War and European integration

Margaret Thatcher

My earlier posting about the causes of war seems to have raised same eyebrows. I promised to explain. The point I made was that previous wars in Europe were caused by the lack of European integration. Here are two good reasons why.

First, there is point about the internal politics of European countries. After the first world war, there was an outbreak of democracy across central and eastern Europe. The newly independent states adopted democratic constitutions. However that democracy did not last. In Poland, Germany, Hungary and elsewhere, fascism and dictatorship took over, in varying degrees of nastiness. Such a contrast to the experience since 1989. The EU has established international norms of political behaviour to which aspirant member states must adhere. Spain, Portugal and Greece felt this attraction. The ex-Communist countries have felt the same. Romania legalised homosexuality in 2001, for example: there is no place for that kind of bigotry in the EU. Democracies are less likely to fight wars with each other.

Secondly, in addition to the question of how countries treat their citizens, there is also the question of how they treat each other. Prior to the EU, there was no means of resolving disputes short of war. This is the permanent question of international relations; this is its permanent handicap. Different countries can agree to work together when their interests coincide, and they can agree to leave each other alone when their interests diverge, but what happens when their interests conflict? This is the difficult and important case.

In the 1930s, for example, there were border disputes all over central and eastern Europe, most famously between Germany and Poland but by no means limited to there. When Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Poland and Hungary each also claimed territory. There was no other means by which the disputing countries might resolve their differences.

The nature of international law at the time could not guarantee Polish companies access to a seaport without giving the state of Poland itself a coastline. German companies could not be required to allow them to trade. How different from the single market and its non-discrimination provisions today.

The Europe we live in today is incomparably better off than it was in the 1930s. It is the building of peace (yes, it has to be built, it does not just happen of its own accord) and the lifting of the threat of war that has done that. One of the critical comments from a previous posting denounced this view as “subversive”. If so, let me quote my fellow pro-European subversive, Margaret Thatcher, during the last referendum campaign:

“As I said in the House of Commons when this final phase of the debate began, the paramount motive for doing so is political – the warranty for peace and security. The countries of western Europe, by working ever more closely together in economic and social concerns are building bridges of reconciliation and understanding between peoples long divided by rivalry and conflict.

“Had they done so sooner, the fearful slaughter of two world wars in one half-century might never have happened. Alas, we cannot call back yesterday; but for tomorrow we are, each one of us, solemnly responsible to our children. For their sakes as well as for our own, we must keep Britain in Europe.”

These blog entries first appeared on www.yes-campaign.net. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.

About the Author