The European Union deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Something I wrote back last autumn is rather applicable to my views of the Nobel Peace Prize going to the European Union:

Sat on a shelf a few metres away from me is a box containing the various military medals won by my relatives over previous generations. The medals criss-cross Europe, coming from different countries, over the three wars that had a German-French conflict at their centre. To British eyes that count of three wars may seem odd at first, but for the German and French politicians building new European structures in the aftermath of the Second World War, their heritage was one of three wars – the Franco-German war of 1870 and then the two World Wars.

For them something drastic was needed to stop the dreadful arrival of conflict three generations in a row, each time on a bigger, longer and bloodier scale. Moreover, the wars were not started despite popular opinion, for they were all popular to start with.

That background helps explain two of the defining features of the European project – the determination of French and German politicians to stick together with each other and a sense that whilst democracy is good and welcome, and a vital antidote to the grotesque internal horrors of the early twentieth century dictatorships, the European project is about binding countries together rather than about giving people more democratic control over international affairs.

Replacing three-quarters of a century of regular wars with three-quarters of a century of peace is one of those achievements that is so major it is easy to under-estimate.

Yes it’s an imperfect achievement (think of the Balkans) and yes it’s an imperfect institution. But we’ve become so used to peace that it seems natural and the normal way of things for western, northern and central Europe – rather than the major departure from the past that it actually is.

These days British politicians go to continental cities to give angry speeches or to threaten vetoes; no gunboats or cavalry required.

Questions of whether rebellious backbenchers can be won over are far better than questions of whether the reserves can be mobilised quickly enough.

That’s some achievement.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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39 Comments

  • Richard Dean 14th Oct '12 - 11:09am

    Yes it does. It has been a fantastic achievement. And the reasons why need to be explained too, because many people today are too young to have experienced war or its aftermath on that scale. Today we rightly mourn the loss of any one or more war casualities in any one day. But in WW2, thousands were killing or being killed every day.

    But my first reaction was – it should have been Malala Yousafzai. What courage that 11-year old girl has, and all the girls who demonstrated in her support. And how wonderful it would have been to give her or them the prize.
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-we-must-act-to-make-sure-all-girls-have-access-to-education-30666.html

    But perhaps I am too emotional. Clausewicz is said to have said that peace is a continuation of war by other means. Maybe the EU is the other means. It’s great for those of us who do remember.

  • @Richard Dean

    I think you may have your quote slightly wrong, wasn’t it “War is the continuation of politics by other means”

  • Richard Dean 14th Oct '12 - 11:48am

    Chris_sh. Thanks for the correction. Memory playing tricks as old approaches ancient!

  • Liberal Neil 14th Oct '12 - 11:48am

    I’m on the more euro-sceptical wing of the Lib Dems, but it seems pretty obvious to me that the development of the ECSC then EEC then EU as a free trading block in western Europe significantly reduced the likelihood of armed conflict between those nations and it seems to have worked.

    The French Minister that originally proposed the ECSC said his aim was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.” We all have a lot to thank him for.

  • Liberal Neil: the ‘French Minister’ you refer to is Robert Schuman, who was Luxembourgish, German (pre 1914 Alsatian) and French as well as a resistance activist. Schuman and Jean Monnet are the leading founding fathers of the EU. The award is as much a posthumous recognition of these visionary politicians.

    I suspect that for those who say the timing is awful, there would never be a good time for this award. (Unless, I suppose they mean it is a couple of decades late)

    Curiously Robert Schuman is on course to be beatified by the RC church! http://breviero.org/eu2009/?lg=en

  • Simon Titley 14th Oct '12 - 3:05pm

    Mark Pack is absolutely right. The long peace we have enjoyed is a remarkable (and unsung) achievement.

    What is tragic is the failure of Britain to get involved from the outset. At the end of the Second World War, Britain could have had the leadership of Europe for a song. Instead, the 1945-51 Labour government chose to focus on the Empire.

