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.