Sunday, October 14, 2012

EU Deserves It


The European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The announcement yesterday has and will continue to lead to ridicule among critics of the EU and of the prize itself. Here is my view. I agree that the EU has been the greatest peace making institution in all of human history and is therefore a worthy recipient of the prize. I believe this for the following reasons. 70 years ago the European Continent was engulfed in a rampage of savagery and butchery that led to the deaths of over 35 million people. 40 years ago the European continent was still rife with dictatorship, communist in the East and military in the South. 20 years ago the European continent was faced with with brutal war in the Balkans, and the emergence of many newly independent nations in Eastern and Central Europe from the former communist block and the USSR itself. Today there are 45 countries on the European continent, all but one or two of which are solid democracies. For this spectacular transition from war and dictatorship to peace and democracy the EU deserves much of the credit.

Of course the EU does not deserve all of the credit. Many Eastern dissidents and their American supporters deserve great credit for the fall of communism as does the Catholic Church. But I have been surprised how for many this has turned into a NATO versus the EU debate. After all, most members of NATO are also in the EU. NATO undeniably was the main factor in wrestling the Soviet Union to the ground. But had it not been for the lure of democracy and prosperity that the EU provided many of the newly independent Eastern nations would have fallen under the influence of hard men of various political persuasions. And that lure was real and tangible. To be eligible for EU membership one had to satisfy the key economic indicators that makes up a modern economy. One had to have an independent judiciary, a military that was under civilian control, free elections, free media, workers rights and investors rights. The criteria to join was high. And as a result, after independence the national debates in Poland, Hungry, Checkislovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lituantia and Estonia became about satisfying those criteria. The same is true in Southern Europe after the fall of military regimes in Spain, Portugal and Greece. And perhaps most impressive of all is how those same debates are now taking place internally in Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia, Slovenia and Croatia having already been granted membership. It is in the Balkans that we really see the EU's peace making in practical action.

Humans as we know are tribal. It is an unfortunate human characteristic but we tend to fight with our neighbours that our different. We have seen it in every corner or Europe over the centuries. We have even seen it in my own country. Most recently we saw it in the Balkans during the 1990's as the Serb, Croat and Bosnian went to war with each other with devastating consequences. While it took the muscle of American led NATO to stop the violence, it was the lure of EU membership that won the peace. But more than that, It was the EU concept of free trade and open borders within members that has led to a gradual erosion of hatred. Think about it, the Serbs are bitter because they lost territory in the war and that many of their towns and villages now lie inside Bosnia and Kosovo. This naturally serves as a nationalist rallying cry for the Serbs who want to come to the aid of their besieged brothers. The practical every day manifestation of this tension is the border. If the Serb living inside Kosovo wants to visit his relatives who live 20 miles away inside Serbia he has to jump through hoops to get there and back. Crucially however, with full EU membership comes free trade within the union. With this comes the erosion and eventually the removal of internal borders. And with the removal of the borders begins the gradual process of removing the reason for the nationalist rallying cry. Trade with each other, don't kill each other, that's the EU message. Not surprisingly the message of trade, get rich and live is much more powerful than fight, be poor and die. Of course old hatreds don't die easily, but with robust policing, a strong independent judiciary and a universal increase in living standard, the prospect of the three principal antagonists of the Balkan war living in peace, prosperity and harmony is very real. Could any other institution have achieved this?


The elephant in the room here is naturally the financial crisis. The Euro is struggling and may even collapse. The wide spread prosperity which is supposed to be central to the European project is looking dubious. But am I supposed to believe that if there was no EU there would be no debt, and no financial crisis. It is after all a global problem. I don't want to come across as an apologist for the EU. I don't like everything about the EU, particularly the EU commission and I am gradually coming to the conclusion that the Euro itself was a mistake at best, a sinister attempt to bully European nations into coming under the control of Brussels at worst. But I don't for a second think that its current financial problems invalidate its aforementioned success. And frankly, I think that any problem that I, or the Libertarian or the Socialist has with the European Union pale in significance in comparison with the success of a peaceful and democratic Europe. I sometimes get confused with right wing Americans and there views on the EU. It's like they had more respect for us when we were butchering each other. And that is the key to why I hold these views on this area. Readers of Gubu World will know that I am a World War Two enthusiast. I have read dozens of books on the conflict. But I have never fallen into the trap of thinking that it was a glorious, noble or even exciting time. It was in fact the worst thing that ever happened the human race. When I read about Normandy, Crete, Lenningrad, Malta, Anzio, the Bulge, Dunkirk, Barborossa, Arnem, Stallingrad, kursk, Berlin I am always left with a sick feeling in my stumoch that this is how it was in Europe at the time that my parents were infants. Some people don't get that. The American experience of war is totally different. The American people haven't actually experienced one since the 1860's. Putting on a uniform and travelling thousands of miles overseas is very different than seeing your home, your town, village, city and country become totally consumed by burning and killing. Hopefully in Europe that will never happen again. If the EU stays strong and democratic, I believe it never will.

