The European Union started out and continues to be an organisation whose primary objective is to create a lasting peace in Europe after centuries of conflict ending in two catastrophic world wars.
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The extraordinary success it has so far achieved to this end, recognised by the award of the Nobel Peace price in 2012, has in a sense gone unnoticed in the UK or, if the EU is talked about at all, it is often negatively; a convenient scapegoat in particular for government and the nationalist press.
And yet, in spite of the denigration, prejudice and misinformation prevalent in certain quarters and the nationalist press, and the ignorance of the general public as to the workings and objectives of the EU, successive governments of all parties have supported the European process since 1973 when the UK joined the European Economic Community until 2015. Moreover, at the time of the 2016 EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of MPs in the House of Commons were “Remainers “.
So what is the relevance of the European project to peace in Europe?
The genius of the founding fathers of Europe in the post-war period was to recognise the absolute necessity of changing the way people thought about national boundaries, not to abolish them, but - in order to attain objectives they had in common - to transcend them by working together towards that attainment.
It was also their firm belief that human relations can be transformed when people of different nationalities work together to achieve commonly accepted objectives and rules for doing so, and that in doing so “their behaviour towards each other changes. This is the process of civilisation" (Jean Monnet).
The successive institutions created by this European movement have bound together the nations involved in ever widening areas of collaboration, cooperation, and shared sovereignty, starting with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC) and subsequently the Single Market and European Union. Civil servants, politicians, parliamentarians, business, industry and universities have increasingly participated in this process to the point that today, to separate the life and economies of the nation states concerned will prove extremely difficult.
Above all, this process of "getting to know" each other has allowed an extraordinary development in the mutual understanding and respect for the cultures, language and history of the participating nations and in overcoming prejudices. Hereditary enmities have disappeared; nationality is no longer an issue.
A large part of Europe has been transformed into a community of nations with a common citizenship and agreed standards for entry to the 'club'. Democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the press, for example, are required of any nation wishing to belong to or to continue to be a member. This community has acted as a magnet for those European countries escaping from dictatorial regimes or those from the ex-Soviet Union and continues to attract other European countries not yet member states. It has opened up multiple opportunities for EU nationals to work, study and live in any of the member states.
There is no reason why those European States not yet members, such as Serbia, Russia and Ukraine should not one day become members of the EU. To do so they would clearly have to demonstrate their respect for the democratic principles underlying EU membership. The possibility of admittance to the EU will continue to provide an important incentive to the democratic forces in those countries wishing to join. The cause of peace in Europe and elsewhere in the world will be further enhanced by such an enlargement of the Union.
The construction of Europe with its richness and glorious diversity, no longer to be a source of conflict or a battlefield, is an ongoing and lengthy process and one whose final form has yet to be decided. However, it is one which should inspire all its citizens.
David Quinn is an international official who for over 40 years served in various inter-governmental organisations, including OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), ESA (European Space Agency) and EUTELSAT (European Satellite Organisation).