Definitions of Europe
"Europe consists of numerous meanings and leads to multifolded associations. It can be defined geographically, culturally, geologically, politically or economically. It can be seen as a cultural, legal, historical or religious pool of norms and values, but no matter what people think or thought about it:
The European Union has never clearly defined what it is, what it wants to become or which definition of Europe is the basis of its development.
Diversity is the main reason, why there is no such thing as an official, clear cut definition. As long as the member states have so many different ideas about Europe, what it was, what it is and what it should become, one clear definition would eliminate those visions, which do not fit into the one and only official concept.
But in practice, many different “Europes” as parallel constructions exist or belong to the cultural heritage of the European history.
In the history of thoughts and ideas there is a wide variety of concepts how to integrate Europe. Some are driven by ideals or religious motivations, others are rooted in economic, cultural or political theories. None of them could be seen as a master plan for the existing form of European integration after WWII. But they all stem from the same common heritage and often they represent the European mix of ideas and the cultural diversity.
Alike any political project the European Union is eager to identify its founding fathers, its “saints”, faces or anyone, who helps to personalize politics. This is important for abstract concepts like a supranational entity in particular.
In the case of the European Community, Jean Monnet plays such a role as a founding father of the Western type of European integration, when he helped to establish the European Community of Coal and Steel, which became the starting point of the “official” history of European integration after WWII.
It depends on your way of looking at history, to what extent you believe in the role of politicians or founding fathers. Some schools of thought express their doubts in the importance of “men make history” as the key to explain historical developments.
At least it is important to learn, who was in the driver`s seat, when this type of Western European integration started, what Monnet had in mind and how he pushed the development.
Jean Monnet – Father of Europe - (12 minutes)
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As you can see from the video, the original plan was neither clearly defined, nor could it really predict future developments, stops and dynamics or even a new self-invention of the European integration project. If the original plan for a Community of Coal and Steel was strictly functionally limited, nobody could actually foresee, if, when and how new policies would really be “Europeanized” or whether one day the member states would feel the desire to fusion for the sake of a new sovereign federal system.
The process of European integration is path-dependant, which means that decisions in the past influence the further development. But in the EC history and its current stage, sovereign members are free to invent a new system of European integration and define their role in their own way, no matter what founding fathers had in mind.
Hence the European Community or European Union (as it is called since 1991) was always a moving target. It forces members and candidates to adjust their perceptions and expectations permanently.
Ireland, for example has joined a civil community in 1973. In 2001 the Irish citizens had a referendum on the European Rapid Intervention Force, which could be seen as the starting point of a militarised Union. This was not predictable in the 1970s and some would say, it was unthinkable in the times of the cold war. But now it is one of the various faces of European integration in the 21st century and it could lead to further European integration of defense policy."
Ulrich Brückner: Definitions of Europe. 1st Chapter of Unit 1 of the European Integration Module. © East European Studies Online; 2010.