|Politik und Gesellschaft
International Politics and Society 2/2000
European Integration and the Price of Peace*
If there is a constant in European history, it is war. Our political systems and the people at the top of them were somehow prone to generate ever new situations of conflict and to solve them by violent means. European history is an almost incessant stream of blood, misery and destruction – within Europe itself and elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, the width and depth of this stream increased with the size and the strength of centrally organised states and with the development of military technology.
Against this historical background, Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Europe have enjoyed half a century of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Almost two generations have not been involved in a war nor have they experienced the misery it causes. The absence of war is in itself an amazing and precious achievement. Yet, what is even more amazing and precious is, what might be called, a new culture of conflict management: Of course there are still conflicts and plenty of conflicting interests, but we follow accepted procedures that lead to negotiated solutions.
Even more importantly, we can be certain that all conflicts are resolved peacefully, that is without recourse to military force and to the menace of military force. Military force has simply ceased to be part of tactical and strategic games that are played within the European Union (EU). In this sense we can say that the EU has become a peace community: It is characterised not only by the absence of war, but by the absence of the possibility of war among its members. Small wonder that the neighbouring countries of the EU have, apart from the economic benefits they expect, such a strong interest in joining the club.
If the process of European integration can be credited with converting
the belligerent Europe of the past into a non-aggressive and stable peace
community, then many of the institutional, democratic and economic deficiencies
of the EU necessarily may be seen in a much milder light. On the other
hand, it would be very worth while to find out whether other regions in
the world could learn any lessons from this process of integration.
Specific Historical Conditions
As I have tried to show in more detail elsewhere, the process of European integration evinced in its early phases the following characteristics:
8 European integration began under
very specific and rather complex geo-strategical, political and economic
conditions after World War II. The Cold War created a favourable setting
for integration. It may have been a necessary condition, but it was
by no means a sufficient one-
It is obvious then that very specific historical conditions and contingencies reigned at that time. Historical conditions across time and place do not tend to appear twice. Hence there is little to be learned from historic experience as such. No grand design and no grand, rational strategy toward integration existed, nor would it probably have had a chance to succeed. Jean Monnet did not have a grand design, but a method that well fitted the path dependency of integration – and he had the right connections. Without him and without his and other people’s perseverance, European integration would not be where it is today; but even with him integration could have taken a totally different path.
Monnet's Method of Integration and the Secret of its Success
What was Monnet’s method of integration? In his own words it can be summarised as follows:
8 All countries must be equal partners:
"Peace can only be based on equality."
Under Monnet’s leadership there was strong emphasis on supra-nationalism.
When his influence declined it was scaled down and the member states regained
some sovereignty. The balance between supra-nationalism and inter-governmentalism
has been shifting since then in one or the other direction.
The secret of the success, in terms of the formation of a peace community, of this sort of institutionalised, permanent, multi-level dialogue is that civilised forms of social intercourse have become deeply ingrained. Over many years, government officials have been spending a lot of time in meetings, committees, negotiations, luncheons etc. with officials from other European countries and of European institutions. This intensive social intercourse together with the institutional and political need to permanently negotiate has given rise to a new culture of conflict management in Europe. This is the essence of our peace community.
The ever increasing need for negotiations has been due to several factors:
8 The Treaties of the EC and the
EU are vague and often lend themselves to extensive interpretations.
Naturally, one can have doubts as to the efficiency and the democratic
legitimacy of such all-pervading institutionalised dialogues. In a sense,
they are the perfect means to produce second-best and third-best solutions.
On the other hand, this kind of give and take occurs at the national and
sub-national level, too. Our political systems have long been transformed
into systems where most outcomes are the result of complex negotiations
which involve, just like in Brussels, not only government institutions,
but all sorts of organised interests as well. That is of course no excuse
because interest-group politics and dealings of government elites behind
closed doors do not accord well with democratic principles. Here, not
only the EU, but also its member states suffer from a democratic deficit.
This difficulty is illustrated by Ralf Dahrendorf's lack of faith in Monnet: Political decisions ought not to be taken through functionalist tricks, but in principle politically, that is by elected governments and parliaments. He would start, as he has repeatedly expressed, with a European Constitution that clearly delineates the competences of a European government and of national governments and defines citizens’ rights etc. Constitutional proposals would be discussed extensively by the European public and parliaments and the final text would enjoy a high degree of legitimacy and acceptance. It is clear, unfortunately, that this route would not have led anywhere in the early years of European integration. One wonders, under what historical circumstances the desire for such a grand scheme of integration could be strong enough in the potential member countries of a union to initiate such a dialogue and to take it to a happy conclusion. Furthermore, to what extent could the dangers of a hermetic dialogue really be avoided in such an undertaking.
