The World That Maastricht Made

On February 7, 1992, the twelve member states of the European Community signed in Maastricht (Netherlands) the Treaty on European Union (EU). Thirty years later, the European building has never been under as much fire. A few years ago, the majority of British citizens voted to leave from EU. Most of the Eastern European countries, especially Poland and Hungary, are fighting “Brussels”—the European Commission that wants to force them to accept the western “woke” way of understanding human rights. And even in the EU’s founding countries like Germany, the Netherlands, or France, opponents of Europe’s present trajectory become more powerful at each election.

I think Dalibor Rohac is perfectly right: this increasing opposition to “European construction” has something to do with the “hubris” of the Maastricht Treaty—which changed the very notion of what Europe is.

The Maastricht Treaty tried to build a new Europe—and even a new kind of political entity, neither an empire, nor a nation, nor anything else we had hitherto known in the history of humanity. Its novelty became particularly clear fifteen years later, in 2005, during the enormous political debate in France over the failed “Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.” The title itself seemed to be nonsensical: If it’s a treaty, it should be signed by sovereign states which have their own constitution; if it establishes a constitution, it should become a new state. But when you opposed such an argument to supporters of “Yes,” their only answer was something like this: “You don’t understand. The EU is neither a confederation of sovereign states, nor a federative state. It’s something absolutely new, without any example in human history.” I even heard in the Senate, where I was working, this beautiful word: The European Union is a “sui generis political object.” This sort of argument is very efficient insofar as it dispenses with answering questions or critics. It seems to be a religious—or a magical—“argument”: Trust me and jump into the dark.

In fact, the political possibilities are very limited. As the great French political philosopher Pierre Manent pointed out, there were traditionally only two political regimes: the city and the empire. Christianity created a hybrid of these regimes: the nation, which keeps the strength from the empire and the freedom and the political fellowship from the city. But it’s not that easy to create a new political regime! And neither the Ancient Greeks nor the medieval Christians intended to build a new sort of political association: after centuries, they discovered that they had a peculiar political association and they admired it as a divine gift, not as their own conscious invention.

All the arrogance of the current European Commission finds its origin in the “hubris” of the Maastricht Treaty well described by Rohac. It was the triumph of the doctrine of Jean Monnet: to use technical collaboration between European countries to build a new “political object,” which could be called the United States of Europe—as if Europe had the same history as North America!—and then destroy the borders between the USA and EU first, before doing the same thing with the Soviet Union or Maoist China to build a worldwide “global village.”

But it is hard to understand how highly educated people could support such a utopian project. It was clear that European countries had different histories, different cultures, and different relationships with the rest of the world. The only way to promote European unity would have been to promote their common civilization. Goethe, Racine, or Dante Alighieri, as different as they are, being distinctively German, French, and Italian, nevertheless share a common civilization, rooted in Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. But the supporters of the Monnet doctrine—who now make up the vast majority of the European Commission civil servants and “pro-Brussels” politicians—feared these very cultural roots of Europe. Perhaps it was because cultural roots can nurture not only European unity, but also nationalism—or perhaps it was because they saw human beings mostly as economic agents and not as spiritual creatures.

For either or both of these reasons, they tried to build a new Europe in the geographical place of the old one, though we also heard during the last decade proposals to welcome Turkey, Morocco, or Israel. And this new Europe was built virtually free of any cultural influence—even though we celebrate great Europeans from time to time. It was not as clear in 1992 as it is now, but this new political object promoted a new sort of attachment, which we could link to the “constitutional patriotism” of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas: the only cultural link we agree upon seems to be an attachment to human rights, which would allow us to build a “European” Union with African or Asian countries.

The time of the Maastricht Treaty and everlasting peace is dying, but the institutions created for this time are still in place.

This disincarnated political life is more and more rejected by the peoples of the EU member states: The “No” to the European Constitution from Dutch and French citizens or Brexit came from seeds that had been sown in the Maastricht Treaty. And, generally speaking, the rise of what we call now “populism,” the rejection of “elites” (and, on the opposite side of the coin, the elites’ loathing of poor or uneducated people) are deeply rooted in this wholly abstract life. Identities of any kind (cultural, religious, political, or even sexual) are prohibited by this radical “constitutional patriotism.” People need identities, though: they are not only economic agents, producing and consuming. The rejection of “Eurocracy” is founded upon a popular revolt against elites who pretend to know better than the people what is good for them and thereby rob the people of the few identities they still have (their own cultural roots). The EU has added cultural insecurity to job insecurity and physical insecurity.

We have to notice also that the Maastricht Treaty destroyed the former political parties in Europe. Before 1992, the main political divide was between right and left. To be sure, it was a very complex and subtle divide (you could be a right-winger on taxation and a left-winger on immigration for example, like a lot of top French CEOs). But now, it’s even more complex because above this right-left divide, we have another and probably more accurate divide: against or in favor of the post-Maastricht “European building.” And this debate divides almost all the parties, especially the former socialist parties and the former Christian democrat parties which were (and still are) the most solid political grounds of the EU.

This is especially true for Christian democracy, which was historically attached to Christian anthropology and saw human rights as the outgrowth of human dignity. The progressive exfoliation of any cultural content for European attachment, doubled with an increasing place for a new view of human rights (seen as rights for political “minorities”), is tearing apart these parties: A part of them remains committed to their old attachments, while another part uses the old language of human rights to promote massive immigration, radical feminism, or gender ideology.

The French movement of opposition against same-sex marriage was, in this context, an important measure of political momentum: Almost all of the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators against the redefinition were voters for former Christian democrat parties, but this movement is still very badly seen by the heirs of these Christian democrat parties.

We are closing a political cycle of thirty years during which the tragedy of history had been forgotten. We saw, just a few years before the Maastricht Treaty, the collapse of communism in Europe, and many thinkers and politicians dreamt about the “perpetual peace” sung of by Emmanuel Kant or Victor Hugo. It was the time of “happy globalization.” The beginning of the twenty-first century has seen the rebirth of religious or national conflicts. Even in Europe, the peace has not been this fragile for decades—think not only about what could happen on the Ukrainian border, but also of Bosnia, almost at the EU’s door, where you can spot ISIS flags in certain villages!

The time of the Maastricht Treaty and everlasting peace is dying. But the institutions created for this time are still in place—and seem to be powerful. Certainly, the birthday of the Treaty won’t be celebrated with joy in Brussels or elsewhere. But only a prophet could say how the European Union will progress in the coming years: will it be a sort of huge “woke” university campus dedicated to all “minorities” rights (except of course the rights of the European Christian minority)? Will radical Islamism take power in old exhausted Western European countries? Will we see the rise of “illiberal democracies” or even authoritarian regimes in Europe?

I cannot answer these questions; no one can. But everybody knows that, looking beyond the caricatured presentation of these possible futures for Europe, we might expect all of them. And what is certain is this: the European Union created by the Maastricht Treaty seems no longer able to deal with the foreseeable future of Europe. It has to be reinvented, which means coming back to European culture and coming back to real trustworthy political forms.

The fanciful dreams of socialists like France’s Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon became, after decades of political experimentation, totalitarian nightmares. The European dream, with its experimental technocracy, could end up the same way. We must choose: Does Europe wish to be an empire? Or does it seek soft cooperation between sovereign States? Enough with the monster hybrid of a federative state and a confederation of sovereign states, where no one decides anything and where the “administration of things” has replaced the “government of human beings.”