Recently reading Tony Judt’s brilliant, comprehensive book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, I was struck by how difficult it was to re-build the Europe we see today. And struck also by how pivotal it was, not just for the security, prosperity and well-being of Europe, but indeed for the whole world. The first half of the 20th century was terrible for the continent and it brought the world, but mostly Europe, to its knees, economically, infra-structurally, racially, ideologically, morally. The United States of America can take a lot for their assistance in the immediate years following the end of the war. They provided us with the foundation to begin anew and build a new democratic Europe, if only in the immediate west of Europe. Russia can take credit for the manner in which the east of Europe developed, or didn’t.
The Cold War that followed for decades did nothing but put unwanted strain upon the East-West divide and could have probably been avoided if it were not for Stalin and his paranoid disposition. But, alas, the East-West divide persisted. Mikhail Gorbachev delivered his important address to the UN in December 1988 and within a year the Berlin Wall was felled, Ceausescu was killed and East and West was re-united again. Gorbachev promised to push forward with intentions for a new Europe where European countries could all live and prosper under the one roof. The figurative and literal wall that separated East and West fell, and Europe rejoiced. Inspirational times.
But the euphoric atmosphere lasted not long. The blip, catastrophic as it was, occurred in the Balkans shortly thereafter. Serbian fascistic nationalists and Christian Croat nationalists, dregs of the worst elements of Yugoslavia, following the death of Tito, took power in the Balkans. Their aim was to invade and annex Bosnia and to destroy the Muslim population of that brilliant, multicultural country that sits between Serbia and Croatia. I have written about the initial inaction of the EU regarding this conflict, stalling for too long on intervention, costing the lives of 100,000 people. Not to absolve the horrific actions of Serb and Croat forces in the 4 years at the beginning of the 1990s, the inaction of the EU in the years is reprehensible. We can liken the inaction to the UN’s indolence today with regards to Syria. But intervention by NATO and US forces did happen, and the EU then began to open up co-operations with the country in order to provide Bosnia i Herzegovina with assistance in re-building the country. Incidentally, I have never read or heard anybody thanking the US for its assistance, even though there was no inherent interest for them to do so. It was a blotch on the record of the EU but if this is one of the only indictment against the EU in decades of prosperity and all of the good the EU has overseen then it is a record that they, and we, can be proud of.
Well let us just examine this for a moment. A number of headings will suffice;
1) Democracy and Human Rights
The EU has created an excellent standard of democracy and human rights which every country must abide by if it wants to join. This is the closest thing to a universal moral code that is possible with a population over-reaching 500 million, and 27 member states. This is a highly commendable thing considering the state of Europe following the Second World War.
Despite inaction in the Balkans the EU has contributed greatly to peace in a ravaged post-war Europe, bridging the gap between France and Germany after decades of hostility. Harmony between member states of the EU is an imperative.
3) Single Market, Single Currency
Under the blanket of the EU, member states enjoy free movement of people, goods and services, and allowed members to travel anywhere.unimpeded, within its boundaries. You can study and work in places that up until 25 years ago were difficult even to enter. This has reduced hostility and xenophobia in Europe. The single currency means you never have to change money and it provides the conditions for Europe to prosper economically.
4) Aid from the EU
People seem to forget that the EU donates astronomical amounts of money to foreign aid, over $69 billion (€53.1 billion) last year (2011). This money is donated to projects, NGO’s, organisations, countries, etc, outside of Europe, promoting peace, reducing poverty, promoting democracy and ensuring sustainable development. Funding that these institutions and the people that benefit from it could scarcely do without.
Consequences of the 4 topics above are unprecedented; free, easier movement, equal opportunities, lessened hostility and increased harmony, cross-cultural experiences, reduced poverty and increased sustainable development in countries outside Europe, and so on and so forth.
The main purport of all of these initiatives was/is to build a unified, harmonious and prosperous Europe, while contributing to the development outside of the EU. And I think it has been a thriving success. So it stings to hear Martin Callanan, a Tory leader in the European Parliament, say ‘By giving the prize to the EU, the Nobel committee has underlined the excellent work of the other deserving winners of this prize’. This is a typical xenophobic remark from a Euro-phobic Tory, and he forgets the prize was also awarded to Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat and Mother Theresa. But it wasn’t just the Anglo-centric Nationalistic Callanan that has spoken out against the decision to award the prize to the EU. Alex Massie of The Nation said it was the worst Nobel Prize ever, which is a preposterous take, while journalists mainly target some European countries debt crises as the main reason why it shouldn’t have been awarded. Of course, the situation in Greece remains critical. High levels of unemployment coupled with stark austerity measures from the bailout have resulted in a populous that is seething. Looking to Brussels, France and Germany they seek to place the blame and to let their feelings be heard. But in fact it wasn’t the EU (gasp), or Germany (gasp) or France (gasp) that bankrupted Greece. So as much as the Greeks are suffering they must take a well needed introspective look at their own country, government and banks before they accuse the EU, or Germany or France for putting them in this situation. It was the Greek Parliament that approved the decision to seek the bailout. The same goes for us here in Ireland. The same begrudging feeling was felt in post-war Europe when America provided us with much needed aid to recoup our continent. And history remembers the US today with gratitude for that, although at the time it was difficult to accept without them we were doomed.
Although we are experiencing rough economic times the Nobel committee chose to examine the lifetime of the EU and awarded the prize accordingly. Which is fair enough for if an individual was to be considered for the prize their whole life would be taken into consideration.
The head of the committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, praised the EU for its role in the transformation of countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain into stable democracies, the inclusion of former Communist regimes in the EU, its role in the Balkans (following the fall of Yugoslavia), and its overall aim to create a peaceful, democratic and harmonious Europe. Jagland issued a warning that the fall of the EU would see Europe descend back into ‘extremism and nationalism’. And he is right. In Russia, through Putin, we see old Stalinist sympathizers cropping up, in Serbia we see stirrings of old nationalistic fascistic sentiments, and all over Europe separatists are notching up headlines. It is imperative to combat these old foes by unification against such barbarism.
Some current policies do need to be examined but this is a job for us, united, to address and the people calling for the fall of the EU, for separation, would do well to realize that together we stand and divided we fall. Many have spoken of how the EU is an institution going down the drain, and those utterances seem laced with a sort of malevolence, as if they regard the institution as a farce. These people would do well to examine the benefits of the EU and to take the sentiment of Guardian journalist Ian Traynor when he spoke of peace yesterday and said that peace in Europe ‘may too often be taken for granted’.
The sentiment was put best by Jagland himself. He said ‘The main message is that we need to keep in ind what we have achieved on this continent, and not to let this continent go into disintegration again’.
The prize was awarded with history firmly in mind, with a hopeful eye on the future of the EU.