[Book Review] Alle origini del presente. L’Europa occidentale nella crisi degli anni Settanta

Published in the Journal of European Integration History, Volume 15, No. 2, 2009.

Antonio VARSORI (a cura di), Alle origini del presente. L’Europa occidentale nella crisi degli anni Settanta, Franco Angeli, Milano, 2007, 304 p. – ISBN 978-88-464-8197-9 – 21,00 €.

9788846481979The traditional cliché about the 1970s in Europe – that of a merely transitional decade characterised by stagnation – is slowly beginning to be nuanced by historians. Recent publications, like John Gilligham’s European integration, 1950-2003 or Richard Griffith’s chapter in Desmond Dinan’s volume on the Origins and evolution of the European Union do hint at the fact that the old cliché of overlooking the 1970s is deeply misleading. Yet few archivally-based historical works on that period already exist. The volume edited by Antonio Varsori is therefore a welcome contribution to fill this historiographical gap. This book is the publication of the proceedings of a conference held in April 2005 at the University of Padova. It is divided into two sections, with one analysing Europe in the midst of international tensions and socioeconomic transformations, while the other examines the tentative birth of a European answer to these changes. The opening piece by Antonio Varsori places the entire volume in the wider perspective of the 1970s as a new research field, and then introduces the various contributions.

Methodologically, a number of pieces are structured on the traditional template of ‘country X and event Y’. The US lens is for instance used twice, firstly by Giovanni Bernardini to investigate Brandt’s Ostpolitik and secondly by Mario Del Pero, who analyses the policy of the Nixon administration vis-à-vis Portugal before the Portugese revolution which ended the Salazar regime. Carola Cerami studies the relations between the EEC and Turkey in the 1970s.

A second important trend is the analysis of one single policy area. Davide Zampoli thus delves into the birth of European Political Cooperation (EPC) from 1969 until the mid-1970s; David Burigana and Pascal Deloge examine European armament and aeronautic cooperation from the early 1950s until the late 1970s; Lorenzo Mechi and Francesco Petrini retrace the development of an EEC industrial policy from the late 1960s until the late 1970s, and Simone Paoli studies the tentative start of an EEC education policy.

A last feature is the study of wider issues such as the EEC’s own development or Europe’s international relations. Maria E. Guasconi thus examines the Hague summit of 1969, its reasons and results, as well as its transatlantic dimension. Angela Romano underlines how much the CSCE principally was an event ‘of the Europeans for the Europeans’. Finally, Giuliano Garavini, starting from the observation that an analysis of the evolution of European societies in the twentieth century is impossible without taking into account the influence of the third world, analyses the North-South confrontation between 1968 and 1975. In order to overcome this all-too ‘eurocentric’ visions, Garavini sets outs four main areas (political, social and cultural, economic, and international economic relations) where the third world most influenced Europe during this period. The opposition to the Vietnam war, the myths surrounding the Third World liberation movements, the energy transition from coal to oil (and therefore from Europe to essentially the Middle East) were all factors influencing Europe, but which originated outside of the ‘old continent’.

Interestingly, the volume does not mix up Europe with the EEC. Hence the study of the various aspects of the development of the continent in the 1970s are quite well balanced between intra-EEC developments (the tentative birth of the EPC for instance) and the impact of the Third World on Europe as a whole (for instance in the case of Garavini’s piece). In addition to this, and as Federico Romero notices in his comments on the first part, the contributions do not simply make use of newly released archival material, they also explore new dynamics, such as, in the case of the EEC, the development of specific policy areas (education, political cooperation) or the challenge of a Mediterranean enlargement.

Yet, admittedly, the volume’s focus is mostly on the first half of the 1970s. At least half of the contributions do not delve at all into the second half of the decade. Accordingly, a number of central developments of the European 1970s miss out. Hence European monetary cooperation, EEC institutional developments (with the institutionalisation of the European Council in 1974 and the first direct elections by universal suffrage of the European Parliament in 1979), or some aspects of the EEC enlargement story are absent of this volume. This certainly is a pity (especially since they would perfectly fit within the overall structure of the book), but this is also somewhat inevitable in such edited and pioneering volumes. Varsori’s edited volume certainly remains one of the very first archive-based endeavours at nuancing the picture usually portrayed of the 1970s. As such, it deserves to be a starting point for any research on that period, not least because it is in many ways – as the title of the volume rightly suggests – at the origins of the present day.