Europe’s destiny

Destination Europe: the political and economic growth of a continent
Director for Europe, Economist Intelligence Unit

Destination Europe is a slightly misleading title since its subject, the political development of Europe from 1945 to 2003, is a journey with a point of origin when Europe, which a generation earlier dominated the world, lay in ruins with no destination.

The only certainty about the future was that nothing would remain the same. We now know–and Kjell Torbiörn would probably not have been surprised–that the latest attempt to fix the EU’s development around a constitution appears to have failed.

Though the EU is the central theme of this book, NATO is also tackled in detail and other organisations, such as the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, where Mr Torbiörn is now a senior official*, and the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, also have walk-on parts. The Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), precursor of the OECD, plays a key early role as the body which managed the Marshall Plan aid over 1948-52, and thereby started Europe’s post-Second World War economic revival. However, while Mr Torbiörn is an economist, this is a political history, with economic change only mentioned to provide the necessary context.

Most importantly, Destination Europe looks at Europe’s journey against the changing landscape of world history, including the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, accompanied and followed by rapid expansion of world trade and capital, together with the development of the Internet, all of which have given rise to the concept of globalisation.

It is a good read. The structure of the chapters is excellent, each of easily manageable length and subject matter backed up with interesting notes. The first half of the book takes the reader rapidly, but not superficially, to 1989. The second half goes more slowly through the years, but somehow seems less informative. This may reflect an EU which has lost its way since the Treaty of Maastricht and the major achievement of enlargement to include most of the former communist countries.

A possible weakness in Mr Torbiörn’s book, though one of which Europe’s greatest novelist, Tolstoy, would have approved, is that personalities play a generally minor role. For example, the fact that in 1956 Konrad Adenauer, the formidable German chancellor, is only mentioned twice in passing in the main text, and the fact that Adenauer overruled his powerful economics minister, Ludwig Erhard, to agree to Germany joining the proposed European Economic Community rather than settling for the British-backed free trade area, is relegated to a footnote.

Only one character is given a major role in the story: Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian leader who brought the Cold War to an end. Mr Torbiörn quotes from the vision of a new Europe he gave in his speech to the Council of Europe in July 1989–the Berlin Wall fell just four months later. I would agree with the choice of Gorbachev, though his own country is no longer even in the loosest sense of shared values trying to become a part of Europe.

However, one personality who gets little mention in the story is Jean Monnet, and only then largely to suggest that his contribution failed. Yet, it was the Schuman Plan drafted by Jean Monnet which led to the foundation of the institutions of the EU. Monnet, who had been deputy secretary-general of the ill-fated League of Nations, set out to breach the ramparts of national sovereignties in a “limited but decisive” manner. Admittedly, Monnet never made much direct impact on the wider public, even in his own country France.

In closing the book, Mr Torbiörn quotes the Spanish philosopher of history, José Ortega y Gasset: “Man’s real treasure is the treasure of his mistakes”. The story since 1945 includes its share of mistakes, but also some things that Europe has got right. Destination Europe should help the reader learn from both.

*Mr Torbiörn is Head of the Office of the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

Destination Europe: the political and economic growth of a continent, by Kjell M. Torbiörn, Manchester University Press, 2003

ISBN 0719065739

©OECD Observer No 255, May 2006

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017