The past decades in the history of Europe have been a turbulent period punctuated by economic and social crises, in most cases temporary and manageable. What is more worrying is that European integration is faced with a deeper crisis: a crisis of values. This deepening crisis or divide within the European Union seems to emphasize the differences and conflicting interests between the member states and erode the basic principle of European integration laid down in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU: The peoples of Europe, in creating an ever closer union among them, are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values.
What lies at the root of this conflict of values within the European integration is obviously the growing tension between the Central and Eastern European members and the Western countries. It seems as if the two blocs were speaking a different language and the messages between them get lost in translation. It would be unwise to deny the existence of a serious conflict of values and the ensuing antagonism within the EU, as this has become a well-established fact by now. We have to emphasize here that the real source of the conflict originates in lack of common or shared historical experience rather than lack of confidence in a common European future. The Eastern European nations reborn and liberated from Communist dictatorship have painfully preserved their historical memory throughout generations since the regime change. Loss of identity and the suppression of national identity by foreign oppression have been deeply ingrained in these societies. Consequently, the concepts of nation, identity, freedom and the rule of law carry a different meaning to them than to their Western neighbours, which did not have to suffer the same tragic fate and cataclysm. For Western countries never deprived of their national identity, the ideas of nation and identity are often subordinated to other more grandiose ambitions, while for the former members of the Eastern bloc the same notions have become extremely valuable and decisive elements of their social narratives, as these values have been regained only recently.
The formation and development of European integration has been a long process consisting of innumerable components, with social, cultural and constitutional values of the individual member states playing a significant role in this process. These values must be protected and are being protected by constitutional law and constitutional jurisprudence. Undisputedly, the main driving force behind European integration is political consensus, but we must not forget that it is the discipline of constitutional law that is destined and able to maintain and support the stability of the process of integration. This role or mission has been in the crossfire in heated constitutional law debates for some time (often between constitutional justices and courts), which cannot be easily separated from the parallel political debates of the past few decades. What makes this task challenging is that Central and Eastern European member states and Western countries do not see eye to eye with one another on this crucial issue.
When we examine the problem of European integration within the context of debates about identity or European constitutional dialogues, we cannot ignore the fact that each member state and nation relates to and interprets European collective identity on the basis of its own historical past, and will shape its own identity accordingly by reaching back to its specific historical tradition.
Naturally, this perception is bound to determine its attitude to the idea of integration and to other member states, which will also be reflected in its political thinking and concept of constitutional law. To put it simply, that is why Eastern and Western Europeans think differently about the notions of nation, identity and the rule of law, and often even about the content of human rights.
Those European thinkers and constitutional law scholars who wish to contribute to this dialogue will have to keep in mind that they all share the responsibility to uphold the basic principle of European integration, and that the unity of European nations rests on the idea of the Europe of nations. The founding fathers realized early on at the birth of European integration that European nations cannot be united in a melting pot. The key to creating a unified Europe is unity in diversity: the Europe of nations. A kind of Europe where the system of values of Western states and the national consciousness and national identity embraced by Central and Eastern Europeans do not extinguish or prevail over each other, but rather move forward hand in hand while sharing thoughts, supporting and learning from each other. In order to keep the idea of European integration alive and to make it workable and successful for generations to come, it is absolutely vital for the diverse group of member states to conduct a meaningful dialogue and show solidarity to achieve the ultimate goal: integration. In this respect solidarity means that by engaging in a dialogue the members states must show genuine willingness to get to know each other and accept the specific national constitutional traditions of the other members arising from different national and constitutional identities. Solidarity and dialogue will pave the way for a common European identity.
Constitutional law scholars also have a huge responsibility on their shoulders when they examine the constitutional systems of the individual members of the European integration through dialogue. They have to find a common language that will lead to the formation of a united community which is capable of realizing the basic aim of European integration: to build up and share a peaceful future based on common values by creating an ever closer union. We believe that this common goal can only be achieved if the member states show mutual respect for the specific values, traditions and historical specificities of individual members.
We must not delude ourselves. We are all aware that we have a long and tough journey to go before we get there. In order to contribute to the realization of this common ambition, we have decided to create a platform, which will give an opportunity to constitutional law scholars and all those committed to the concept of the ’Europe of nations’ to participate in a cross-border dialogue in the spirit of solidarity. Our purpose is to encourage a constructive dialogue and debate which, with the assistance of constitutional law, will help to reconcile and bridge the gap between the values of Western states and the national consciousness and identity of Central and Eastern European countries, and ultimately will show the direction towards a common European future.