Why is there such a widespread perception that the EU was established as a peace project which has continuously kept Europe from war since 1945?
The EU has certainly been a influential factor for keeping the peace in Western Europe: those who trade together are disinclined to fight. And it is fair to consider the fact that Europe’s long-term history has been filled with war such that the last six decades of peace is noteworthy.
But was the EU really established as a peace project? Would Europe still be at war, as some claim, were it not for this Union? And, perhaps more importantly, will the EU ensure peace among Europeans in the future?
Back in the 40’s, after the end of the war, Europe lay in ruins. Then, it was the Americans who restored economic recovery and thus growth, bringing with it larger markets for US exports. Thus the USA encouraged the establishment of the then Common Market. The economic incentives were probably more important than the ethical. But that is not news about US policy.
But It was not just the EEC that came into being in the wake of the Second World War. In 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by most of the Western Europe states, bringing NATO into being, ensuring that an armed attack against any one of them would be considered an attack against them all.
In 1946 the United Nations were established, solely to assure peace between nations. With France as a permanent member of the Security Council, it is not very likely that the French would be allowed to attack any neighbours.
And after 1945 Europe was the seat of the Cold War, with US and USSR grasping firmly on both parts of Europe. Strictly controlling their NATO and Warsaw Pact allies in Europe, they would be unlikely to permit a national conflict or any kind of attack between these countries. It was NATO that kept the peace until the Cold War ended in the early nineties, and Germany, a major actor in two world wars, was finally re-united as one state. It is of note that the victorious allies, the USA and Britain still maintain military bases in Germany even today.
So, would there have been war between West European nations after 1945, if it was not for the EU? One cannot be sure: “What if…..?” versus actual history always makes it difficult to say anything for sure.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee should, when claiming that EU saved the peace between the old fighting nations – Germany and France – have taken these factors into account.
But you can always find what you’re looking for, and, for neoliberals, the EU lends itself perfectly to the theory about the relationship between trade, integration, dependence and peace. Mutual dependency promotes peace, it claims. But I, for one, am not so sure. It’s easier to make a friendship last than it is a marriage. How so? Because of the fact that a friendship is less binding than a marriage. In a friendship one can stick to one’s private interest, without interfering one way or another. And it is no problem to make lasting agreements between friends. But that does not mean that you would share your bank account with your friends, does it? On a larger scale, it is not difficult to imagine that such an act would only increase the risk of a conflict.
And rising conflict is what we see in Europe today. Studying in Germany last year, I was often confronted with observations such as: “Wir zahlen nicht für eure Krise!” (We won’t pay for your crisis), clearly addressed towards the Southern European members. Historically we know that an economic crisis is not good for keeping the peace, but rather the other way around. Given where we are, this leaves the European Union with major challenges in the future.
Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, expressed gratitude on the behalf of the Europeans citizens last Friday. What else could he do? But for the average German, concerned about the changing economic policy, for the average Spaniard or Greek protesting in the street against poverty and hunger, the Prize may well be perceived more as a provocation than a symbol of peace.
And to ensure a stable and peaceful Europe, you are dependent on taking the people with you.
Given the present difficulties faced by the EU, did the Norwegian Nobel Committee hurl three life belts into the Skagerrak for Messrs. van Rompuy, Barroso and Schultz to grab with gratitude? Only time will tell.
Elin Bergerud is an activist with the Norwegian Centre Party which is firmly opposed to Norway becoming a member of the EU. She currently works for an international organisation in Brussels.