Political Objectives and Market Efficiency
After the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC)
and the European Political Community (EPC) it became clear that direct
political integration was not possible. As a consequence, a sectoral approach
was chosen and the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), Euratom and
the European Economic Community were created. Their real purpose was always
During the "Golden Age" (1950-73) it was popular to associate
the then prevailing high growth rates and the rising standard of living
with European integration. This, of course, gave legitimacy to European
integration. In fact, the economic performance of the EEC, even though
it was quite remarkable in absolute terms, was not superior to that of
other OECD countries. During the "crisis decades" (Hobsbawm)
that followed the relative performance of the Community notably declined.
Hence, to perceive European integration only in terms of market efficiency and the benefits derived therefrom is short-sighted and even wrong. Pure and simple economic integration can undermine political integration and its legitimacy.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Size
Large countries or economically integrated regions do not necessarily
do better economically than small countries. Within a large economic area,
cumulative differential processes of economic growth are more likely than
in smaller ones. To maintain minima of social coherence and political
legitimacy, it is necessary to ameliorate differences in development potentials
and to provide income support to needy people and deficit-ridden public
institutions. For these purposes all developed countries operate complex
transfer systems. Depending on its level, the political integration of
countries requires solidarity of the richer toward the poorer countries.
One can expect then that the EU with the full implementation of the European
Monetary Union will be able to reap the benefits of economic sturdiness.
Furthermore, to the extent that the Euro will be held as a reserve currency,
the benefits of seignorage will accrue to Eurolandia.
One can consider the possibility of such behaviour an advantage of size.
Whatever view one prefers, the EU is well experienced in this field. A
harmless example is when it persuaded, in the course of the project "Europe
1992", non-EC capital to be invested within its frontiers. However, there
are less harmless cases, too: In negotiations over fishing rights with
Morocco and other countries in North and West Africa, the EU repeatedly
and shamelessly imposed unequal treaties upon them. Another case is the
dumping of its heavily subsidised agricultural surpluses onto Africa and
Eastern Europe, resulting in large damages to the local production.
If the EU had a unitary foreign and security policy, such an export of
internal problems might be amended in the name of coherence. But to what
purpose would we want to have a coherent foreign and security policy?
Would we want to be fair to the small and weak countries in our periphery?
Would we be ready to support their development efforts financially, through
technical assistance etc.? Would we throw open our doors for their exports
and for training their people – even though some will find ways to stay?
Or, would our main interest lie in the stabilisation of an hegemonic order
in our backyard, preventing emigration into the EU and maintaining political
regimes to our liking. The signs are ominous: After the Kosovo war many
voices are demanding, for instance, a Rapid Deployment Force for the EU
– in order "to provide ourselves for stability on our continent". Don’t
we really mean our " sphere of
influence" ? "Where there is European
capital, there are European interests" could well become one of our measuring
rods. For an economic giant that feels like a political dwarf, it would
not be totally illogical to move in that direction.
Hence, the EU faces a dilemma: If it aspires to become a world power, it accelerates or even sets into motion a spiral of mutual distrust, conflict and re-armament. If it resigns itself to the role of a subservient political dwarf, it will be reproached for not harnessing, in spite of its size and economic importance, US unilateralism; for not preventing further humiliations; for not defending its interests effectively; and for not mediating conflicts in other parts of the world.
Clearly, neither option is desirable. Could this unpromising dilemma situation be avoided? First, one might note, of course not in the spirit of justifying existing unipolarity, that such an arrangement is less unstable, less dangerous and potentially less destructive than multipolarity. Second, one might remember Jean Monnet’s method of "engrenage" and institution building: Are we not already involved in the process of developing international rules and laws and of transferring sovereignty to international bodies? Will this in the end not be more effective to limit, inter alia, hegemonic power?
Such an approach makes things easier for the smaller countries, too.
They can, more than large countries, benefit from international rules
and institutions – at least as long as these are not made or controlled
by superpower interests. The EU itself offers an excellent example: The
smaller member countries enjoy the same rights as the larger ones and
possess much recourse against the infringements of their interests by
the latter (which still try, of course).
Institutionalised Dialogue and Other Roads to Peace
As a result of the process of European integration, Europe has been enjoying a long period of stable peace. Military might and menace play no role in the relations within the European Union. That is an enormous achievement in view of the bloody history of our continent.
There had not been a grand design for this. Instead the process took
place under rather difficult historical and political conditions. It was
path dependent to a very high degree, i.e. it could not be planned in
advance and its progress often enough depended simply on good luck. With
hindsight, probably the most important element in this process was the
creation of institutionalised dialogues in an ever larger number of policy
fields both within and outside the framework of the EEC/EC/EU. This led
to what has been called at the beginning of this paper a "new culture
of conflict management" in Europe.
The European way toward a peace community was unique, as all historical processes are. Therefore it seems pertinent to ask what other means could be used for the end of creating a stable order of peace. I can see nine alternatives, the advantages and disadvantages of which are briefly discussed. They are arranged in order of their potential contribution to the formation of a stable peace community.
