Two arguments are constantly recited by the defenders of our current EU entanglement. Today I wish to deal with the more serious, the proposition that the EU is necessary to prevent wars in Europe.
This argument looks to some at first to be attractive and well based. After all, say its proponents, Europe was torn apart by two long and damaging wars in the first half of the twentieth century. Who wouldn’t want to avoid that again? They go on, emboldened by the general agreement that European wars are a bad thing, to point out there has been no recurrence of major European war since the EEC and the EU were formed.
This is rather like arguing that we need to belong to the EU to keep horses and carts off our streets. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century our streets teemed with them, but since joining the EU they have disappeared. The obvious rejoinder to both arguments is that membership of the EU has nothing to do with much of Europe being at peace, nor with how many horses and carts there are.
After 1945 the European world was radically changed in many important ways. West Germany was created as a democracy and decided to become a peace loving country with no aggressive military machine. Occupying forces also remained in Germany for the first 45 years after the Second World War to make sure the new Germany was a peace loving state with no means to invade others. The US army above all else acted as the new guarantor of European borders. It was also there in case any other country decided against peaceful co-existence with Germany.
Gradually the major western countries all became democracies. They wished to pursue policies of peace and trade with the neighbours. They also had to live in a world where the UN and the US acted as policemen for agreed borders drawn up after 1945. Plucky Belgium was never likely to invade France nor did the Netherlands have military ambitions in Germany.
With the UN, the US presence, NATO, and peace loving western governments, there was no danger of war in western Europe. The UK has not had territorial ambitions on the continent of Europe for more than a century. The UK did not need to join the EEC to remain peace loving nor to ensure it was free from invasion threat. Its membership of NATO and the UN gave it additional security, though this was not needed against the members of the EEC.
I would turn the argument about the EU and war around and say there is more danger of a European war with the EU than without it. If the EU is about a peaceful Europe, why then does it wish to arm itself? What need has it of an army, unless it envisages military action? How could we be sure this force would only be for interventions outside Europe’s borders? After all, the EU has already attempted through member states to intervene in Balkan wars, and has expressed strong views on how the Balkans should be settled. Some would say EU interventions in the Balkans did not always assist the peace.
I would be more willing to accept the argument that the EU is a force for peace if the EU stopped preparing for war. I would find it less absurd as an argument if the EU refrained from wanting a military machine, and if it kept out of sensitive European political issues which stir up tensions over belonging and nationhood. It needs to soothe them down, not stoke them up by injecting more division and another layer of split loyalties . Inserting a new and clumsy power into the old cauldron of identity politics on the continent is far from helpful for the peace. We see how the Euro, one of the drivers of more integration, is becoming a force for disharmony and tension between the member states.