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Between Ideology and Reality

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Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that ‘the union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.’ Writing in the LRB five years ago, Perry Anderson observed:

The integration of the East into the Union is the major achievement to which admirers of the new Europe can legitimately point. Of course, as with the standard encomia of the record of EU as a whole, there is a gap between ideology and reality in the claims made for it. The Community that became a Union was never responsible for the ‘fifty years of peace’ conventionally ascribed to it, a piety attributing to Brussels what in any strict sense belonged to Washington. When actual wars threatened in Yugoslavia, far from preventing their outbreak, the Union if anything helped to trigger them.

Comments on “Between Ideology and Reality”

  1. NM says:

    How sad that the LRB, too, seems unable to rise about the snide tone that marks the rest of the British media’s attitude to the the European Union winning the peace prize. Can we please have a referendum in Europe on continued British membership?

  2. keith smith says:

    A depressing blog by the Editors. A fine LRB contributor, the late Alan MIlward, showed in great detail that the main achievement of the EU and its forerunners was not to create a federal state but rather to build an institutional framework that simultaneously saved the nation state as a form of political organisation in Europe while creating peace among the states. If that doesn’t deserve the peace prize I don’t know what might. And this has been but the most important of many politically surprising achievements. Incidentally, Milward’s work was extensively used by Perry Anderson in his turgid ‘New Old World’, alas without understanding the main ideas (or the careful empirical research on which they were based).

  3. outofdate says:

    Yes, odd. Never mind Tory backbenchers, who are as it were innocently doolally, you get earnest Labourites defending the NHS against that heinous banana-straightening interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, the EU Working-Time Directive. Why? Because it prevents junior doctors from working 89-hour shifts, thus endangering the very fabric of that shambles of an organisation and forcing heads of hospitals to hire a ‘locum’, who is as often as not… you guessed it: a foreigner, and thus by definition incapable of working at the pitch of excellence we have come to expect from a British alcoholic straight out of college on his third night without sleep.

    So much for ideology.

  4. Attrition says:

    To be fair to the EU’s owners, they have overseen the orderly management of the policies of Bruning (backed by American guns and money, rather than local private armies, that is) and created feudo-capitalism in one continent.

  5. guido franzinetti says:

    When I first saw the news of the Nobel Prize for Peace given to the EU, I honestly felt this was some Private Eye-type spoof. So I was in the least taken aback by the LRB Blog’s sarcasm on this choice, although my gut feeling is that the choice was to some extent determined by the desire to remind the EU itself of its past glories.

    That said, I was instead surprised by the LRB’s reiteration of the old canard of the “End-of-Yugoslavia-caused by-premature-recognition”. The fact is that the European Community/EU did play a negative role, but much earlier. This happened when, on 13 July 1991, at a closed session, the Netherlands represented proposed the freezing of inter-Yugoslav borders and the convening of an international conference to establish agreed borders between the republics (which were fully entitled to secede). This proposal made sense, since the borders had been defined (or confirmed) by the rulers of a one-party revolutionary state, for whom the borders had a purely administrative significance.

    The Dutch proposal was probably too little too late. Nevertheless, the crucial point (in terms of historical causality) was that it received zero support: not just from the eternally evil Germans or the Vatican, but from all other EC governments. Regardless of intentions and motivations, the reluctance to press for the redrawing of the inter-Yugoslav borders amounted to a complete abdication, and an encouragement to a military free-for-all. The immediate beneficiaries of this decision were those holding the greatest amount of military hardware (no prizes for guessing who). In the short, medium and long term, the losers were all minority groups scattered over the Yugoslav Federation: first of all, Serbs in Croatia, and Albanians Kosovars in Kosovo (who quickly realized the implications).

    Of course, there were excellent reasons for not intervening (money and manpower costs). Douglas Hurd provided an eloquent defence. But after 13 July 1991 the EC/EU had already (unwittingly) given the go-ahead for the military free-for-all. Sending a troika to Belgrade (offering Yugoslavs loadsamoney in exchange for staying together) was simply meaningless.

    All these facts have long been publicly known (see D. Owen, Balkan Odyssey, London 1995, p. 34). Why are they still neglected? Well, they present a slightly more complicated picture than that offered by the staple “nasty Germans and the Vatican” (or plain “Brussels bureaucrats”). It also provide little comfort for the anti-interventionist school.

    Yes, Brussels got it wrong in 1991. But in July, not December. Contrary to what some believe, non-intervention is not always a panacea.

    Guido Franzinetti

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