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The EU, guarantor of Europe's peace

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9 June 2011 14:51

Daniel Woker is the Swiss Ambassador to Australia.

The Lowy Institute's Bronwyn Lo, on the occasion of the arrest of Ratko Mladic, sees Europe raising false membership hopes for Serbia, Turkey and Cyprus, but unduly links the technicalities of three quite different EU membership quests.

While her points, taken one by one, are mostly correct (exception: no 'mass protests' materialised in Belgrade after Mladic's arrest), she fails to paint the big picture of (a) Mladic in the dock as part of the historic and ongoing peacemaking role of the EU for Europe, and (b) the EU as the vehicle for the banning of Europe's century-old ghosts of religious intolerance and destructive nationalist fervour.

The implosion of Yugoslavia in the early '90s clearly showed the faults of the then-emerging all-European political architecture, and of its crisis management. Without the US, NATO and Richard Holbrooke, peace, however tenuous, could not have been restored, at least not in the historically brief interval between Dayton and the independence of Kosovo.

Europe and the EU learnt their lesson: the 'Helsinki'-enshrined principles (only peaceful changes of borders are acceptable) need political muscle in their application. So there cannot be a peaceful place for war criminals and genocidaires in European society.

In historical perspective, Mladic's arrest, scandalously late as it comes, brings a welcome close to not only the violent implosion of Yugoslavia, but also to a black century for the Balkans which started with the fateful shots of 1914 in Sarajevo. Needless to point out that 1914 also saw the beginning of what future historians might call the Great European Civil War (World War I, World War II, the Cold War), a repeat of which has been made unthinkable since 1990, especially by the EU and other more technical structures like the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Turkey's eventual EU membership is a quite different matter. Turkey is one of Europe's most populous countries, has Europe's largest armed forces and sits genuinely on the crossroads of Europe and Asia, not to speak of its character as a secular but Muslim nation. The challenge of integrating it into the four European freedoms — goods, services, capital and people — let alone to make it part of the nascent European foreign policy, is a generational task which has barely begun.

To Cyprus: again an entirely different set of circumstances. Two historical and religious enemies, Turkey and Greece, are the respective patron saints of the divided island. This problem will be solved eventually. Both sides of the Cyprus dispute, at different times but in equal measure, feel too secure in the absolute veto power of their respective patron. Both sides will be proven wrong; the EU just hasn't put the screws on yet, but it will eventually.

The point here is that the EEC, now the EU, was (historic reconciliation of the main European arch-enemies after World War II), is (reintegration of western and eastern Europe; solution of the 'Balkan question') and will be the main element guaranteeing that Europe's occasional role as trouble-maker of the world is past, and that Europeans live in societies with undisputed standards of liberty, prosperity and decency.

Photo by Flickr user tristam sparks.

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