    The then Deputy Prime Minister, Herbert Morrison (one of Peter Mandelson’s grandfathers, co-incidentally), was dining in London at the Ivy when civil servants tracked him down to bring news of Robert Schuman’s proposal to form the European Coal and Steel Community (precursor of the EU). Morrison replied, “The Durham miners won’t wear it” – and that was that.

    The European Union has survived, if battered and bruised. Which is more than can be said for the Durham miners.

  • Keith Browning 14th Oct '12 - 3:46pm

    I think the timing is excellent. People have been stopped in their tracks by this ‘crazy’ decision and made to think a little. Rationing in Britain didn’t end until 1954 and until the end of the 1960s the country was still covered with disused military facilities, that were being kept in the stockpile just in case we needed them again.

    Ten years later we had food mountains and the old airfields and barracks were being reused for peaceful purposes.

    What did the European Union ever do for us?

  • Absolutely – I was grinning from ear to ear when I saw the announcement. Thoroughly deserved although Mark makes a good point that most of Europe has become so used to peace that we’re in danger of taking it for granted. So the award should serve as a timely reminder as well as a welcome morale boost given the tough economic circumstances.

    As to the timing, I’m not belittling the difficulties in Greece et al, but in a way it kind of illustrates the point – even in times of hardship when one country is full of ill feeling towards another, they are expressing the hostility by dressing up in costumes in the streets rather than rolling out the tanks. However bad the Eurozone crisis gets, the idea of war breaking out is vanishingly unlikely. There will always be periods of turbulence and hardship – it’s how we respond to the hardship that matters.

  • @ Richard Dean

    Agreed, I think Malala is amazing (think she’s 14 not 11 though). I’m not sure how the Nobel decision works but don’t they have some kind of prior deliberation / shortlisting process? Perhaps she’ll be under consideration next year.

    I would also be inclined to consider an honourable mention for Norway for its dignified handling of Anders Breivik. compare and contrast with UK/US responses to terrorist attacks…

  • Keith Browning 14th Oct '12 - 4:25pm

    I think it was in an episode of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, when Sir Humphrey and the Foreign Office officials were discussing ‘the enemy’. PM Hacker thought the discussion on military strategy was about the Soviet Union but Sir Humphrey was actually talking about ‘the French’. Judging by the rantings of the Tory right – they still see it that way..!! Agincourt, Sir Harry and St George…!

  • The award was given to the EU because it has delivered 60 years of peace in Europe. That’s completely wrong for a start. The EU has only been in existence for about 20 years. It’s obsession with creating a Federal Superstate on the back of its single-currency-folly is currently destabilising southern Europe, leading to civil unrest and in due course may lead to civil war.

    The award was also given to the EU for its role in spreading democracy in Europe. That is the biggest joke of all. The EU is anti-democracy as the statement in the atrium of its shiny new taxpayer-funded building makes very clear. It seeks to destroy the democratic nations of Europe in favour of an autocratic Supra-national government that is unelected and unaccountable to the people is presumes to represent. The EU is anti-democracy – as is clearly demonstrated by its continual reaction to Referenda which go against its wishes.

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 5:23pm

    “Replacing three-quarters of a century of regular wars with three-quarters of a century of peace is one of those achievements that is so major it is easy to under-estimate.”

    Since when has 42 years become three-quarters of a century? Were there not wars in Bosnia and Yugoslavia?

    Tsk, tsk, Mark – you’ll have to do better than that!

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 6:07pm

    Accept the points you make, mea culpa for not reading it through. However:

    Even if I accept “western, northern and central Europe” since when has 55 years constituted three-quarters of a century? The “peace” was undoubtedly kept by NATO forces in the years immediately following cessation of conflict in 1945 and way past 1958 it was still NATO that kept the peace. Since when has 42 years (if we take the ToR as a starting point) constituted three-quarters of a century?

    And the two world wars were “civil wars”? You cannot surely agree with van Rompuy?

    The comment by Boudicca is also pertinent regarding being awarded the prize for spreading democracy – the EU doesn’t even understand the basics of democracy, or maybe you disagree with that assertion too?

