A Europe at peace
There are those who insist they would like the European Union and its institutions to return to what they claim to be their true founding purpose and vocation – a free trade bloc, concerned only with improving economic relations between independent states.
Yesterday’s Nobel ceremony in Oslo was their answer. On the contrary, peace was always its purpose, its raison d’être, the EU is a peace project. And the nurturing of gradual economic integration and growing interdependence, are primarily the means by which Jean Monnet and other founders saw it being assured. Until, as president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and Commission president José Manuel Barroso put it in their joint address yesterday, “war has become inconceivable”.
“Sixty years of peace. It’s the first time that this has happened in the long history of Europe,” Van Rompuy reminded journalists. And, as Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland put it,“a lasting peace, not a frosty ceasefire”.
That reality, that vision of a common political project and of shared political sovereignty, is too easily forgotten by those of us who did not live through military occupation by the Nazis, or see our families die in millions in the gas chambers, or by those of the yet-older generation for whom the inter-war years was not haunted constantly by the question of when, not if, France and Germany would again go to war. Or indeed, increasingly, by those of a younger generation for whom such trials are just “history”, part of a long-distant past.
It was that history which, perhaps inevitably, Barroso and Van Rompuy dwelt on yesterday in their address. Yet there is another sense in which the EU is today living that vocation – by the same means, what Brussels calls the “European method”, the exercise of “soft power”, the union remains a vital engine for peace, not only inside the EU, but in the region.
The carrot of accession and stick of its denial, with the rewards both of financial assistance and access to European markets, have been used successfully to cajole and encourage reconciliation and the embrace of the rule of law in the Balkans – most recently a landmark agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on border controls, inconceivable a few years ago – and the demilitarisation and democratisation of the Turkish state. Croatia joins next year.
It is a slow, imperfect and uneven process – in Cyprus progress is barely perceptible, in the Ukraine, gains go into reverse. Further afield, in Palestine, the EU is in truth little more than a silent witness, although it played an important part in unseating Gadafy. Elsewhere, in Africa and South America, the EU, despite its flaws, is seen as a model well worth emulating.
Yes, sceptics and begrudgers notwithstanding, the Nobel prize is well merited.