Today: A guest blog on the Nobel Peace Prize from my colleague Desmond Dinan, the Jean Monnet Professor at George Mason University and a specialist on the European Union.
The EU is ecstatic. The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize is a shot in the arm during the chronic eurozone crisis. It deflects attention from current troubles and puts the EU in broader historical perspective, as a force for stability and peaceful change in the turbulent post-World War II period.
What, exactly, is the relationship between the EU and peace in post-war Europe?
Recall how Europe looked immediately after the war. Germany was utterly defeated and divided. Other European countries were in various states of economic and political disarray. All looked to the US for financial support, which came initially in the form of bilateral loans, later through the multilateral Marshall Plan.
At the same time, the Soviet Union’s consolidation of control over Central and Eastern Europe, and the West’s response, divided the Continent. Safely in the economic embrace of the United States and soon under the security umbrella of US-led NATO, Western Europe began a period of unprecedented stability and prosperity.
The EU, in its first incarnation, the European Coal and Steel Community, now made a key contribution to the post-war settlement. The German question still festered. The Federal Republic had come into existence in 1948, despite deep French misgivings. The new German state chafed at remaining Allied economic controls, stoking French insecurity.
In particular, France feared a resurgence of Germany’s steel industry, fueled by Ruhr coal, before France could modernize its own steel industry, based on access to Ruhr coal rather than dependence on lower-grade domestic deposits.
With its policy toward Western Europe shaped increasingly by the Cold War, a sympathetic US Administration pressured France to devise a policy toward Germany that would allay French economic insecurity, facilitate Germany’s rapid growth, and satisfy Washington’s overriding interest in putting Germany firmly back on its feet.
The result was the French proposal for a supranational Coal and Steel Community, which would take these vitally important economic sectors out of national control.
Thus the answer to the German question, mutually agreeable to France, Germany, and the US—the countries that mattered—was to embed the post-war German state in a supranational organization, first the Coal and Steel Community (1952); then the European Economic Community (1958); finally, after German unification, the European Union (1992).
Would there still be a German question without the process of European political and economic integration? Most likely, resourceful US and European leaders would eventually have come up with an alternative solution, involving various formal and informal international arrangements. All we know for certain is that the supranational strategy triumphed and soon came to be seen as the only possible outcome.
Apart from providing a supranational framework for embedding post-war Germany, the EU became a pole of attraction for newly-democratic European countries, first in the 1970s, when Greece, Portugal, and Spain moved toward membership; then in the 1990s, when ten countries from the former Soviet bloc followed suit.
The key EU claim to building peace and stability in both cases, but especially the latter, hinges on conditionality: the EU’s ability to leverage political and economic reforms in countries eager to join.
Central and Eastern European countries were keen to democratize and become fully-functioning market economies regardless of the EU. Yet the lure of membership, and the conditions attached, undoubtedly bolstered reform movements throughout the region.
In the case of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, countries where liberal democratic institutions are still weak, the EU’s beneficial impact is nonetheless obvious. The challenge for the EU, in the post-enlargement period, is to reverse democratic backsliding, especially in those member states. Without the leverage of conditionality, the EU is bound to be less effective.
How, overall, do we rate the EU as a peacemaker?
In the immediate postwar period, the United States deserves more credit for Western European reconstruction and rehabilitation. A little later, the Coal and Steel Community provided an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle that became the postwar settlement, embedding West Germany into a supranational entity, with strong US support. Later still, the EU helped ease the transition of newly-democratic and independent states to liberal democracy and market-based economies.
The EU now provides a framework in which twenty-seven countries participate in a single economic space; in which residents move freely across borders; and in which a common currency circulates. Even though the eurozone is in crisis; Euroskepticism is rampant; democratic backsliding is pervasive; and enlargement is incomplete, there is no denying that, historically, the EU has been a force for good.
Does that mean it deserves the Nobel Peace Prize? The committee in Oslo thinks so. Like winning an election for a beleaguered government, perhaps that’s all that really matters.