Winning the Nobel Peace Prize 2012 may be the surest sign that Europe, the project, is failing.
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In the 1948 elections in Italy, de Gasperi came from behind to defeat the powerful PCI, Italian Communist Party. The PCF (the French comrades) was not as powerful, but it was kept out of power only by an uneasy alliance of Schumann-led centrists and anti-communist Socialists. In Germany it was somewhat easier for Adenauer, with his strong anti-Nazi and anti-communist credentials, to establish a CDU hegemony that would last well into the 1960s. For these men the pan-European idea was more a matter of mutual help than a blueprint for a technocratic utopia.
Yet that is what the European movement gradually became. From the Coal and Steel Community and the Common Market that, along with massive agricultural and maritime subsidies turned France and Germany, and to a lesser extent Italy, into business partners instead of political and military enemies, through the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community in the late 1950s and, eventually, the Single Act of the late 1980s establishing the free movement of capital, goods, services, and labor throughout the said Community — soon to be renamed Union — the minutiae of running the sprawling project eventually took over the goal of keeping the peace and resisting the Soviet-led revolution.
Not that peace was not kept. There has been no war in western Europe since 1945. Whether this is due to the evolving European economic unity project or to the presence of American armies in Europe, the experts can discuss and debate. Probably both. There was no reason for Germany and France to go to war, since everyone was getting more prosperous and the Americans were keeping the Soviets out. It is something of a chicken-or-egg question, although, in our more reflective moments, we probably know very well what was keeping the peace, only we are too polite to insist.
The reality is that when the crunch, or the test, came, the European entity, in the very process of evolving from Community to Union, failed the test. War broke out in Europe — specifically, in the Balkans, and the little that was done to stop it was done by NATO troops and, later, the United States Air Force. It was not a very good show, but admittedly it could have been worse and it did end without spreading, as it had in 1914.
There is cause to question, in short, just what this year’s Nobel Peace Prize really is supposed to signify. Are the European institutions, run by an army of bureaucrats concerned with how cheeses are packaged, responsible for the peace that has been achieved in Europe, or are they contributing to a long-term decline of European influence that is leaving the world, including ultimately Europe itself, vulnerable to forces of war and anarchy?
It is difficult to imagine members of the Nobel peace committee waking up at dawn troubled by such questions. They want, one imagines, to congratulate themselves for being who they are, which is to say well-ordered, well-regulated, prim and proper peaceful Oslovians. They are increasingly successful in this endeavor. But this is having the effect of cutting them off from the realities of a very dangerous world outside Oslo and Stockholm and a few other blessedly dull places in northern Europe.
Since receiving the Nobel Peace Prize our president has made the world more, or less, safe, depending on your assessment of his foreign policy, but he certainly has not made it more peaceful, neither by diplomacy nor by the calibrated use of force that would impose respect for our national interests in places far away. In the case of the European movement, it is likely that calling attention to its contributions to peace-making, at a time when it seems unable to come to grips with a broad crisis of entitlements and expectations, is mostly a way to avert one’s eyes from its failures. And this is sad indeed, because if things are not turned around soon, the failure will be seen by future generations as a betrayal: the betrayal of a European vision of free men and free nations, the kind Lech Walesa — Nobel Peace Prize, 1983 — fought for. Europe will be unable to reverse its economic decline and its vulnerability to nihilistic subversion from within and without, and the peace for which it earned accolades and prizes will be the peace of death.
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