European interdependence: a gift or a curse?Nov 2nd, 2011 | By Arno Hamar de la Brethonière | Tags: Crisis, Euro, Greece, history, Peace, Solidarity, War
A very brief history of the idea of Europe
Europe finds itself at the heart of the global financial crisis. Economically weaker countries and banks are facing bankruptcy, and the once visionary economical intertwining of Europe is threatening to take down even the strongest of countries if the system collapses. The once strong Euro is under tremendous pressure, and countries and banks that were doing fine find themselves contributing billions of Euros to save countries that made a mess.
The interdependency that Europe has been pushing for the last decades thus seems to be making matters worse, especially for countries that would otherwise not be in big trouble. So, why on earth would they sign up for an idea like this? The answer lies in history and is being disregarded by public and politics far too often and far too easily. This article aims on casting light into the historical darkness.
Divided we fell
When the smoke cleared from the European battlefields after the Second World War, European leaders found large parts of the continent in ruins. From France to Russia, from Greece to Norway and even in Northern Africa, entire cities were destroyed. People had been systematically murdered for their religion or the colour of their skin and with tens of millions of people killed worldwide, it was – and still is – the deadliest military conflict in history. International trade, industries and banking had been reduced dramatically. Unemployment rates were skyrocketing and the future looked grim indeed. Faced with the devastating effects of two ruthless and unscrupulous wars, all European leaders agreed on one thing: this should never happen again.
After the reconstruction of Europe had started, aided largely by the Marshall Plan, Europe slowly crawled back up. In 1951, the six European nations France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg created the European Coal and Steel Community: a common market for coal and steel, two industries that are closely linked to the industries of war. The countries did not have direct influence in its government: a special High Authority was created to supervise the market. That way, the countries in a sense ‘gave away’ their control on the two industries essential for making war, and created a supranational entity that would not be regulated by the national governments.
It was an institute based on financial and commercial cooperation, but the underlying thought went much further than that. It was a political move as well. By creating a new supranational institution, the countries hoped to reduce the chances of a new war dramatically, and create an era of peace and prosperity. As it turned out, they succeeded.
In the decades following the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, more institutions would be created. The Treaties of Rome provided Europe with the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The three would later be merged into the European Communities, and together with the Schengen Treaty and the European Political Community were the basis of the current European Union, which is highly unpopular with the European citizen.
United we should stand
Its unpopularity is partly due to the modern day politics and the staggering lack of historical awareness of the European citizens. Politicians struggle to explain why their country should aid economies in peril. On October 26th 2012, German Chancellor Merkel made a passionate appeal to all European leaders that the financial crisis should be faced head-on and solved with political will, otherwise the Euro and the peace in Europe would be at stake. Some people laconically mocked her sense of exaggeration. I believe she was right.
The European cooperation has provided us with a lasting peace in our society that is unprecedented. Ever since it has been founded, member states have been living in peace. Never before in history had there been a period of sixty years in which no war was fought on Western European soil. It survived the Cold War; former Communist countries now apply for membership. We live in a Europe in which war seems inconceivable, something that could never happen to us. Yet, we fail to understand its uniqueness.
The banking and financial crises hit the world hard. Especially in Europe some countries fell victim to its global nature. But is exactly the supranational nature of European cooperation that has kept us safe from war. Sure, the system is not flawless, not by a long shot. And obviously some major mistakes were made. But one has to realize that ‘Europe’ as a unified entity is actually a very young idea, and we should not give up on it easily. Yes, it is hard to support an idea that seems to have more downsides than benefits, but if we look closer, we find a hidden treasure far more valuable than economic growth or short term gain.
It is exactly our interdependence that has kept us safe from war, an extraordinary and unprecedented achievement. Our experience with near annihilation should weigh heavily on our conscience, and solidarity should be worth more than stock. People that disapprove the European Union and the Euro would do well to keep in mind the many centuries of consecutive war on European soil.
- Support EST with a donation!
June 16th, 2012
- Call for writers
October 12th, 2012
- The European Court of Justice: the true champion of the European project
November 6th, 2011
- Growing Pains: Ukraine’s Case of Benjamin Button
November 20th, 2012
- One step closer to a European identity
November 7th, 2010