A few thoughts on EU direction of travel post Brexit, why the EU is critical to peace in Europe, and what can be described as the Germany Problem.
What will Brexit mean to the EU
For many countries in the EU the UK is a counterweight to German dominance and to many northern EU countries, including Germany, the UK is (was) a counterweight to the ‘statism’ instincts of France and southern Europe, and a champion of market economics.
So despite the Mr Awkward tag, UK EU membership was significant; probably more significant to the EU than the EU is to the UK.
Post Brexit the EU might suffer one of three scenarios
- Further integration, essential for the survival of the Euro. a sub-optimal currency block just like the Dollar or Sterling, but without the essential components of integrated tax collection and capital transfers of the latter two.
- Dismantle gracefully, perhaps with a North Euro and a South Euro block
- Do nothing with all the consequences that go with that; economic stagnation, social cohesion problems driven by high youth unemployment; The Rabbit in Car Headlights approach.
The part-myth of the democratic deficit in the EU
I don’t believe that the EU is less democratic than the UK. The problem is more of remoteness and transparency. The Commission proposes legislation, but only in areas agreed by member countries (who have a mandate from their electorate), this legislation is then scrutinised by the Council and debated by the European Parliament; seems pretty democratic to me.
It could be improved though; maybe with an elected upper EU chamber and more power devolved to regions. How it all works should also be a compulsory subject in schools.
The UK does not have bragging rights when it comes to democracy; an unelected upper house, a first-past-the-post system that pivots on a handful of marginals; hanging over all that some of the most biased newspapers in the western world.
Peace in Europe
Europe is one of the most war torn parts of the planet; no justification for that statement, it is a given, a fact.
That there have been no wars within those countries encompassed by the EU since 1945 is significant.
Can the EU take credit, rather than NATO, or WW2 fatigue for peace in Europe?
Yes, the EU can take credit for peace in Europe.
The EU and its forerunners, the Iron and Steel Community and the European Economic Community help to bring the people of Europe together, to remove the desire to fight each other. It does this by breaking down the barriers that allow nationalism to fester. It achieves this with, amongst other things
- Freedom of Movement: the RIGHT (you don’t need permission) to live and work in 27 other EU countries
- A common currency; all the Skinny Lattes consumed on a journey from Lisbon in Portugal to Berlin in Germany, a journey taking in 6 countries (I recommend a route that takes in northern Italy and Austria) will be paid for in one currency.
- School exchanges, particularly between France and Germany, more significant than most realise.
- Common involvement in projects to solve environmental and terrorism issues, neither of which respect ‘borders’.
NATO plays no part here; it a construct to counter external military threats to Europe and was formed to counter the Warsaw Pact.
A Europe of free and independent sovereign states with all the luck and will in the world cannot achieve what the EU has achieved in just 71 years.
The problem with the Sovereign State Model
First a caveat, a system of sovereign states can and does work elsewhere in the world. Examples include North America, and Australia and New Zealand.
But not in Europe; the states in Europe were formed by tribal migrations (Burgundy in France takes its name from a German tribe), royal dynasties and Royal marriage and war, with vague irrational borders constantly undergoing relocation depending on who has the largest army and the greater need to distract from domestic problems.
The UK is an island and the clarity and certainty of borders that this provides is significant; hard to think of a good excuse to invade the UK, it’s not the little ditch between France and England it is what it symbolises.
The border between Germany and Poland is what exactly; a straight line arbitrarily drawn at the end of last great military conflict in Europe, it was decided by force and balances of force change with time.
If sovereign states are the gun, pacts and treaties are the ammunition; WW2 in Europe started when Great Britain and The Empire declared war on Germany, consequent on a treaty between Great Britain and Poland, a treaty constructed on a geo-political rivalry between Great Britain and Germany that started in the late 19th Century, it was not created with the welfare of Poland as a main reason.
As it happened, Hitler was not the ‘nicest’ and had to be resisted. But my point here is a) this could have happened without a treaty and b) that treaty would still have been triggered had Germany been populated with angels and led by Gabriel himself.
Bismarck understood the complex power play between sovereign European states and played the diplomacy game with such mastery that its extension, war, was avoided in what was the longest period of peace in Europe prior to the advent of the EU. In the end he let us down. He died. And the systemic problem that is the Sovereign State Model took over and produced WW1, a war that killed millions and where the heads of state of the three main players were cousins.
There are only two possible routes to permanent peace in Europe, the political union that is the EU or force and conquest by the strongest European country.
The Germany Problem
The German people and German language go back over 2000 years though Germany is a young country in a political sense, welded together by Bismarck and Prussia, just 145 years ago.
Politically German history since is one of failure and war with huge cost born by other countries in Europe; the exception being the period when Bismarck was alive.
Culturally and intellectually German history is one of triumph with huge benefits to Europe and the World.
Two blunt assertions
- The land and people that comprise what is today known as Germany are the most fought over and attacked people in Europe. This might be difficult to comprehend for those who view Germany through the prism of the Third Reich. My advice here. Get an education.
- A key driver of German history, and, unavoidably, European history, is a search for a ‘security model’. Some attempts:
- The mighty Rhine and the deep forests (Teutoburger Wald still magnificent to-day) kept the Romans at bay
- Holy Roman Empire provided some security, safety in numbers much like a herd of Gazelle, but swept aside by Napoleonic ambition
- The German Empire formed in 1871 ‘scared the horses’ and led to two World wars.
- The Third Reich; we know how well that went. Naughty, but is it too far stretched to suggest that Hitler’s 1939-45 adventure was Defence rather than Offence.
- The EU – the most successful model yet.
In the Thirty Years War, largely fought on German lands, the German people lost 40% of their population through war. I acknowledge there was much loss of life in this period in other countries through plagues, etc; not the best time to be alive.
The Thirty Years War scarred and made Germany what it is and, I suggest, goes some way to explain the capacity for German brutality during the Hitler period.
A few weeks ago I visited my mother’s town, Herford, right in the centre of Germany and was struck by the cultural references to that period in German history.
Despite this loss of life the German people bounced back within two hundred years to dominate cultural and intellectual life in Europe, a period that came to an end in 1933.
Important not to underestimate the shaping of the times we live in now by both nuclear physics and quantum mechanics, two huge triumphs of human thought, that had their hot spots in German universities. I do fully concede that science is international rather than national, and that Niels Bohr, a Dane, led quantum mechanics in the early years, but the majority of his ‘helpers’ were brilliant German and German Jewish scientists.
So the EU is key to solving the Germany Problem without which peace in Europe cannot happen. It does this by removing the need for Germany to be a political entity and reflects that Germany is and always was a people bound together by culture and language, not a flag or border.
In essence the EU is the perfect ‘sand box’ for the Germany Problem, and through that the best bet for peace in Europe.
Are we going to throw that all away.