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The EU as a peace project

June 22, 2017 10:50 AM
By Chris Higman, LDEG member based in Germany

In February, as I was writing an earlier article in this series, construction workers on a site near Frankfurt airport found an unexploded bomb from the Second World War. Motorway and railway connections to the airport had to be interrupted while the bomb was being defused. In April, on the eve of the Boat Race, a similar incident occurred in London near Putney Bridge. Last month (May) saw further cases in Hannover (with 50,000 people needing to be evacuated), Gießen 70 km north of Frankfurt and again in Frankfurt itself.

Seventy years after the war, we are still reminded of the consequences of that conflict in our daily life today. The forerunner organisation of today's European Union, the European Iron and Steel Community, was founded as a measure to bring peace to Europe after two intense wars. In the words of the French Foreign Minister of the time, Robert Schuman, war should become "not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible." The economic integration is what makes the material impossibility, but this is only possible with a common commitment to human rights, democracy and enforceable principles of the rule of law.

When one looks at the support that the EU has given European countries emerging from fascist or military dictatorships or those shaking off decades of Communist oppression, then its achievements as a peace project become even more impressive.

Given the success of the EU in achieving these aims, it is not surprising that it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012[1].

The EU's economic success (and despite some current problems, realistically one must acknowledge that most, even if not all, Europeans "have never had it so good") is a direct result of that peace. We have stopped wasting money by over-investing in armaments and are not destroying the physical wealth in our houses and factories. We still have to ensure that this prosperity reaches all, particularly the youth in Southern Europe, but this is far more achievable in a scenario of peaceful cooperation than one of competitive nationalisms.

One might have thought that we had learned our lessons, but obviously not all. We hear a former leader of the ruling Conservative Party in Britain, Michael Howard, suggesting that Britain would go to war over Gibraltar, while ignoring incidentally the nearly unanimous wish of the people of Gibraltar to stay in the EU. This is the kind of dangerous talk that got us into previous wars.

I was born in 1944, too young to experience the war itself, but I still have memories of the aftermath - bomb sites in our cities and rationing, which until 1953 was even necessary for a schoolboy going to the local sweet shop.

Our generation, in Western Europe at least, has been blessed with seventy years of peace. This has to no small extent been realized by the creation of the institutions we now know as the EU. Though maybe not perfect, these institutions have achieved their original intention over this time. It is incumbent on us to pass this message on to our children and grandchildren, so that they can continue to enjoy the peace, freedom and prosperity that the EU has given us.

[1] For those who wish to refer to the award ceremony speech and Nobel lecture for the EU award, these can be found on http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2012/.