International Relations

Does the EU Deserve Its Nobel Peace Prize?

Oct 12 '12

“Gideon Rachman”:http://blogs.ft.com/the-world/2012/10/does-the-eu-deserve-its-nobel/#axzz295W2Zl00 is somewhat skeptical.

bq. However, there is clearly a potential logical fallacy here — which is known as “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”…”After this, therefore because of this.” In other words, just because the establishment of the EU coincided with the establishment of peace in western Europe, it doesn’t mean one thing caused the other. … The EU would doubtless like to take the credit for mid-wifing the establishment of prosperity, democracy etc, across the Union. And doubtless it has played an important role. On the other hand, similar conditions prevail in North America: war between the US, Canada and Mexico is also pretty unlikely. Ditto, Australia and New Zealand. Still, while I don’t think the EU can claim sole credit — or maybe even the main credit — for the establishment of peace in Europe, it surely did no harm. Above all, EU leaders have learned the habit of intensive cooperation with each other. That international socialisation is very important, and it will be crucial to preserve it — whatever happens to the euro, or the Union.


This is a question, unsurprisingly, that political scientists have argued about. Or, more precisely, a set of questions that they have argued about (the below is mostly my own take; feel free to disagree and point to countervailing evidence in comments). The Nobel committee mentions both the EU’s contribution both to reconciliation between Germany, France and other West European states post-World War II, and the EU’s contribution to democracy building in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The first was a topic of debate between international relations realists, constructivists and liberals. Realists tended to see peace in Western Europe as the temporary and contingent result of US dominance, and the threat from the USSR. Most notoriously, John Mearsheimer “suggested a scenario”:http://mearsheimer.uchicago.edu/pdfs/A0017.pdf under which the end of the Cold War would lead to renewed conflict in Western Europe, and nuclear proliferation across states that now had reason to fear each other. Despite economic tensions, this scenario shows little sign of emerging. Liberals and constructivists, like Rachman, pointed to the habits of cooperation as a key contribution to peaceful relations among Western European states, and in “helping consolidate democracy”:http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3078657 (paywall) in the Central and Eastern European states which became members. They have tended to pass over the ways in which disagreement among Western European states helped precipitate the civil war in former Yugoslavia, and to point to the ways in which the EU has helped solve “border conflicts”:http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=453922 (behind paywall). There is good reason to believe that the carrot of potential EU membership (politically controversial though it was inside the EU), combined with the stick of conditions on membership that included democracy, protection for minority rights, and peaceful relations with surrounding states, played an important role in preventing conflict among the new member states. The “OSCE”:http://tmc.local/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/peace.pdf and the EU worked closely together to ensure that minority populations (the borders of Central and Eastern European countries did not match distributions of ethnic populations) did not blow up into civil wars or territory grabs, after the Yugoslavia disaster.

The worrying question now is whether the EU can continue to play anything like the pacifying role it did in the 1990s. On the one hand, it has lost its power to persuade outsiders, largely because it isn’t interested in offering membership to troubled countries on its borders anytime soon. The EU’s ability e.g. to influence Turkish policy towards its Kurdish population has diminished dramatically. Russia has succeeded in recreating a zone of control among many of the neighboring states that it once dominated, and has some interest in keeping various ‘frozen conflicts’ (in Transnistria; in the secessionist bits of Georgia) alive. On the other, its ability to influence member states once they have become member states is dramatically lower. Once Greek Cyprus became a member, it was able to block efforts to create any agreement with the Turkish controlled parts. As the EU’s attention has been entirely taken up with its economic crisis, Hungary, which had a lot of people worried in the 1990s (lots of Hungarians outside its current borders, thanks to the Austro-Hungarian empire; lots of potential for irredentism), has become increasingly less democratic and more nationalistic. It’s still very unlikely that Central and Eastern Europe will slide back into a world of competing nationalisms, but it’s certainly less unlikely than it was five years ago, and may become yet less unlikely if the EU continues to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Hungary and a couple of other member states.