Monday 26 Sep 2022 | 02:56 | SYDNEY
Monday 26 Sep 2022 | 02:56 | SYDNEY

Three cheers for Europe: Hurray, urrà, hurra!

15 October 2012 16:12

Tim Dunne is Professor of International Relations in the Asia Pacific Centre for R2P, University of Queensland.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (left) receives flowers from Atle Leikvoll, Norway's Ambassador to the European Union.

The Guardian opened its weekend editorial on the merits of the news from Oslo that Europe had won the Nobel Peace Prize, with the line that 'satire was abolished the day that Henry Kissinger got the peace prize'. Only against this measure does the decision by the Nobel Committee seem well founded.

The same US Secretary of State, who as a young man at Harvard wrote a doctoral dissertation on the 19th Century Concert of Europe, is attributed with the quip, 'Who do I dial when I want to call Europe?’ Yet the absence of a strong and singular conception of sovereignty at the heart of the European Union should not mask the achievements of its project.

If it were possible to give an accolade for a vision, then the ideas underpinning the European project are unquestionably deserving of recognition. The 1950 Schuman Plan, led by then Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, realised the need for concrete cooperative measures to be taken if Europe's future was to be unlike its warring past. 

Underpinning the Schuman plan, and countless subsequent policies and initiatives taken by the European Union, is the idea that peace is a process rather than an end state. And that process is advanced by being attentive to practical and material issues and concerns, such as the need for cooperation over vital resource extraction set out in the 1950 plan for a coal and steel community. Through these small steps, the early visionaries hoped that war in Europe would become not merely unthinkable but materially impossible.

Europe remains a complex entity in which governance happens across at least three institutional levels (supranational, state-based, sub-state regional governance). This means that, when it leads, it frequently leads from behind, as the sovereign debt crisis shows, or the inept European interventions in the Balkans crises during the 1990s.

So is it hurray, urrà, and hurra for Europe? No, in the sense that Europe has not been a great success in promoting peace on a global scale; its peace is what one of its towering philosophers, Immanuel Kant, called a 'separate peace'. Even then this peace required US diplomatic support, massive US economic investment, almost 300,000 pairs of boots on the ground (a high point reached in 1962), and NATO's collective defence charter and operations. But yes, in the sense that the separate peace needs recognising, just as the interplay of economic and security logics that underpin its vision needs valorising.

Photo of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (left) receiving flowers from Atle Leikvoll, Norway's Ambassador to the European Union, by Reuters.