Personally, I am sick to death of Europhiles telling me that with all its faults, “the EU has at least kept the peace in Europe since the Second World War”. Absolute nonsense. The peace in Europe has been maintained by the Transatlantic Alliance, by NATO, by 100,000 American GIs in Germany, by nuclear deterrence and Mutually Assured Destruction. The Cold War was won not by the European Commission of Jacques Delors, but by the courage and vision of people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (and perhaps Pope John Paul).
Nonetheless, it must be admitted that keeping the peace in Europe was a genuine, early and honourable motivation for the European project. The Coal & Steel Community was predicated on the proposition that if the sinews of war were jointly owned and administered, it would be that much more difficult for France and Germany to have a go at each other. Again. Though as William Hague memorably remarked, it was “a 1970s solution to a 1950s problem”, and of vanishingly small relevance to 2013.
If you read the propaganda, it is clear that reconciliation was at the heart of the European concept. After years — and decades and centuries — of war and destruction, the vision of a Europe at Peace, marching forward hand-in-hand to the bright sunlit uplands of peace and prosperity, of reconciliation and brotherhood, had a certain resonance for the war-torn masses.
So it is bitterly disappointing to see that the dream has failed. Peace, yes, of a sort. But prosperity? Europe is widely recognised as a low-growth (or perhaps zero-growth) region, while the USA, and Latin America, China and India, make progress (largely unaffected by the EU’s anti-energy posturing, which cuts to the heart of European competitiveness). Even Africa, long regarded as a basket-case, is showing fitful but promising signs of economic growth and recovery, while the EU wallows in failure.
At the heart of Europe’s problems is, of course, the €uro. Conceived as the triumphant key-stone of the glorious project of Europe Integration, it has turned into a Frankenstein monster, a nightmare Bankruptcy Machine, spreading poverty and unemployment, and hunger and despair, across much of southern Europe. Superficially proposed as an economic measure, it was of course primarily political. European politicians, dazzled by their own rhetoric, refused to listen to the professional economists who rightly predicted the inevitable dénouement.
And the impact on reconciliation and brotherhood has been precisely the reverse of what was expected. Southern Europeans, feeling that intolerable austerity has been imposed on them by Germany, are understandably angry. We’ve seen the Nazi symbolism emerging in anti-Merkel demonstrations and cartoons, the German and EU flags burned in the streets of Athens.
Meantime the Germans feel that they’ve gone the extra mile to bail-out the South, and are hurt and bewildered that their generosity has not earned them any gratitude, but rather opprobrium. Germany’s commitment to the European project was grounded in post-war angst, and a determination never again to be seen as the dominant power in Europe, or as a threat to its European neighbours. So the hatred and resentment they are facing now is doubly difficult to take, as from Berlin it seems wholly unjustified.
It is a bitter irony that a project that was designed to make war impossible, and to bring friendship and reconciliation, seems now to have had the opposite effect, creating division and rancour to go along with unemployment and hardship, and levels of devastating poverty not seen since the Second World War.
It is becoming increasing clear that we shall not be finally free of the legacy of World War II until we are also free from the EU.