Friday, December 14, 2012

Sitting here in our safe European homes

Since it was officially announced back in October, the decision to award the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize fore 2012 has been the subject of much derision. Of course, scoffing at the EU has now become a game which almost any man, woman or child can take part in. Whether it is Brussels preventing your faithful dog from receiving bones from the local butcher or those pesky continental bureaucrats ordering women to hand over their used sex toys for recycling purposes, any fool who has ever committed the crime of paying for the Daily Express will be able to crack an unfunny gag relating to a fictitious tale about some peculiar nonexistent EU policy.

One could, of course, also make a cheap remark or two about the worthiness of the Nobel Peace Prize itself. The honour of it has been slightly discredited over the years by it being awarded to the banal (Al Gore), the bizarre (Barack Obama) and the barbaric (Henry Kissinger, or the day "political satire became obsolete" as Tom Lehrer described that particular one). Even so, the Nobel Committee's description of the EU as having contributed over the course of six decades to "the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe" remains quite correct.

Not everything is rosy. Europe is far from a utopia. Even within the Union's borders today there are many old wounds not yet healed. For evidence of this you only have to read the words spoken a few months back by Colonel Leopoldo Munoz Sanchez, a representative of the AME (Spanish Military Association), who stated that any move by Catalonia to declare independence should be met with a declaration of war in order to maintain the territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Spain. Thankfully the Colonel's voice is a minority one, a pathetic holler in the wilderness by a man clearly nostalgic for the era of the Caudillo. But would you seriously consider a Spain which was today outside the boundaries of the democratic supranational European Union a safer place? I would not.

Naysayers can mock and claim that the relative peace and stability enjoyed by us in our continent would have broken out anyway regardless of the increased cooperation and integration that has taken place, yet Europe in the decades and centuries prior to 1945 was a place torn apart by ferocious territorial disputes. That being the case you have to wonder who in the fifties would genuinely have wanted to take the risk that merely continuing to do things in the way we always had would have delivered a prolonged period of harmony and prosperity?

One place which failed to sort out its regional differences when it lay outside the EU framework was Yugoslavia. Today, the various parts of it which were plunged into bloodshed for most of the nineties are slowly coming back together again under the European flag. Slovenia has been a member now since 2004. Croatia will join in July 2013. Serbia is currently jumping through the various hoops that it has to in order to become a member state. The others fragments left over from the break up in the Balkans wars will surely follow them. And how encouraging it has been over the past year to read of the role played by the EU in helping to strengthen relations between the Serbs and the newest state in the region, Kosovo.

There are some Eurosceptics who continue to believe that the citizens of this continent managed to overcome the memories of fascism, Nazi occupation, the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Pact, the gas chambers and the numerous other horrors and atrocities simply through the wonders of free trade. Such an outlook has always struck me as slightly preposterous. Yes, free trade undoubtedly did play its role however the creation of a pan-European political and economic union, membership of which is only open to those that have their democratic credentials and human rights record in perfect working order, has strengthened the bond between old enemies in a way that 27 individual nation states all beating their own little drums could never have done. As for the future? Well, I am willing to throw my lot in with the goal of ever closer union. That may not be the most fashionable thing to say at the present and the European project certainly continues to have many flaws in urgent need of correction, but I am yet to hear an alternative which can seriously claim to be original, progressive and realistic.

So, by all means scoff at the decision to award the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize. You have the right and the freedom to do so as you sit comfortably in your safe European home. However, after you have had your chuckle, it may just be worth taking a brief moment to consider what it is that managed to make the European home in which you dwell just so safe.

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