I was asked to speak at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. The question was “Can Europe Keep the Peace? Has a lack of democracy in Europe undermined the ideal of the EU as a peace building exercise?”
I was part of a panel with academics from history and politics. Michael White, who is an associate editor of the The Guardian chaired the event. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_White_(journalist)
I was prepared for the audience of around 150 to be pro-european as is usually the case in Cambridge. This usually means me walking into the furnace.
But not today. I was astonished to hear the first speaker outline why he thought the EU had nothing to do with peace in Europe and in fact had contributed to tensions. Shockingly, the second speaker then outlined a failing EU and discussed a whole bunch of reasons why the EU my not survive.
The third speaker continued in a similar vein. During the Q and Q session the audience was clearly much more eurosceptic than I would have expected a couple of years ago. Individuals were now speaking up that they were considering voting to leave the EU. What an amazing day.
Then it was my turn. Here is my speech pretty much as I delivered it.
Much is talked about Europe these days. And the EU. And the Euro. But often we are unclear about what we are talking about. The BBC transposes EU and Europe on a regular basis and has recently had to introduce a training course for journalists to try and sort this out.
The question itself conflates the ideas of Europe and the EU.
Let me say from the outset that not only has the EU been largely irrelevant to European Peace, in many ways it has made conflict more likely not less. Of course, the lack of democratic accountability and the remoteness that people feel to the EU only makes matters worse.
So let me start by reminding ourselves about the facts. There are approximately 50 countries in Europe, with Russia being the largest by area and population and the Vatican City being the smallest. Five of these countries extend transcontinental. There are 28 countries in the EU of which only 19 use the Euro.
Europe, as a continent, has been recognized since classical antiquity and has seen countless conflicts throughout history. It is a land mass bound to the North, West and South but has had a flexible border to the East.
The EU’s genesis was not so straight forward. Starting in 1951 the Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community which was followed by the Treaty of Rome, in 1958, creating the European Economic Community. The UK finally joined the EEC in 1973 under the leadership of Edward Heath who was less than honest with the electorate about the ambitions of the EEC. This was tested in a referendum in 1975 which under Harold Wilson decided to stay in the “Common Market” as it was called. The public was told this was a trading block not a political union.
The EU came into existence in 1993 with the Maastricht Treaty. At this point the organization moved from a free trade organization into something much more political. Something that had the characteristics and trappings of a superstate. Something that became a political experiment. Something that very few people asked for or expected.
This momentous shift from a common market to a political and financial union passed without the democratic support of the people it was to claim to represent.
And this significant resetting of the relationship with the EEC occurred with the population of the UK kept in the dark, worse they were deceived deliberately by Edward Heath and his government of the time.
In 1969 the Council of Ministers asked Pierre Warner, the PM of Luxembourg, to draw up a plan to move the Common Market forward to full economic and monetary union resulting in the ultimate creation of a European Federal State. This report was hushed up by Heath who was worried it might inflame public opinion as he was trying to convince them that it would be no more than a common market.
At this key point the democratic deficit created a division between the people and the EU, that was bound , at some point to come back to haunt it.
The countries of Europe have largely reflected grouping of cultures, faiths and political ambitions. Attempts at domination or forced cultural change, by any particular group has historically been fiercely resisted, often resulting in wars. But the answer is not to flatten culture but to respect it and work with it. Singing in harmony is often better than singing in unison.
The countries of Europe, have little common culture, a multitude of religions, there is not a common language and for the majority of countries do not have a common currency. This should be celebrated.
Sovereign countries have a long history of fierce independence, of wanting to preserve individual cultural identities. And why not?
The EU, without the will of the people, has embarked on a path that appears to run roughshod over national and cultural identities. It has arrogantly attempted to create a EU culture but few people identify with the faceless bureaucracy that the EU represents. I’m afraid making us change our passports to include the EU logo and having EU stickers on our number plates just doesn’t cut it.
Forcing homogenous taxation and interest rates across countries of the EU is bound to create economic winners and losers. Losers become resentful and fractious.
We see tensions originating from the Euro and lack of flexible opportunities for sovereign nations to devalue currencies, two speed economies and different stages in financial cycles. These tensions spill out into civil unrest and destabilized governments.
Without the Euro Greece could have devalued its currency making tourism and goods more attractive for visitors and start to rebuild its economy. Instead anger and resentment simmer just below the surface.
We are seeing the migration crisis, created by the EU policy of freedom of movement of people, create civil unrest and tensions between countries as they struggle to deal with wave after wave of largely economic migrants.
The EU has not been responsible for peace in any part of Europe. It is clear that since WW2 NATO has been the peace keeper of Europe. It was and remains the only organization that has the muscle and clarity of thought to act effectively.
During the Third Balkan war in 1993, the first war on European soil since WW2 it is clear the EU had no force. The European countries and the US finally got their act together under the NATO umbrella in Kosovo and can be credited with preventing a further Slav – Albanian conflict in 2001 although this preventative action has been largely forgotten.
And with the military deployment came a diplomatic effort led by Javier Solana and supported by the Nato secretary general, George Robertson. This used the breathing space provided by Nato to find a political solution to the ethnic problems.
We can see the EU did not prevent the Balkan conflict not is it managing the sabre rattling of Russia effectively. Critics point to poor coordination, slow decision-making and weak operational control of local missions.
So as the EU seeks to have its own foreign office the EU is interfering in the business of nation states with little evidence of making things better.
It is clear the EU is an organization that has morphed dangerously from its original concept. Increasingly it is more open in its ambitions to become a federal state in its own right without convincingly making the case.
Even those who are pro EU admit that it is an organization that needs to change. That it has many failings. It seems it boils down to leaving the EU or changing it from within – either way the status quo is unsatisfactory.
Fundamentally the EU appears to believe that whatever challenge it faces the answer is always more EU. The more the EU seeks to dominate sovereign nations the more they will rebel. If the EU has any merit it should be around a free trade agreement and it should refocus on this.
An EU standing army nor n EU wide Police Force is not the answer to the security of Europe.