Treaties of non-aggression: Their purpose is to prevent wars, but they are treaties of convenience for the signatories. They are not really based on trust and they are not intended to build trustful relationships among them. Whether and how they are observed, will depend on all sorts of circumstances. They cannot eliminate the possibility of war.
Power-balance politics: As we know from European history in particular, this is a dangerous game and one that gets easily out of hand. The Cold War was a special case with only two powers: Without nuclear deterrence on both sides, it might not have been stable for such a long time. In history, the succession of one dominant power by another was usually achieved through war.
Hegemonic power: The main purpose of a hegemonic power is not peace as such, but other interests. These however might suffer from military conflicts within the hegemonic sphere. During the Cold War there were hot wars which reflected either the inherent logic of the Cold War or the idiosyncrasies of the hegemon. If there are several hegemons or would-be hegemons, a durable peace cannot be expected. The ability of the hegemon to prevent wars by its military prowess depends on internal power coalitions and on what public opinion is ready to bear. Hence, it cannot be relied upon. Hegemonic peace always depends to a certain extent on force, coercion and submission. Its inherent asymmetry contains the seeds of opposition and rebellion, and therefore potential instability. Once the hegemon’s clout becomes less impressive, opposition to the harsh discipline it imposes is almost unavoidable. When the period of " peaceful co-existence" began in the early 1960s, demands for political reform started to flourish, the European integration progress almost came to a halt and France began to reassert itself vis-à-vis the United States.
External federator: In order to induce countries to form a " Union" , the common enemy must be perceived to be very strong and menacing. The " Union" would then make the greatest effort to build up its military potential. As long as there is no fear of " guaranteed mutual destruction" these efforts might even increase the likelihood of war.
Economic interdependence: There are good arguments why trade should foster peace; yet there are arguments, too, against this proposition. There is strong historical evidence against it: Just before World War I foreign trade as a share of GDP in the European countries had already reached levels comparable to the ones of the 1990s. The world economy was highly integrated then, yet this still could not prevent the war. The causes of the war were not economic. Yet, as has been stressed by Carr (1968), the process of the socialisation of the nation-state, i.e. the domestication of capital and its political subordination, was already far advanced. The laisser-faire, single-world economy was replaced by a multiplicity of national economies. Capital and government came to live in a symbiotic relationship and national enterprises were an integral part of the war efforts. Economic nationalism has not disappeared. Even nowadays we tend to perceive, for instance, Japan and other East Asian countries as competitors. Moreover, much of the talks on globalisation are driven by fears that capital could again dissociate itself from the nation-state. Under these circumstances, it is hard to believe that economic interdependence is a promoter of peace.
International treaties: Such treaties deal with conflicts of interest between nations and therefore define the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved. They do not deal with common interests, but with the separation of interests. If circumstances change, the conflicts could reemerge.
International co-operation: It involves at least some elements which the parties have in common. Hence, it can strengthen bonds among them and can even expand into other areas than the ones originally signed for.
Political integration: Some common interests and even some common good ought to be present in cases of political integration. The more areas of policy-making are incorporated into the politics of the Union, the stronger the inner bonds become. The question of the legitimacy of political integration cannot be neglected. If it remains a matter of the political and governmental elites, and if the results of integration as perceived by the citizenries are not satisfactory, it can breed opposition. Hence even political integration can be reversible. In any case, it requires continuous management of potential conflicts.
Social integration: European integration has been an affair of the European elites. The prominence of supra-national integration and institutionalised dialogue meant that it could not be otherwise. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to identify European integration only with the political and governmental elites. In fact the everyday life of the European tribes has become quite Europeanised and internationalised. Quite a number of Europeans do not live in their country of origin but in some other country of the EU or elsewhere in the world. A vast majority of the people has spent time in other countries of Europe for holiday, business or study. Tens of millions are on the move every summer. There are no more border controls. Trains and motorways form integrated European networks. Young people spend a school or college year in other countries. You can watch at least some television programs from other EU countries everywhere and so on. Social intercourse across countries has become quite intensive and we take pleasure in it. We still might make jokes about the others (just as we do about the people from the neighbouring town or village), but basically we perceive each other as equals. The times when the European tribes hated each other seem very remote and almost incomprehensible.
That means, social integration, through unfettered travel, tourism, exchange
programs, city partnerships, sports leagues, language learning, curricula
with information about other countries and peoples is of primary importance
for the development of a peace community, as well as for its permanence
and acceptance by the citizenries. Once one has found out that the "others"
are just human beings like oneself, the mental constructions of "strangers"
lose their vilifying basis and cannot easily be manipulated anymore by
Europa am Ende? Die Auflösung von EG und NATO. München:
Piper Verlag, 1993.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | net edition gerda.axer-daemmer | 4/2000