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The EU - a union for peace
22 Feb, 2018

From two world wars to lasting peace

David Quinn, a retired Senior International Official, sets out the origins and continuing need for the EU as a builder of peace in Europe.

The European Union started out and continues to be an organisation whose primary objective is to create a lasting peace in Europe after centuries of conflict ending in  two catastrophic world wars.  

The extraordinary  success it has so far achieved to  this end, recognised by the award of the Nobel Peace price in 2012, has in a sense gone  unnoticed  in the UK or, if the EU is talked about at all, it is often negatively; a convenient scapegoat in particular for government and the nationalist press.

And yet, in spite of the denigration, prejudice and misinformation prevalent in certain quarters and the nationalist press, and the ignorance of the general public as to the workings and objectives of the EU, successive governments of all parties have supported the European process since 1973 when the UK joined the European Economic Community until 2015. Moreover, at the time of the  2016 EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of MP’s in the House of Commons were  “ Remainers “. 

So what is the the relevance of the  European project to peace in Europe ?

The genius of the founding fathers of Europe in the post war period was to recognise the absolute necessity of changing the way people thought about national boundaries, not to abolish them but, in order to attain objectives they had in common,  to transcend them by working together towards that attainment.

It was also their firm belief that human relations can be transformed when people of different nationalities  work together to achieve commonly accepted objectives and rules for doing so, and that in doing so  “ their behaviour towards each other changes. This is the process of civilisation “ ( Jean Monnet ).

The successive institutions created by this European movement  have bound together the nations involved in ever widening areas of collaboration, cooperation, and shared sovereignty, starting with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC),   the European Economic Community (EEC) and subsequently the Single Market and  European Union. Civil servants, politicians, parliamentarians, business, industry and universities have increasingly participated in this process to the point that today,  to separate the life and  economies of the nation states concerned will prove extremely difficult.

Above all, this process of “ getting to know “ each other  has allowed an extraordinary development in the  mutual understanding and respect for the cultures, language and history  of the participating nations and in overcoming prejudices . Hereditary enmities have disappeared; nationality is no longer an issue.

A large  part  of Europe has been transformed into a community of nations with a common citizenship and agreed standards for entry to the ‘club ‘. Democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the press, for example,  are required of any nation wishing to belong to or to continue to be a member. This community has acted as a magnet for those European countries escaping from dictatorial regimes or  those from  the ex- Soviet Union and continues to attract  other European countries not yet  member states. It has opened up multiple opportunities for EU nationals to work, study and live in any of the Member States.

There is no reason why those European States not yet members, such as Serbia, Russia and Ukraine should not one day become members of the EU. To do so they would clearly have to demonstrate their respect for the democratic principles underlying  EU membership.  The possibility of admittance to the EU  will continue to provide an important incentive to the democratic forces in those countries wishing to join. The cause of peace in Europe  and elsewhere in the world will be further enhanced by such an enlargement of the Union. 

The construction of Europe with its richness and glorious diversity, no longer to be a source of conflict or a battlefield, is  an ongoing  and lengthy process and one whose final form has yet to be decided. However, it is one which should inspire all its citizens.



This article was originally written for our sister organisation the Young European Movement, the section of the European Movement for those under 35.