Analysis: Ignore the shouting and posturing from Eurosceptic clowns
Why now? Why would the European Union – in the midst of the worst crisis in its history – be chosen for a Nobel peace prize? And over courageous Russian and Chinese dissidents or religious figures working for reconciliation between Christians and Muslims?
Maybe for two reasons. First, if the EU didn’t exist, we would need to invent something like it. Second, because European unity is valuable, underappreciated and fragile.
Consider the first point. Viewed in global terms, Europe contains mostly small states that are heavily dependent on each other economically. It also, of course, played host to the two most brutal wars of the 20th century – leaving aside the wars in former Yugoslavia. The EU doesn’t work as well as anyone, including its leading proponents, wish it did. However, it ensures that European states now co-operate (mostly) peacefully, instead of competing at the cost of blood and treasure.
That leads to the second point. The EU has created the world’s largest capitalist market and made possible (mostly) free movement of people, goods and services between its borders. It has made its member states and citizens far richer than they would be without it.
All of this is easy to miss in the context of the deepest economic recession in the EU’s history and rising Euroscepticism across the continent, including the UK. Speaking of which, just this week, Prime Minister David Cameron moved closer to promising his party a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. It is now almost impossible for a “pro-European” Tory to be selected to stand for a seat at Westminster. The UK Independence Party – a collection of eccentric clowns – is set to do well in the European Parliament election in 2014, probably better than the (pro-European) Liberal Democrats.
Closer to home, Lord Wallace delivered his decision earlier this month that an independent Scotland would not have an automatic right to EU membership. By no means is it a foregone conclusion that states with their own restive regions – such as Belgium or Spain – would automatically vote to allow Scottish EU membership after a yes vote in 2014. It is worth reminding ourselves that Scotland is considerably more economically dependent on exports to the rest of the EU than is the rest of the UK.
Does the EU deserve a Nobel peace prize? Debatable. However, it remains the most successful experiment in international co-operation in human history.
• John Peterson is professor of international politics at the University of Edinburgh.
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