  • To WitteringsfromCameronLand: surely there was fighting in Bosnia much more recently than 42 years ago. The situation in parts of ex Yugoslavia has continued to be unstable, yet the major stabilising factor has been the involvement of the EU and the desire for these countries to become part of the union.

    Democratic preconditions have to be met. If the UK left the EU and then later wished to rejoin I doubt that it would meet these democratic standards. There is a democratic and representatively elected parliament with safeguards to prevent a small nation becoming utterly swamped, nor a large nation dominating overwhelmingly, democratically elected ministers and prime ministers meet together t o discuss policies, there is a strong legal framework and supporting institutions that help prepare bills and monitor how they are implemented. The presidency is rotated regularly between the member countries. All of this is much more democratic than Westminster.

    Personally, I would like to see an elected President or Chairman of the Council of Ministers; but that is not something the UK would ever agree to.

  • Richard Dean 14th Oct '12 - 7:13pm

    I wonder why a few people hate the EU so much? It’s almost as if the EU has insulted or injured them personally in some deep way. I really don’t understand it at all.

    There’s nothing undemocratic about the duly elected representatives of nations agreeing a treaty. Nothing undemocratic about setting up a jointly managed civil service to carry out the work envisaged in the treaty. Nothing undemocratic about getting a lot of other people elected to check that the civil servants produce something acceptable to the populations.

    Maybe the problem is that the checkers – who we call MEPs – really want more power for themselves. Who knows, perhaps that will work better, but it’s no reason to want to disband the whole thing.

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 7:43pm

    Martin & Richard Dean,

    For there to be a democracy there has to be a demos and kratos and the people must have the kratos. This is manifestly not the case with the EU.

    This country elects but one tenth of the EU parliament and none of the Commission. While I consider representative democracy as no longer fit for purpose at least every 5 years we get the chance to throw out one lot for another, especially if the another promise to undo that done by the previous administration. We don’t even get that sop to democracy with the EU. Since when, under the EU, do you get the chance to vote for any policy? Here in any EU election manifesto where is any particular policy suggested to you on which you may express an opinion?

    I repeat representative democracy amounts to nothing more than democratised dictatorship, but then you would not perceive that as you obviously have no understanding of the word ‘democracy’.

  • Witterings, I would certainly make more sense of a statement to the effect: ‘the UK doesn’t even understand the basics of democracy’ than one that ascribes the same to the EU.

    The Schuman declaration in 1950 starts “La paix mondiale ne saurait être sauvegardée sans des efforts créateurs à la mesure des dangers qui la menacent.” Clearly peace was at the top of the agenda from the very inception of the union. This should never be forgotten. The treaty was finalised and signed in 1952: this means at least 60 years of peace – a good moment to recognise, which the Nobel committee have rightly done.

    Without the EU, there would be no mechanism to control monopolistic supranational commercial concerns; it also as an important counterweight to other large scale international interests; it has also made sure that Europe is self sufficient in food production. In my view this last factor is ultimately critical for the maintenance of peace as it is the desire to control important resources that is often a root cause of war.

  • Paul in Twickenham 14th Oct '12 - 7:51pm

    While there is much about the EU’s political structure that I (like the ELDR group) regard as long overdue for reform, 60 years of peace in our crowded little corner of the planet is a significant achievement which has much to do with the positive influence of the EEC/EU, so as Mark rightly says, well done to them.

    Tom Lehrer famously said that after the Nobel peace prize was awarded to Henry Kissinger he could never write another song as nothing could top that for satire. It might be argued that with this award the Nobel prize committee has finally evened up the score as this award has clearly hacked off the right.

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 7:56pm

    @Martin,

    For heavens sake what is it that you do not know of your history? It was NATO that maintained the peace long after the Treaty of Rome was signed. Clue when did the last NATO/US/British service personnel leave Europe?

    And I think you will find that the EU is not self-sufficient in respect of food production.

    I notice the questions I raised remain unanswered – I wonder why?

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 8:07pm

    Paul in Twickenham (PiT – such an appropriate acronym, but I digress)

    So peace in exchange for a dose of authoritarianism? Was not World War II not fought to prevent just that?

