“Don’t hit a man when he is down!” Last week the old adage was taken a step further. The European Union, knocked to the ground by the Eurozone crisis, has been raised to its feet and given the Nobel Peace Prize. No prize can end a great financial crisis but it can help us see the broader picture in Europe.
Over the ages of history Europe has had more wars than any other part of the globe. Some of its countries, noticeably Britain, are truly warrior nations.
But in the last 67 years, since the end of the immensely bloody Second World War, war inside the European Union and its affiliated European Economic Area has ceased. This is probably the longest period of peace in Europe’s history. For most of the last two millennia there was a war on average every 20 or 30 years. Now Europe itself is the largest peaceful part of the world.
Unfortunately as Mark Leonard wrote in his short but highly cogent book, “Why Europe Will Run The 21st Century”: “The historians tell a different story from journalists but the journalists dictate the current debate”. Hence the continuous downbeat imaging of European affairs and the playing down of why the EU was created.
Too many journalists have lost sight of Europe’s history- the many hundreds of years of bloody warfare that have now been replaced by endless committees, mountains of paper and peripatetic translators. This is, admittedly, the most difficult kind of story to write an interesting copy on. No longer, two world wars later, are journalists able to follow the formula, “if it bleeds, it leads”. Bleeding is out, committees are in.
Second, many journalists are temperamentally given to look at our world through American eyes. So we misunderstand Europe’s power. It is too often thought that because Europe is militarily much weaker than the US that it is not as important as America. But Europe’s strength is that it is a network rather than a state.
Europe has what Leonard describes as “an invisible hand”. Its power comes from its quiet law-making on half the laws that Europeans live by, on a range of issues from agriculture to monetary policy- which it does with a number of civil servants that is only about the same as a major city like Manchester or Berlin. European common standards are implemented mainly through national parliaments and institutions.
Its foreign policy is also quiet. Rather than relying on the threat of military intervention to secure its interests, Europe relies on the threat of not intervening, of withdrawing the chance of entering Europe or at least forsaking Europe’s friendship. The US may have the power to change governments in Iraq or Afghanistan or to focus the mind of Colombia on its drug traffickers, but with Poland the EU changed the country’s laws from top to bottom and, more recently, has been engaged in successfully helping the transformation of Turkey, a state once riddled with corruption, torture and maladministration. This is the “Eurosphere” that could extend eventually to encompass Russia, Israel and even Morocco.
A provocative essay by the British diplomat, Robert Cooper, in Prospect magazine, further developed this argument by wondering out loud if the EU was on the verge of becoming a new empire, a new imperial power. The US, he argued, is not the world’s leading imperial power. It skims the surface in its relationships with those nearest to it. It sends in its troops in a crisis but otherwise depends on loose forms of trade agreements. But the EU is becoming “a cooperative empire, a commonwealth, in which each has a share in the government in which no single country dominates and in which the governing principles are not ethnic but legal”. In this sense the EU is the world’s most powerful superpower even though its combined military spending is steadily falling.
Despite the prize Europe still has a long way to go to be truly a peace-loving corner of the earth. The EU member states combined export more heavy arms than the US-32% of the global total compared with the US’ 30%.
Many of the EU member states are part of the coalition presently fighting a counterproductive and unnecessarily destructive war in Afghanistan. They made the same mistake in Iraq. If the EU had been more awake it could have headed off the war that inflamed Yugoslavia before it gathered pace. The EU has not used its economic power to push Israel to forge a fair peace with the Palestinians, a necessary job that the US will probably never do.
Nevertheless, it was a clever decision of the Nobel committee to give Europe the prize. In no other part of the world is there anything like the European Union. Moreover, the economic crisis is pushing it to pool yet more sovereignty. Perhaps one day there will be a federal Europe- a benign template for the rest of the world.
Oh Johnathan, you are so off the mark.... It will be Chain that will dominate the century....
Hussain Saturday, 20 October 2012 04:15 PM
#SL: Not so. China is an export oriented country, as long as the West uses China's cheap labor to turn out consumer goods, China will be OK. Its economy is dependent on this. Also 70% of the population in China, lives on about $1 a day in the country side. China has a long way to come to catch up with the rest of the world. Check the GDP's of all the countries? The economic health of a country is not geared to a small percentage of the population, but taken as a whole. China falls way down on the list in this instance.
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