The past and future of Europe

J. Siemiginowski (1660-1711), the Polish King Jan Solieski III (1629-1696) a 17th century European prince, travelling, fighting and studying throughout Europe. Palace Museum of Wilanowie.

The future of Europe is written into its past of many  different cultures, languages, identities and above all economic, social, fiscal, political and monetary systems, traditions and cultures.

A thousand years ago, Europe as we know it today did not exist. Thirty-fifty million people living between the Ural and the British isles, between Scandinavia and Greece had no reason to think of themselves as a single culture or people.

The Roman empire had left half of the continent with roads, trade networks and a collective memory, but the other half did not share this experience. The common Roman currency was gone and the monetary and political effort of Charlemagne did not last for long (his cultural effort did however).

Around 1000, Muslim rulers controlled a large share of the former Roman empire’s space, including Spain. Nothing like a centralized national state existed anywhere in Europe.

Only the Latin Church managed to bring some cross border uniformity in law, language, organization and network, like the Byzantine empire ruled large territories in south-eastern Europe. At the turn of the year 1300, the Papacy, the Byzantine emperor and the Holy Roman emperor claimed many territories, but hundreds of principalities, ecclesiastical territories, city-states and other sovereign political entities operated as (de facto) free and independent authorities.

The French king was just beginning with its long unifying process and the English kingdom experienced the revolt of the Barons that led to the Magna Carta in 1215 and the first concepts of a constitutional monarchy. German Switzerland saw the beginning of a confederation of cities that should become the destiny of the country.

By 1490, the map of Europe had dramatically changed. The Arab empire was replaced by the Ottoman empire, the Byzantine empire was gone and big dynastic monarchies were beginning to emerge.

The Holy Roman Empire, Poland and Lithuania, Muscovy, France, Spain, England, Portugal and Scandinavian kingdoms and empires emerged. The other side of the spectrum still showed many smaller and bigger independent political entities however.

New currencies, trade, technical developments, international movement of goods, persons and finances created the conditions for an economic boom. Students studied throughout Europe, European scholars were in close contact with each other and scientific research and groundbreaking discoveries were done by ‘nationals’ in a European setting.

From 1500 to 1918 states diminished in number, but increased in area. Afterwards, states grew in number, but decreased in area.

This development is still going on. Small and medium sized nation states in Europe and other continents are the most successful from economic, democratic, good governance, transparency, social and happiness perspective. Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland are among the top ten of the United Nations annual raking.

Small or medium sized is apparently beautiful, economically efficient and democratically wise. There seems to be a good life outside megalomaniac, adventurous, politically motivated and extremely dangerous single currency and political union experiments.

The principle of each political entity, regardless its size and number of citizens, is a solid business environment, accountability, good governance, rule of law, sovereignty and democracy.

The merits of the European Union as internal marked go without saying, but things have gone wrong since monetary, political and foreign policy ambitions by a few came into play.

A Great European is not necessarily a European federalist, nor is a European federalist qualitate qua a Great European.

A Great European can also have a Swiss, Norwegian or a British passport.

(source: Ch. Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European States. (Maiden 1992).