10 comments:

Paul said...

'it took the muscle of American led NATO to stop the violence'

Er yeah virtually everything good that happened in Europe required this. Reasons why this is plain wrong:

1. EU only came into existence in 1992, rendering comparisons with ww2 false.
2. NATO sorted the Balkans the EU did very little until AFTER NATO intervention.
3. Current EU pressures are leading to intense disharmony in Greece and Spain. There is no democracy in either country or sovereignty. Not a whole lot in Ireland either now come to think of it.
4. The EU is intensely unpopular not least with relatively prosperous northern countries that foot the bill. Most British people dislike and mistrust it and this issue will definitely come to a head very soon in the UK. I feel Cameron will probably offer a referendum at some point. It will be hard for the EU to win that, not only are members of his cabinet anti but so are most British people. The over-whelming pro-EU bias of the BBC will not carry the issue as in 1973; there is the blogosphere and other factors for the Eurocrats to contend with. A UK No vote would probably scupper the EU one reason why pro-EU types do not want a referendum. Besides the EU would not be able to bully or bribe British people into voting yes after a no vote. It’s appalling that they have done that to other countries.

There is one strong comparison with the Second World War and that is the EU president this Von Rompuy looks a bit like Heinrich Himmler. Like Heinrich Himmler he is a physically weak man with power – always a dangerous combination. He hates democracy and sovereignty.

Ultimately there are two diametrically opposed ways of looking at Europe and its problems as well its recent history. One is nationalistic, that ‘the rights of small nations’ are paramount and this needs to be secured by strong local democracy. Winston Churchill and indeed Michael Collins believed the same thing in this regard. The other is that what is required is a powerful central authority; this view has been echoed from Napoleon to current EU master planners. Indeed it is a constant in European history and the cause of recent conflicts. Now if such a central authority were to be democratic then of course it would be like America. However not only is that unachievable (as Europeans themselves have demonstrated), the central point is that for it to work the central authority must be undemocratic and authoritarian. You are in effect arguing for imperialism, albeit for now a deceptively benign version.

P.S. Ted have you been drinking? I must get me some of the stuff you’ve been on.

Oh and as to the Nobel prize? Yasser Arafat got one that puts the EU in great company.

Ted Leddy said...

Paul

I had a feeling this one would jive your turkey (get under your skin).

I will go through your points numerically.

1. I was referring to the EU/ECC in all the points that I made.

2. I would have thought it clear that the main theme running through my post was that NATO was responsible for militarily standing up to agressive tyrants in Moscow or Belgrade but when it came to winning the democratic and economic peace the EU should take much of the credit. As should a certain General Marshall. NATO stood up for democracy, but it didn't always actively spread it. After all it accepted both Portugal and Turkey as members when both countries were run by dictators.

3. The Greeks and the Spanish are never happy. They have a political tradition that include the hard core left. Spanish and Greek commies have been rioting forever. It's not the EU's fault that both countries racked up huge debt. If anything, they would be in much better shape if they had abided by EU regulations on reduced defecits.

4. I didn't really want to get into a discussion about the EU itself. The post is about the EU as a force for peace and prosperity. In your rebuttal you haven't touched on any of these points, on how free trade and open borders lead to peace and prosperity. It is a very tough time for the EU. It is a ferocious recession and the EU is becoming more unpopular. I have become much less impressed with it also. But as I said in the post, it's current flaws do not in my view invalidate its greater successes surrounding European democracy.

The UK isn't in the Euro so I don't see how exiting the EU would help the UK. Why deny yourself access to all those juicy European markets at such good rates. Anyway I'm not sure if a referendum would pass so easily. Many Lib Dem and Labour voters are pro Europe.

I'm not a big fan of the Von Rompster either.

The nationalist approach you refer to seems noble. But I find it difficult to imagine how 45 countries all pursuing nationalist economic policies on the one continent could lead to peace. But I am also VERY STRONGLY opposed to a federal Europe because I believe it would lead to a return of militant nationalism. For peace and prosperity I believe Europe needs a balance between sharing a common economic markets and "strong local democracy".

I respect your views on this Paul but I think your comparrisons with Napolean and other central authority powers is way off.

Cranky Notions said...

"Trade with each other, don't kill each other" is indeed a great message. But the EU went beyond that years ago. The Nobel Prize Committee is rewriting history when it says the EU has kept the peace for six decades. What is happening now is really a result of the radical shift in EU policy post-1992.