    I just hope I live long enough to witness your howls of protest about the life that you have created for yourselves – and one which you have years and years to wait before your release. Me? I’ll be out pdq, thank heavens.

  • It strikes me that one of the main reasons the EU has been instrumental in preventing wars, although MUCH less important than NATO, is that it has allowed countries to achieve what they used to achieve through war, only by other means.

    In the case of the UK, Europe has allowed:
    1) Other countries to take over our industries;
    2) The depredation of one of our key national resources, our fisheries, and the dismantling of large portions of another, agriculture;
    3) The export of their surplus labour into our market with massive transfers of population;
    4) The imposition of significant transfers of wealth on a long term basis via the EU budget;

    Under these circumstances, why would anyone want to declare war when they can achieve all its aims without firing a shot?

    While the EU has had positive influence in stopping wars happening, the fact that Germany was comprehensively conquered and pacified by the Allies plus the emergence of a much bigger outside threat – that of nuclear armageddon in a war with the Soviet Union – have both been far, far more important in preserving peace.

  • Richard Dean 14th Oct '12 - 8:30pm

    I feel a lecture coming on ….

    There are many forms of democracy. There are at least 29 forms in the EU, one individual and distinct form in each country – different from country to country – and one form for the EU itself, and one form for the EuroZone.

    The people manifestly have the kratos in the EU. ….

    The kratos (power) resides with the demos (voters) in each country. The demos use this kratios to elect representatives who appoint ministers. The representatives approve (ratify) the treaties the ministers make, and the ministers manage the creation and operations of the civil service. The demos use more kratos to elect the MEPs who check the results that the civil service provides. That’s one form of democracy.

    There could, of course, be a different arrangement in which the demos elect their EU ministers directly. Or there can be different systems of assessing voter preferences – FPTP, PR, etc. Or every elector could have one vote for every seat on the council. Or the demos could give all the kratos to MEPs. Many forms of democracy are possible.

    Most of the social structures that most of the demos have direct experience of – family, school, work, clubs, shops – are authoritarian. Perhaps for this reason, the press seem to find it easiest to explain democracy in authoritarian terminology. It’s what many of their customners understand best. I guess this creates a lot of confusion,

    Sorry … retired lecturer!

  • Witterings, I do know that NATO did not prevent Turkey invading Cyprus and democracy is minimal if not non-existent. Economic dependency is a far greater basis for peace.

    Not sure what questions you think are unanswered, I doubt you would accept answers anyway as I think Richard has pretty much covered all points. I have the impression that you think that international cooperation and collaboration the opposite of democratic.

    If your baseline is the Confoederatio Helvetica, then I can see some sort of point, though the principle extended throughout Europe would look similar to the EU. However if your baseline is the United Kingdom then I think you are scraping the bottom of the barrel: the UK is not a good example.

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 8:54pm

    @RC – Thanks, it was getting a tad lonely on this outpost of insanity

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 8:58pm

    @Martin,

    Turkey invading Cyprus: Until you have read a book called The Genocide Files by Harry Scott Gibbons who was the Express journalist caught up in the action and could not leave – then I would suggest you do not make glib statements (because that is what they are) about a subject you obviously know nothing about – with respect.

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 9:17pm

    @Richard Dean,

    So you are a retired lecturer – presumably not on democracy then!

    How can the demos retain the kratos if they have passed the kratos to someone else and then have no further say in how that kratos is exercised?

    How can the demos exercise their kratos when their representatives make decisions with which they, the people, are against and the representatives then brook no further intervention from the people? That is democracy?

    What you are advocating is a form of dictatorship, albeit for a five year period – and a dictatorship is not a democracy.

    You reckon that it is satisfactory to have an unelected European Commission who, remember, are the only ones able to propose law and they turn round at some stage and decide to limit the number of children you can have, or the type of car you can drive, or the number of rooms you can have for your family house (bear with me, let us assume – it could happen, all things are possible). Were any of those to happen, how do you think you could stop the Commission going ahead? Please don’t say it could not happen – where a situation exists where the people have no control over those that govern them there is but servitude for the people – and the ‘government’ can then do what the hell it likes.

