Opinion: We shouldn’t take peace in Europe for granted

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU on Friday was met with predictable derision from the likes of Nigel Farage, who described it the decision as “baffling,” and leader of the Tory MEPs  Martin Callanan, who said it was “a little late for an April Fools’ Joke.”

Admittedly, the current social unrest across Southern Europe made the award seem a little incongruous, especially coming just days after Angela Merkel’s visit to Greece was met with violent protests in Athens.

Yet in fact, this was precisely the logic behind the decision by the Norwegian committee, as explained in their statement; that in these times of instability it is especially important to remember the EU’s contribution to peace and prosperity on the continent. In this way the award serves both as a timely reminder of what the EU has achieved, and as a warning of what could happen if it were to collapse, as outlined by Vince Cable.

The trouble is, most of us now take peace in Europe for granted. The fact that the continent was in a state of perpetual conflict from the collapse of the Roman Empire up until 1945 is too easily forgotten. It is interesting to note that a joint Nobel Peace Prize was given in 1927 to a French and German for their role in promoting Franco-German reconciliation after World War I. Just twelve years later, the continent was at war yet again.

As late as the 1990s, France remained concerned about the threat posed by resurgent Germany after reunification. In fact, this was one of the main rationales behind the euro, as French President Mitterrand wanted to keep Germany firmly anchored in Europe and so demanded that Germany accept monetary union in return for his support for German unification. Nowadays, French and German interests have become so intertwined that the idea of war between the two seems outright ridiculous. Indeed, not long ago we were referring to their leaders in one breath, as ‘Merkozy.’

The spread of democracy, the rule of law and human rights across the European neighbourhood are all largely due to the pull factor of EU membership. Putting aside for a moment their current economic problems, we should not forget the important role the EU played in stabilising democracy in Greece, Portugal and Spain, which were all military dictatorships up until the mid-1970s.  We also tend to overlook the EU’s role in encouraging the transition of Eastern European and Baltic states into stable, democratic and relatively prosperous countries. A quick look at former Soviet nations such as Azerbaijan or Belarus shows that such a transition was anything but guaranteed. The EU continues to exert a positive influence in its neighbourhood today, in accession countries such as Croatia, which is due to join next year, and other countries in the Western Balkans. Worldwide, the EU places the promotion of human rights and democracy high on its agenda, while despite the current recession it remains the world’s biggest aid donor.

Of course, there remains much work to be done, not least in solving the Eurozone’s economic problems and addressing the growing social crisis in Southern Europe. The EU also needs to become a more effective actor in its foreign policy, as shown by the failure to adopt a coherent approach to the conflicts in Libya and Syria. But as we look to the 2014 Euro elections, which will of course come on the 100th anniversary of the First World War, it is important to remind people of perhaps the EU’s single greatest achievement: that it has made war with our neighbours so unthinkable that we now take peace for granted.

* Paul Haydon has recently completed an MSc in European Public Policy at University College London.

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18 Comments

  • In the 20th century, war occured when nations were denied their own self determination. National self determination was one of the principles the UN was founded on.

  • “The spread of democracy, the rule of law and human rights across the European neighbourhood are all largely due to the pull factor of EU membership.”

    The above statement is nonsense. The idea that France and Germany would be locked in the middle of another world war if not for a vast pan-European bureaucracy isn’t even worth me debunking. You don’t see either country waging war on countries outside the EU and this is because they’re nations that no longer believe in war, nations that support capitalism and democracy. They’re also well-educated nations that remember what happened 70 years ago.

    In addition to this, both are heavily involved with the US and NATO. Their strategic and economic circumstances align, and they spent 50 of the last 70 years jointly terrified of the Soviet Union. These simple points contribute a lot more, I feel, to an explanation of the state of modern Europe than the European Union.

    You are right though that “we shouldn’t take peace in Europe for granted”. We need to strive to protect that which has given us peace in Europe. These are, we can surely all agree, democracy and prosperity. Currently the EU doesn’t seem to be particularly keen on these concepts though, what with the removal of democratically removed leaders in Greece and Italy.

    If any path leads to war it will be rushed integration with the citizens of Europe aren’t comfortable with.

  • @jedibeeftrix – Linking to some random anti-EU person on the Internet to back up your own anti-EU opinions does not constitute “proof” of those opinions.

    It is the politicians who make the decisions about peace or war and the politicians of the EU member states have largely credited the EU with “changing the game” for them so as to make war virtually impossible between them. You are perfectly entitled to hold the view that they were/are delusional to hold such opinions but as they – not you – are the ones who made and are making the decisions , it is their opinions – not those of you or the person you linked to – whose opinions count when the decisions have to be made.

    As such, the EU – be it a dream or a delusion – that sets the framework within which the decisions that effect the lives of all citizens of the EU.

    You can – and no doubt will – begrudge that but it won’t alter it.

  • @Thomas Long
    “…You don’t see either country waging war on countries outside the EU”

    Er, apart from Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Congo, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afganistan do you mean?

  • Richard Dean 16th Oct '12 - 5:59pm

    It seems to me a mistake to equate fraternity to an absence of dispute. Brother dispute all the time. They just don’t kill each other like they used to. One of the major reasons they used to seems to have been the rivalry between Germany and France, symptomized in the history of Alsace. One of the things that is keeping them and others toigether now, fighting but not killing, might actually be the Euro.

  • Richard Dean 16th Oct '12 - 6:17pm

    Why would we want to come squarely back to a random blog? A blog is a blog. It has no particular authority, and many don’t have much veracity either!

  • Richard Dean 16th Oct '12 - 8:36pm

    I’m afraid that fellow doesn’t faze me at all, jedibeeftrix. I prefer to think for myself. Over 60 years, I have therefore made many mistakes, and learned from them! 🙂

  • What’s the precise argument here, beeftricks?

    That an authority in security and strategy writing on a blog concerned with security and strategy sees Europe purely through the prism of security and strategy?

    Robert Schuman called for the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community after the imposed peace settlement and the creation of NATO in order to stop squabbling over resources and remove this as a potential source of conflict in the future – if it was thought that the imposed peace settlement and NATO were enough, why would he have done this?

  • Martin Lowe 17th Oct '12 - 8:28pm

    Dane

    Can you answer my above question, or can you only rail against straw men of your own making?

  • Martin Lowe 18th Oct '12 - 3:11pm

    jedibeeftricks

    The comment was about ‘straw men’ was for Dane, who was throwing words like ‘Orwellian’ around that have absolutely no foundation in fact.

    The question that was for you was regarding Robert Schuman’s founding of the European Coal and Steel Council despite the imposition of a peace settlement on Europe and the creation of NATO. Why would Schuman want to create the ECSC as a force for cooperation and peace between its members if NATO was a one-size-fits-all sticking plaster for peace?

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