Peace In EU Time
Last week on “Question Time”, Michael Heseltine mentioned that the European Union had maintained the peace across Western Europe since 1945, and Melanie Phillips responded that it was, of course, NATO that has kept the peace since the Second World War. It is becoming a habit; it is only a few weeks since Robert Kilroy-Silk said much the same thing on the very same programme. I wonder if they have they been conferring?
But you do not need to like the direction the EU is going in to understand what Heseltine was saying; it is a matter of History. One of the initial objectives of the European Coal and Steel Community which was formed at the Treaty of Paris in 1951 was to create a form of economic integration where war between the member states, primarily France and Germany, would be a thing of the past. It was the brainchild of Jean Monnet, a French civil servant, and speaking to BBC Online, his former personal assistant Richard Mayne, stated “Coal and steel were essentially weapons of war, and (Monnet) thought that if they were pooled then war would become unthinkable or impossible.” Over time, the ECSC evolved and grew into the EU.
Today the idea of a war between France and Germany seems ridiculous, but it is perhaps a tribute to the EU in its various guises that such a thing is indeed unthinkable. Of course it was not always like this; 1951 was just 6 years after VE Day, and there had been three wars between France and Germany in the previous eighty years. To put this in context, it is now 9 years since the Dayton Accords ended the war between Serbia and Croatia, and it would take a brave man to think that these countries have solved all their problems. The closer economic ties between France and Germany, two nations who had decades of shared enmity, have resulted in a situation where they are now criticised for being thick as thieves and dominating the EU. It is something we take for granted, but it is really remarkable to think such a change in attitude can have taken place in just a few generations.
To ignore all this is really to be blinded by Euro-scepticism. You don’t have to want the Euro to understand the role the EU has played in maintaining peace. You can still yearn for the days of the curved cucumber and yet still accept that not everything about the European project has been bad.
Of course NATO has played a major part in maintaining peace in Europe after the war, but its purpose was to be a counterweight to the Soviet Union, not to prevent wars between Western European nations. It is an obvious but important distinction. Both the EU and NATO have played important but different roles.
And I feel the EU can still play this role of peacemaker. Earlier I mentioned Serbia and Croatia, and how it would be optimistic to think that all the problems between these two countries are behind them, particularly if either country were to elect a nationalist in the Milosevic or Tudjman mould. But as things stand both nations are looking towards EU (and NATO) membership, and as with France and Germany, I can see that if they are both admitted then the idea of a future conflict between them would be just as absurd.
When stupid Europeans come out with a stupid anti-Americanism, stupid Americans often respond in two ways. Some say that if it wasn’t for the USA we would all be speaking Russian by now, and they are wrong. The rest say that if it wasn’t for the USA we would all now be speaking German. This second version is chronologically correct; it was in wars between the Western European nations that the Americans first rescued us, before the Soviets got a look in. I think Melanie Phillips and Robert Kilroy-Silk have missed the point.