“The creation of Europe corresponds to both ideals and needs. Ideals sometimes fade, but needs never” (J. Delors).

On that apparently stern face with piercing blue eyes, a boyish smile would appear when, years later, he would narrate the way in which at the summit in Milan (1984), B. Craxi – then chairman of the European Community (EEC) – and he – Jacques Delors – overcame the resistance of British Prime Minister M. Thatcher to start negotiations on a major EC reform. After hours and hours of negotiation and persuasion, Craxi unexpectedly called for a vote. At that time, votings  in the EC were extremely rare even on technical matters, much less at a summit. Craxi, supported in the background by the arguments of the “Delors team”, explained that this was a procedural issue, not a substantive one. The British unexpectedly did not object. Thus, that small maneuver opened the door to the adoption of the ” Single European Act” (1986) as an announcement of a major transformation that, in the early 90s of the last Century, which lead to the biggest changes in the order in Europe since the end of World War II.

Although he was never president or prime minister of his country, Jacques Delors will be remembered as one of the greatest political figures of France of his generation and a great European whose actions created today’s Europe. Delors presided over the European Commission during ten crucial years (1985-1994) when the European Community – until then primarily the economic integration of Western Europe – turned into the European Union with the ambition to encompass all of Europe. The only president of the European Commission in three terms, Delors played a key role in the creation and adoption of a number of important decisions and original policies that, among other things, led to the creation of the Single Market, the Schengen Agreement, the Maastricht Treaty on the EU (1992), the formation of the monetary union and the common currency – Euro, as well as the expansion of the Union to some Mediterranean and EFTA countries, and paving the way for the EU membership of Central and Eastern European countries.

There was no indication that history would soon be stirred on the day in January 1985 when the former French finance minister, banker, Christian trade unionist and socialist first entered the grey rooms of the Berlaymont  Palace in Brussels. His predecessor, the long-forgotten Luxembourg politician Gaston Thorne, left the organization mired in one of its cyclical periods of European pessimism that we still know today. Delors, the self-taught descendant of peasants from Correze in central France, built a career in the elitist French administration through hard work and an unusual dedication to his duties, which he soon transferred to the sleepy Brussels bureaucracy. But this great worker and brilliant organizer with soft manners and a somewhat reserved demeanor, was always much more than a successful technocrat. He was a politician with conviction and integrity, a socialist with a sense of solidarity and empathy, a pro-European activist with a vision.

Already a few months after Delor’s arrival in Brussels, one of the most successful political and marketing projects was launched under the slogan “Europe 92”, which has not been remembered since the time of Jean Monnet and the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. It was about an old idea presented in a new, Delor’s way – a plan to adopt more than 300 measures, aiming to abolish administrative borders and other obstacles in order to achieve the “four freedoms of movement” and complete the “internal” (single) market. “The European idea is based on a triptych: competition that encourages; cooperation that strengthens, solidarity that unites,” Delors would repeat his faith in the original integration that he once called an “unidentified political object.”

His plan succeeded beyond expectations. Even neutral EFTA countries have applied for membership. With the changes in Eastern Europe and the unification of Germany, France and Germany proposed the formation of a political union. History has been speeding sped up frenetically.

 

Delors and the disintegration of Yugoslavia

 

“This is our biggest failure,” Delors commented with a touch of self-criticism about the “Yugoslav drama” turned into a tragedy during his mandate in Brussels. In his “Memoirs” published in 2004 with the contribution of journalist J. L. Arnaud, Delors described a visit, which he paid together with EC Council President Santer to Belgrade in May 1991. It was one of the last attempts to prevent the complete dissolution of the Federation with offers from Brussels of financial aid and association to  the Community. Delors describes conversations with federal representatives A. Marković and Lončar, as well as meetings with the presidents of six republics, with whom they spoke, both individually and jointly. The positions of the heads of republics remained opposed. According to Delors, Milosevic, during a joint meeting with all the presidents of the republics, took his chair and symbolically sat at the table on the opposite side of the other five. “We returned from Belgrade with mixed feelings that our economic offers will not be enough to prevent serious incidents.”

Delors goes on to describe Germany’s unilateral decisions to recognize Slovenia and Croatia, the failure of the conference on Yugoslavia, as well as his speech in August 1992 when he said that only military intervention could stop the civil war and further killings. After the beginning of the conflict and the breakup of Yugoslavia, the main goal of the EU states was first and foremost to avoid a negative domino effect in Europe. “The breakup of Yugoslavia is a drama, the breakup of the European Community would be a disaster,” Delors summarized the attitudes of the majority of Member States at the time.

In December 1991, almost at the same time as the dramatic events in the east and south-east of Europe, the Maastricht Treaty establishing the European Union was concluded. A new Europe was being born. Europe was uniting as the former socialist federations disintegrated.

 

“Our Europe”

 

After leaving the position of President of the European Commission (1995) and refusing to continue the fight in the national political arena (he gave up the proposal to run for the President of France), Jacques Delors mainly engaged in supporting “from behind the scenes” (similar to Jean Monnet in the past) European projects and ideas. “It is felt today that there is a systematic desire to weaken Europe”, warned this convinced European federalist in 2004, on the eve of the long-lasting “multi-crisis” that engulfed the EU. It was the end of the period of Euro-euphoria. He followed and commented on the ups and downs of the European project in the first decades of this century: from the success of the euro to the great financial crisis; from the conclusion of the Treaty of Amsterdam and Nice to the failure of the “European Constitution” proposal and the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon; from the “big bang” and enlargement to the populist wave and the British withdrawal from the EU.

“If there is no constant victory, there is no eternal defeat either,” this wise man would comment on the new events, perhaps referring to other areas which he was privately devoted  all his life, such as basketball or bicycle racing. “People don’t fall in love with the Common Market…the European project must also have a soul,” he said, advocating for European solidarity, regional development measures, social measures and fight against growing inequalities. “Where there is no vision, the people perish ,” he would quote sometime the old wisdom.

 

Prof. Dr. Duško Lopandić

President of the Forum for International Relations