  • Richard Dean 14th Oct '12 - 9:27pm

    The demos retains significant kratosbetween elections, for at least two reasons. One is that the winners of an election want to win the next one too, so they can’t go too far in displeasing the demos. The second is that the demos can defy the government in some way, such as by buying the wrong kind of car, camping in front of St.Paul’s, or burning town halls. Yes, all sorts of things are possible, including the demos retaining the kratos!

  • WitteringsfromWitney 14th Oct '12 - 9:36pm

    @Richrard Dean,

    By admitting that politicians cannot go too far for fear of upsetting the people is to concede that the people have little if any power. The people may be able to defy the politician but he/she cannot change anything between elections and you maintain the people still have power? For heavens sake man!

    If that is the level of your debating skills then I am unable to carry on. I have debated with brickwalls that have shown more commonsense and logic than you!

  • Richard Dean 14th Oct '12 - 11:11pm

    You have debated with brickwalls?
    My Gawd!
    I am so sorry for your plight.
    But you are saved now …
    People are human here on LDV!

  • The Nobel peace prize is like the Euro vision Song Contest. It gets awarded as a pat on the back for doing what a panel of judges want to promote at a particular time. At the moment they’re frightened the Euro will collapse so they fling a prize in it’s general direction.
    Nuclear bombs caused the outbreak of peace, They made war in Europe unthinkable. Japan hasn’t invaded anywhere since WWII either. It ‘s not part of the EU.

  • Richard Dean, well said..
    Pure democracy is where everyone has a vote on everything. So I am happy with a system whereby I can take part in an election to send someone on my behalf to make decisions for my community as s/he thinks fit. I simply haven’t got the time to do all the reading required to be sufficiently informed to make a decision on everything, so I make do with studying the principles of the Parties in each election, and the candidates themselves.
    I am happy on that basis to elect an MEP, and for my government to send Ministers to meet in Brussels to agree ways forward, which are then implemented by beaurocrats(who should be faceless). But there are a couple of bits that I am not happy with, 1) a voting system that does not deliver fair results so doesn’t really represent my country truly, and, 2) an upper house which has no democratic mandate whatever.
    What really winds me up are right wing people with short memories, who blame the EU for the eventual outcomes of Tory decisions of the past. Tories took us into EU, but they also sold off everything into the global market-place, privatised everything in sight, and now complain that overseas interests saw the value in owning our shares that they didn’t see for themselves.

  • There I was thinking peace is the prize, but it’s obviously not… the prize is recognition!

    Oh, how the values of civilisation have become distorted!

    If the EU deserves to be recognised by the Nobel Foundation for its contributions to peace then the Nobel Foundation doesn’t deserve the recognition it recieves for presenting its’ Peace award.

    It should be renamed the ‘stating the obvious award’, and it should be awarded in conjunction with Grazia magazine. That would be the final act of submission by supposed intellectual elites to celebrity pop culture, and of morals to money. Next year, perhaps?

    Or, perhaps the Nobel Foundation will describe in its enightened citation which particular wars the EU has prevented as justification for the awarding of its’ prize this particular year.

  • Richard Dean 15th Oct '12 - 1:11pm

    The effective prevention of anything, including war, starts well before the symptoms of impending thingness appear!

  • Mark Argent 15th Oct '12 - 9:54pm

    Part of the genius of the ECSC and all that has followed from it is that people recognised that, while treaties can be broken, economic interdependence is much *much* harder to unpick — and makes war much harder.

    Picking up some of the criticial comments on this thread. Yes, inevitably there are things to criticise. This too might be part of its strength. It’s got a shortcomings, and a built-in mechanism for change, so there is an invitation to a peacful exploration of what needs to alter.

    Change is slow — perhaps frustratingly slow — and seems to proceed at about the same speed as European society changes. That might be a very good thing.

  • For those who think the European Union stopped wars in Europe you are sadly mistaken NATO did!
    Kill the euro kill the European Parliament!

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