By Joakim Ydebäck
It is a very common occurrence to take everything that is for granted. Sometimes it happens that one may stop to think and realize all that is and the vast complexity of the many components of our lives. One such component happens to be, at least to me, the European Union. Having been born after the Swedish referendum on EU-membership and being too young to vote in the polarized referendum regarding the possible adoption of the euro as new currency, the European Union has mostly been something in the periphery. It is when actually acknowledging its place in our society that it becomes interesting and you realize its importance. One specific area of importance springs to mind. The European Union has in fact managed to do something that no other organisation or union had done before: establish peace in Europe.
For centuries, Europe had been a continent of constant conflict. If it was not over territorial disputes, wars were waged based on religion, ethnicity and after the formation of military alliances. After the bloodiest war in history had torn the world apart, the idea of multinational cooperation in the hopes of creating a new peaceful and stable world was born. Say what you will about the results, our continent has been rather stable since the Second World War. And even though Europe was divided by an Iron Curtain for decades a Third World War never came to be. Since, in the beginning, the European Union only encompassed western liberal democracies it might be argued that it was in fact part of the new political and geographic division of the continent during the Cold War. But since the eastern expansion of the union, granting former communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary membership, there is now a larger area of inclusion and sphere of interest.
While the fact remains that wars were waged on the European continent, none of these have occurred within the comforting borders of the union. Wars are still being waged and conflicts still occur, even though they are often ignored or forgotten because they are conducted on the outskirts of the continent. And random acts of terrorism are carried out both from groups outside the union and inside the member states. Obviously the continent is politically strained and very polarized. The European Union has not been this threatened of division before. But still member states themselves have never been interlocked in arms races nor have they found themselves in armed conflict with each other.
The confidence and trust in the European Union is high. In a recent survey made in the United Kingdom (the union’s future divorcée), 74 percent of young Britons would have voted to remain. Another survey, presented by Politico, concluded that young Europeans are generally positive to the union. 38 percent of the same respondents said that they wanted more Europe and more integration of the cooperation between the member states. If these surveys show a general trend and opinion amongst European youth, then the future of the union is bright. The risk, however, is that the European Union as a peace project might not be as relevant in the current political discussion as it has been before. Peace on the continent has become obvious which might also be evidence of the project’s success.
Perhaps one might have to live with the fact that the European Union has and will continue to have an invisible presence in our society. Its presence seems to hold a more natural and constant place in the political structures of continental Europe. Domestic German politics is almost always a European matter. Domestic Swedish politics is almost never a European matter. And the European Union suffers from an identity crisis. Possibly as a consequence of the ideological strains in the continent and the current split with the United Kingdom. But what this article has attempted to argue is that despite all of its faults and its anonymity, it has accomplished its main goal: prevented war and assured peace on the continent. The European peace project is a success!
Joakim Ydebäck is studying at the Peace and Development Program at Uppsala University. After that, his goal is to somehow make the world just a little bit better. If he were to be offered the position of foreign minister, he would not say no. His four main interests include talk radio, international opinion polls, political crises and somber jazz music.