The Euro was not just an attempt at centralization. One of the major factors behind it was an attempt by less fiscally responsible countries to get rid of the Deutsche Mark. The Mark and the more responsible Bundesbank had long acted as a check on the inflationary tendencies of certain European states.

JP said...

Hi Ted,

Not sure I'd agree with statement number 3.

". The Greeks and the Spanish are never happy. They have a political tradition that include the hard core left. Spanish and Greek commies have been rioting forever. It's not the EU's fault that both countries racked up huge debt. If anything, they would be in much better shape if they had abided by EU regulations on reduced defecits."

For one thing, it's quite the generalisation to say that Greeks and Spaniards are never happy. For another thing, I don't remember Spain as being a hot bed of communism under that well known leftie General Franco, and while I grant you that the Greek civil war was essentially a right wing versus left wing conflict, the regime that followed was supported by the CIA - again, not widely known for their support of the red flag. And finally, you seem to be making a correlation between those countries current financial woes and any left leaning factions within their political structure. If that is the case, can you elaborate on the point please, and not sure I am understanding your meaning.

Cranky Notions said...

JP:

Southern European countries have long been riddled with communism. Italy's communist party was the second largest in the country in its 1970's heyday. Fascism was born in these countries, as a result of the realization that the revolutionary left don't play by the rules and only use the institutions of liberal democracy to subvert them. Unfortunately, they lacked more pleasant liberal and middle-ground alternatives as they exist in the Anglosphere or the Nordic states.

Spain wasn't a 'hotbed' of communism under Franco, but he had to fight a vicious campaign to suppress it, as did the Greeks.

JP said...

But I note the language here - "riddled with communism", "commies" etc, seems to me to be not exactly fair and balanced to borrow an oft trumpeted expression from Fox News. And to say that Franco HAD to fight a brutal campaign to supress it again seems to me to indicate that the brutality involved was somehow the fault of the communists - as in Franco would not have to have been brutal, if they had not been communists. Don't get me wrong - communism as a political philosophy is not one I subscribe too, but I balk when it is used to describe any political philosophy to the left of centre and I would also tend to disagree (if I inferred it correctly) that left wing politics communist or otherwise would be the major cause of the economic woes of either Greece or Spain.

Cranky Notions said...

JP:

Greece wasn't doing too badly decades ago despite its turbulent 20th century history. Then the country’s main parties started to compete on the basis of populism and patronage tied up with welfare statism.

I believe the socialist PASOK party after its electoral victory in 1981 is largely to blame for this. While in power PASOK established a massive and inefficient welfare state. After this, the main opposition (New Democracy) changed to imitate its big-spending populist policies, to the point that the differences between the two parties became thin indeed, akin to FF and FG in Ireland.

Of course, the euro exacerbated this considerably, as does the Greek tradition of corruption and tax evasion.

Cranky Notions said...

By the way, some disturbing news about PASOK - its leader appears to have a few hang-ups about Jews: http://damomac.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/venizelos/

Someone responded with a little Limerick:

Democracy starts and ends here,
In the land that we all once held dear,
To see the left choose,
To start blaming the jews,
Is proof that the whole world’s gone queer.

Ted Leddy said...

JP

My remarks about Greece and Spain could have been put more eloquently, as Mitt Romney would say. Let me put it this way.

There is hard left element in Greece and Spain that would be protesting no matter what. In responding to Paul's point I argued that I don't think that riots on the streets of Athens and Madrid mitigate the EU's successes as a peace maker.

But this conversation we are having about Greece and Spain is central to the wider point that I am trying to make about the EU in this post. The EU has helped spread democracy. Politics in Greece and Spain was dominated by right wing military regimes versus left wing insurgencies prior to EU membership. The prospect of EU membership dragged these countries to the center. The EU as an organistation is about a compromise between the values of left and right. Across the union workers rights and inversters rights are guaranteed. Left and right wing fringes have been abandoned in favour of strong centrist democracy. Some may find it boring, but this is political stability in action.

On the recession I don't exclusively blame the left but I do believe that left leaning political parties and governments should take some of the blame. I think the global recession was caused by debt and excessive government spending which left wing parties are primarily responsible for this. However a lack of regulation in the financial sector is also highly culpable. Right wing parties, economists and governments are responsible in this regard. Plenty of blame to go around I would say.

Ted Leddy said...

John

I share some of your opinions on the EU although I don't know enough about the Deutsche Mark to specifically comment on that. A friend of mine once explained to me that the entire Euro project was an attempt tp "put the cart before the horse". In other
words, to lure European states into a common currency knowing full well that later on it would require greater political integration. I am beginning to share that view. That said, this post was about the EU as a force for peace and democracy in Europe and in that regard I stand by my the general theme of the post.