Paul Vallely: Five EU decades to be grateful for

by
21 March 2007

I HAVE NOT had my war. Not in the way that my father had his. Or my grandfather his. Of course there has been Vietnam, the Falklands, and now the terrible débâcle in Iraq. But these have been merely in my name, if you can say “merely” in such a context. They have not been all-out wars.

Even when there have been bombs in my streets, from the IRA and from Islamicist terrorists, I have not been involved, let alone committed. To understand the difference, Norman Schwarzkopf once said, you have only to look at a plate of ham and eggs; the hen was involved, but the pig was committed. So I have not had my war. Thank God.

I fell to musing on this benediction the other day. Was it Providence, or luck? Was war an aberration, or was it the bellicose norm? I had noticed somewhere a one-paragraph report to say there will be a concert tomorrow at the Brandenburg Gate, and a youth summit, in Rome. Past and future. The great gate, my schoolboy history told me, was the scene of Napoleon’s triumphal entry into Berlin, and the backdrop to the vainglorious power of the Nazis. Rome, by contrast, had been selected because it was the place where the treaty was signed in March 1957 which founded what is now the European Union. Tomorrow the continent’s leaders gather in Berlin for the official celebrations of its 50th anniversary.

Fifty years without war is a long stretch when you look back at European history. In contemporary political consciousness, Europe, if it looms at all, is a somewhat abstract preoccupation. There are rows about the euro, about constitutions, or, interminably, about whether we want an economic association or a federal superstate.

But it is all, essentially, in the background. Tony Blair, who entered Downing Street thinking it was his destiny to settle Britain’s relationship with Europe, has instead had his premiership defined primarily by his friendship with the United States.

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Europe is the future, according to the essayist Mark Leonard, author of Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century. He argues that the European way of doing things will become the world’s, by which he means it will copy our economic, political, legal and social models. The United States might be able to use its military power to change regimes, but it cannot change societies. By contrast, countries which adopt the European approach — and there are plenty queuing up to join the EU — are transformed from the inside out and will create a European sphere of influence which will be pivotal in the multipolar world which is to come.

Maybe. I suspect attitudes to Europe will be governed not by its institutions, but by how well its politicians modernise our economies in a globalising world, and how they deal with migration and terrorism, organised crime and drugs, Africa and climate-change.

Europe is the future, according to the essayist Mark Leonard, author of Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century. He argues that the European way of doing things will become the world’s, by which he means it will copy our economic, political, legal and social models. The United States might be able to use its military power to change regimes, but it cannot change societies. By contrast, countries which adopt the European approach — and there are plenty queuing up to join the EU — are transformed from the inside out and will create a European sphere of influence which will be pivotal in the multipolar world which is to come.

Maybe. I suspect attitudes to Europe will be governed not by its institutions, but by how well its politicians modernise our economies in a globalising world, and how they deal with migration and terrorism, organised crime and drugs, Africa and climate-change.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that Europe has delivered us five long decades without war. The Brandenburg Gate was not, whatever the Nazis thought, a symbol of military power. It was built by a long-gone King of Prussia as a sign of peace. And it was the only structure left standing in the city’s great central square amid the ruins of the last World War.

Paul Vallely is associate editor of The Independent.

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