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Nationalism and European Integration. Looking back to Konrad Adenauer

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Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of West Germany after World War II, stated that the era of nation states had come to an end. Adenauer talked about a new era, a new time when men would look beyond their borders. It was - he believed - the end of nationalism. It is often considered that the success of the integration process consisted in overcoming the excesses of nationalism, the reconciliation between Europeans and the definition of a common space of freedom - with free movement of goods, people and capital - where the key principle would be precisely non-discrimination on grounds of nationality. The European Union would constitute an open and cosmopolitan space, where it would be possible to simultaneously share multiple identities - being Basque, Spanish and European - and establishing an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe. However, in recent times, we have seen a rise of nationalist parties, who understand sovereignty as a zero sum game and reject common and multinational values. Some of these parties in France and the UK oppose integration and question in particular the free movement of persons. Others, in Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders, are not contrary to the Union, and accept the interdependence with Europe - and in principle, the loyalty and solidarity that it implies - but not with the State of which they are part. The presence of nationalist parties in Europe is not a new phenomenon, but the novelty relies on their strength: they had never had so many seats in the European Parliament before. In this situation, it is interesting to recall the ideas of the fathers of Europe in order to ask ourselves to what extent the process of European integration was originally an effort to overcome the excesses of nationalism, and to face united an uncertain future in an increasingly global context. To do this, no one better than Konrad Adenauer, German Chancellor for fourteen years, whose writings have been recently published in Spain (Ed. Encuentro, San Pablo CEU University and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung). Adenauer had suffered, like so many Germans of his time, the damages caused by nationalism. Coming from a modest Rhenish family, he began his political career in the Catholic Centre Party, dealing with the supply of the city of Cologne during World War II. Then, in the years of the economic crisis of the Weimar Republic and under the shadow of the revolutionary threat that he so much feared, the young mayor devoted himself to the development of the city. After the coming to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933, he was removed from the City Hall. Although the two men never met personally, Hitler was offended by Adenauer´s refusal to meet him at the airport when he went to Cologne to a meeting of the Nazi party. So began long years of hardship, where he lived retired from politics and suffered economic difficulties, persecution, and on several occasions - after the Night of the Long Knives, and then after the failed Stauffenberg coup -, imprisonment. When the war was over, Adenauer led the CDU, the new Christian Democratic Party. After winning the elections of 1949, and becoming the first chancellor of the new Germany, he strongly promoted European integration. The reconstruction of Europe and the containment of communism required the economic and political recovery of Germany, but this could only be done if French security was guaranteed through European integration. This would indeed be the strategy of the Chancellor: to promote the entry of Germany into the Western European organizations - Council of Europe, European Communities and NATO – but requiring, with each step, greater autonomy for Germany, until full recovery of its sovereignty. All this was possible despite the opposition of the socialist SPD, who accused him of being in the hands of the Allies and, by approaching the West, hinder any possibility of reunification with East Germany. Adenauer's writings over the years show his deep commitment to European integration. Of his numerous speeches and writings, it is worth pointing out the article published in NY in 1955, where he maintained that the main obstacle in the history of Europe had been the distortion of the idea of the nation state and the growth of nationalist dogma. For him, the process of European integration would also be a regeneration process that would leave aside nationalist ideas, which have little to do with the interdependence of the new times. He believed, and so titled this writing, that it was The End of Nationalism. Nowadays, the results of the European elections and territorial tensions in different Member States show that, far from a decline, we experience a rise of nationalism, which has been fueled by the economic crisis. Let us hope that - as Adenauer said in the post-war Germany –mankind is capable of learning from history. Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of West Germany after World War II, stated that the era of nation states had come to an end. Adenauer talked about a new era, a new time when men would look beyond their borders. It was - he believed - the end of nationalism. It is often considered that the success of the integration process consisted in overcoming the excesses of nationalism, the reconciliation between Europeans and the definition of a common space of freedom - with free movement of goods, people and capital - where the key principle would be precisely non-discrimination on grounds of nationality. The European Union would constitute an open and cosmopolitan space, where it would be possible to simultaneously share multiple identities - being Basque, Spanish and European - and establishing an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe. However, in recent times, we have seen a rise of nationalist parties, who understand sovereignty as a zero sum game and reject common and multinational values. Some of these parties in France and the UK oppose integration and question in particular the free movement of persons. Others, in Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders, are not contrary to the Union, and accept the interdependence with Europe - and in principle, the loyalty and solidarity that it implies - but not with the State of which they are part. The presence of nationalist parties in Europe is not a new phenomenon, but the novelty relies on their strength: they had never had so many seats in the European Parliament before. In this situation, it is interesting to recall the ideas of the fathers of Europe in order to ask ourselves to what extent the process of European integration was originally an effort to overcome the excesses of nationalism, and to face united an uncertain future in an increasingly global context. To do this, no one better than Konrad Adenauer, German Chancellor for fourteen years, whose writings have been recently published in Spain (Ed. Encuentro, San Pablo CEU University and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung). Adenauer had suffered, like so many Germans of his time, the damages caused by nationalism. Coming from a modest Rhenish family, he began his political career in the Catholic Centre Party, dealing with the supply of the city of Cologne during World War II. Then, in the years of the economic crisis of the Weimar Republic and under the shadow of the revolutionary threat that he so much feared, the young mayor devoted himself to the development of the city. After the coming to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933, he was removed from the City Hall. Although the two men never met personally, Hitler was offended by Adenauer´s refusal to meet him at the airport when he went to Cologne to a meeting of the Nazi party. So began long years of hardship, where he lived retired from politics and suffered economic difficulties, persecution, and on several occasions - after the Night of the Long Knives, and then after the failed Stauffenberg coup -, imprisonment. When the war was over, Adenauer led the CDU, the new Christian Democratic Party. After winning the elections of 1949, and becoming the first chancellor of the new Germany, he strongly promoted European integration. The reconstruction of Europe and the containment of communism required the economic and political recovery of Germany, but this could only be done if French security was guaranteed through European integration. This would indeed be the strategy of the Chancellor: to promote the entry of Germany into the Western European organizations - Council of Europe, European Communities and NATO – but requiring, with each step, greater autonomy for Germany, until full recovery of its sovereignty. All this was possible despite the opposition of the socialist SPD, who accused him of being in the hands of the Allies and, by approaching the West, hinder any possibility of reunification with East Germany. Adenauer's writings over the years show his deep commitment to European integration. Of his numerous speeches and writings, it is worth pointing out the article published in NY in 1955, where he maintained that the main obstacle in the history of Europe had been the distortion of the idea of the nation state and the growth of nationalist dogma. For him, the process of European integration would also be a regeneration process that would leave aside nationalist ideas, which have little to do with the interdependence of the new times. He believed, and so titled this writing, that it was The End of Nationalism. Nowadays, the results of the European elections and territorial tensions in different Member States show that, far from a decline, we experience a rise of nationalism, which has been fueled by the economic crisis. Let us hope that - as Adenauer said in the post-war Germany –mankind is capable of learning from history.

By Dr Belén Becerril Atienza - Deputy director at the Institute for European Studies, and Lecturer at the Law Faculty, Universidad CEU San Pablo.


 note1 An earlier Spanish version of this article was published in ABC, 25.11.2014.

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