As the European Union marks 50 years in existence, EuroNews has been talking to some of those who have seen it grow. Polish social historian and politician Bronislaw Geremek is a former adviser to Lech Walesa and has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004. We asked him for his thoughts on the EU’s past and future. Christophe Midol-Monnet, European Affairs Editor, EuroNews:
EuroNews: Professor Geremek welcome, first question: what were you doing on the 25th of March, 1957?
Bronislaw Geremek, Polish Liberal MEP: You know, I often think of that moment, trying to recall what my feelings were. Poland was full of hope in 1957 and I wasn’t aware of the Treaty of Rome. Because for me 1956, was the most important historical period for that entire region: June 1956, the workers protests against the communist government at Poznan. Then in November, there was the uprising in Budapest, and the change of the power in Poland; Gomulka becoming First Secretary of the Party and introducing reforms. The signing of the Treaty of Rome a year later in 1957 was a very distant event for us. The historical importance of 1957, I only see now, as a citizen of the European Union.
EuroNews: You think that all Europeans think the same as you. In other words, do you think that these celebrations will be seen in the same way everywhere in the European Union?
Geremek: I’d be happy if they were. That’s to say, if there were the same perception of the historical importance of the Treaty of Rome among Europeans of the East and the West. But, you see it’s much easier to join together economies and administrations than it is to join together memories. This anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, it is a moment when all these memories should come together. Robert Schuman had no doubts on European integration including the Central and Eastern European countries. And he said that. He said, they are not able to join us now, but there will be a place for them. That came to be much later.
EuroNews: However, by celebrating 50 years of economic integration, aren’t we ignoring the difficulties that have emerged in creating a politically integrated Europe?
Geremek: When you read the Founding Father’s declarations, when you read what Paul-Henri Spaak said at the time that the Treaty of Rome and the Messina Declaration were being prepared, you can see that there was always political vision there. The European Community project is not an economic project. It was a political project of the best kind.
EuroNews: Do you think then that energy and research can be the new pillars of the European Union in the 21st century, as coal, steel and agriculture were in the Fifties and Sixties?
Geremek: Today, I am surer than ever. The last European Council in early March on Energy Policy for the first time spoke in concrete terms. Three times 20: by 2020, a 20% reduction in energy consumption, renewable energy increased to 20% of the total, it is a great project and it is a project which is very attractive to the younger generation and I assure you, I’ve seen it, young people are passionate about this.
EuroNews: It is a project that will be more difficult to carry out in the East than in the West.
Geremek: You make a good point, I’m happy that you asked me that question, I was thinking exactly the same. Yes, Poland is in the process of developing and all the former Communist countries, as it were, lost part of their existence for nothing. We wasted a certain amount of time. So now, renewable energy, that is the technology for it, is expensive. We can’t afford it. But on the other hand, you can’t have these egoistic policies with each country working individually. That’s my conclusion.
EuroNews: Would you say that Poland is today a place with full respect for human rights?
Geremek: No, we can’t say that. We still see now, that there is a government which has an authoritative tendency, nationalist, conservative, which gives in to the members of the coalition that represent the more extremist tendencies. For that reason, Europe not only needs to be kind of a good uncle, who helps out when there are difficulties, but also should be a reference point for values and certain political standards, with regard to human rights.
EuroNews: There is another debate underway about European collective memory, should the crimes of the Communist era be thought of in the same way as the Nazis’ crimes. Which is your position in this debate?
Geremek: I believe both should be condemned for the sake of Europe’s future. Because otherwise, Europe won’t have a proper set of references. Totalitarian regimes must be clearly condemned. Genocide carried out by those totalitarian regimes must be condemned, the same as all genocides. Through my personal history, I can understand the difference between these two totalitarian regimes. I remember as a child, in 1945, seeing the Polish and Soviet armies arriving together to drive out the German army. I was happy, because I had the feeling of being liberated. I welcomed this army of liberation. That doesn’t change my opinion and my condemnation of totalitarian regimes, the one brown or black, and the other, the red Soviet empire.