A Force for Good?

When they aren’t arguing that houses prices will fall and trade nosedive into oblivion, the Stay lobby like to boast about how the EU has held war at bay in Europe for sixty years and World War III will occur if the UK leaves. Now, it’s obvious that, even if the EU was such a force for good, that the absence of the UK is unlikely to have a detrimental effect, given that the UK only joined in the 1970s and the member states had managed until then not to invade one another or collapse into anarchy without them.

But, is the EU really such a force for good? Of course, it can be argued that close economic ties, the freedom of movement and sharing the Euro make war less likely in the short term, but only the first of those actually applies to the UK’s membership and, in the modern world, nations’ economies are more-closely linked than ever, without the need to be a member of any specific bloc or political ambitions. But, those same ties also threaten stability in the long term, unless the EU succeeds in political union; as the Euro crisis and the ability of terrorists and illegal immigrants to make use of freedom of movement have shown, without a centralised authority, stresses within the EU have the potential to put its member states at odds with each other.

As for any further claims that the EU has, in some way, kept peace in Europe, it is necessary to remember that NATO has played a far more active role in maintaining peace and that the EU actually has proven itself ineffective in a peacekeeping role. Prime Minister Cameron recently claimed: “It’s barely been twenty years since war in the Balkans and genocide on our continent… the European Union has helped reconcile countries which were once at each others’ throats for decades.” The statement is somewhat disingenuous, given that the Balkans were peaceful for five decades under Yugoslavia and the countries the EU has supposedly reconciled have recently been at each others’ throats over the migrant crisis and ongoing issues such as the rights of the Albanian populations of Kosovo and Macedonia. But as Private Eye magazine pointed out (no. 1418, 13-26 May 2016), the EU was opposed to military intervention in the Balkans and favoured Milosevic’s plan to rebuild Yugoslavia, which led to their being sidelined by the US and NATO. Non-interference in the Balkans might have been something the EU could have been proud of, but they can’t claim any bragging rights for what NATO and the US achieved.

Indeed, supporters of the EU should probably shy away from putting the Balkans forward as any sort of example in its favour as, not only is it the region of Europe with the greatest fracture lines that could plunge the EU into chaos, but Yugoslavia is one of only two examples in Europe of what the EU might herald.

One of the problems with the entire in/out debate is that no nation has left the EU, so it’s impossible to say what would happen when a nation leaves. The only federal entities (comprising formerly-independent states) that offer any sort of hint are Yugoslavia and the USSR in Europe and the USA outside Europe. The latter can be largely discounted as the nature of its formation and settlement is so different to that of the EU (although it might act as a model for what to do and what to avoid in terms of federalisation). Nor is the USSR a good example at this point in time, although some centrist, anti-national strands could make it uncomfortably closer than we might like. Which leaves Yugoslavia, which was similar to the EU in many ways and demonstrates the inherent flaw in such a federal model: the moment membership is less compelling than national self-interest, it will implode and nationalism will explode horribly and violently. The EU is deeply in denial about the risks, which only increases the danger of a violent breakdown.

Indeed, as a bringer of peace, the EU has also failed to tackle the far right, leaving Europe at risk of race- and nation-based violence. At best, it has been an irrelevance, making its claims to reconciliation a lie. At worst, especially with the mishandling of the migrant crisis, the EU has fostered its growth, making Europe a more dangerous place. Nationalist fervour is resurgent in places such as Catalonia and Scotland and, while the EU played a tangential role in the move towards peace in Northern Ireland, the peace is a fragile one, with the terrorist threat level having recently been raised. Then, there is the rise of anti-EU feeling across Europe (Podemos in Spain, Front National in France, and AfD in Germany), much of it less benign than that in the UK and often tied to the far right. Even if Britain votes to remain in the EU, there is a good chance the EU will fracture regardless, and certainly suffer severe political and potentially violent trials.

A possibility hardly improved by trends in Eastern Europe where Orban is practically dictator of Hungary and Poland is moving in the same direction: this will either lead to a clash with the rest of the EU or the EU also becoming more dictatorial.

Lastly, the claim that the EU is essential to the peace and security of Europe is undermined by its march eastward. Extending the EU to the borders of Russia threatens to lead to conflict, while close ties with Turkey risk dragging the EU into its internal and external struggles. Of course, in this case, the EU is not alone and Turkey’s NATO membership and NATO’s eastward expansion equally risk dragging the nations of Europe into unnecessary wars, but that still leaves the EU undermining its own claims.

There may be reasons to see the EU as a positive thing, but its potential for peace and security is not one of them. If the EU actually embraced federalism, it might be able to offer greater security to its members, but ever closer union also risks increasing the pressure upon its component nations until they break apart – and the longer and closer the union, the greater the violence and chaos that is likely to result. When it comes to peace, the EU is more likely a coincidence than a cause.

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