern Europe. Only by securing
the European identity of this entire region, and by anchoring the growing
Russo-German relationship in a European context, can the European Union
continue on its path of stability and prosperity. Only by reinforcing open
trading and financial relations across Europe
can we hope to subdue today's crisis. For it is in no European country's
interest, or in the interest of the EU as a whole, that central and eastern
Europe feel that they have been cast adrift or that Germany
fixate on each other in this time of crisis.
As with Germany in the 1950s, the nature of Russia's links
with its immediate neighbours is turning out to be the defining factor in shaping
the country's international image. Many observers regard these relations as a
signal not just to the region, but to the rest of the world, of the sort of
power that Russia
wishes to be.
The issue is partly one of
"internationalism" itself. In contrast to Europe – with its
close-knit network of multilateral organisations through which states formulate
and conduct much of their foreign policies – Russia is not accustomed to
intensively co-operative international procedures.
But keeping Russia at arm's length from Europe has only
strengthened the sense of isolation that many Russians feel, tempting them to
define the country's interests in ways that are irreconcilable with those of Europe. It has also heightened Russia's desire to construct a
special, bilateral Russo-German relationship, heedless of the context of the
European history during the
past 60 years makes clear that the most promising approach to meeting the
challenge of national reconciliation and stability is not to focus on specific
contingencies, but to establish procedures that encourage orderly change. A
singular vision has always animated this process: animosity between neighbours
must not be allowed to fester, and the rule of law must reign not just within
countries, but also between them.
To believe that such a
vision can work for Russia, Ukraine and Europe is not wishful thinking, but
rests on the successful experience of France
in promoting amity. Indeed, the existence or absence of a framework of
cooperation often determines whether a dispute mutates into a crisis. Such
co-operative frameworks seek to reconcile national independence with regional
interdependence, focusing political leaders' minds on prosperity for their
people rather than on gaining unilateral advantages that ultimately impoverish
and unsettle everyone.
The first lesson of
European unity is that times of crisis must draw the continent closer together,
not divide it through protectionism, competitive devaluations, and expulsions
of immigrants. Similarly, the euro must not be allowed to become an iron
curtain that consigns non-members to a high-risk zone where investors dare not
For Ukraine, Europe
can help by embracing the free-trade agreement that we are now negotiating. Coupled
with our successful membership in the World Trade Organisation, Ukraine would
stand to benefit when world and European trade begins to recover. Europe can also consider using various stabilisation
funds to help our economy through the crisis that we are all enduring.
I do not ask for these
things out of a narrow concern for my country's health. Just as the US Federal
Reserve has engaged in credit and currency swaps with Brazil, Mexico,
Singapore, and South Korea and other countries to ease their
access to the dollars they need, the European Central Bank must offer such swap
arrangements to Europe's non-euro countries in
order for trade and production processes to continue.
Yes, these are dark times,
and all politicians want to protect their voters. But Europe's greatest postwar
leaders understood that keeping the wider view of Europe
in mind is the best way to achieve this goal. As at so many times before, now –
with all of our economies in peril – is a moment for decisive French leadership.
Yulia Tymoshenko, Prime Minister of Ukraine, for The Guardian
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