Can Europe Make It?

Europe's day: a reflection

On Europe Day, let us remember that peace is not achieved simply through an absence of war, but through an end to the very antagonisms and contradictions driving conflict in all its guises.

Ian Bancroft
8 May 2016

Wikimedia. CC.May 9. Europe Day. A day for celebrating peace and unity in Europe. And a day for reflecting upon the vision and dreams of the EU’s founding fathers.

Over one hundred years on from the carnage of World War One, Europe today grapples with a new existential crisis. Amidst a devastating economic crisis and a lack of solidarity on refugees, the future of the EU is more frequently and sternly questioned.

The Union’s founding purpose – a peace project emerging from the horrors of war – has been diluted by its achievements; war between its members now inconceivable. Yet the Union remains beset by instability and discontent. Only by understanding the EU as a transformer of conflict more broadly can we appreciate its uniqueness and importance to present and future generations.

The Union’s founding purpose lies in the ruins of Europe and a desire to eliminate war as a possibility. As in the myth of Europa and the bull (Zeus), the EU metamorphosed into an object of considerable envy, especially for those looking in from outside.

And yet it is the abduction and rape of Europa that is today the more enduring and relevant symbolism. The ideals upon which the EU was constructed – co-operation and integration – are challenged by narratives that belittle or outright ignore its achievements.

With peace now largely taken for granted, particularly by the Erasmus generation, the Union’s existence is questioned by an ever growing number. A contagion of complacency has left Europe the subject of often purely academic debate, detached from the day-to-day existence of the many millions living under its umbrella.   

Reawakening a collective European sense of purpose requires a painstaking look at the forms of conflict which continue to blight European society. War is always and everywhere an articulation of underlying antagonisms.

The elimination of war, however, does not mean that such antagonisms cease to exist. Instead, they continue to define Europe, fuelling conflict across the continent. Their manifestations are many and varied. Extremism, for one, is on the rise, breeding further hatred and discontent; fomenting dynamics of growing intolerance and fragmentation.

It is not the fear of external developments - Russian aggression, the Arab Spring and the emergence of China - that should reawaken a collective European sense of purpose, but concern for Europe’s own internal state of affairs. The original purpose of the Union – ensuring that its peoples never again come face-to-face in confrontation – remain as real and relevant as it was over half a century ago. Conflict, though visible in different forms, remains a very real threat to the entire continent. 

The Union’s own narrative of peace and prosperity, tinged as it is with a sense of permanence and inevitability, is an integral part of the problem, breeding a complacency of thought and visions. And yet all is not well. The European project itself has become a source of antagonism and contradiction.

Youth unemployment stands at great depression levels. Emerging attitudes on immigration and multiculturalism bode ill. Discrimination on the basis of, amongst others, religion, ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality remains rife. Profound divisions are emerging, both within and between new and old member states.

Now more than ever these underlying antagonisms and contradictions require Europe-wide solutions; solutions that transcend national borders and institutions. No individual member state is capable of effectively tackling the plethora of challenges faced without pooling sovereignty and resources.

All-out war was but one of the manifestations of the disharmony that has afflicted and scarred Europe for centuries. Various forms of conflict remain a scourge of European societies. To give the European Union a renewed sense of purpose today, on Europe Day, it is necessary to reflect upon and rearticulate its founding purpose.

Enduring peace is not achieved simply through an absence of war, but through an end to the very antagonisms and contradictions driving conflict in all its guises. If we are to avoid becoming nostalgic for what the EU might have been, then we need to consider now more than ever on how the EU can continue to act as a transformational force for lasting peace and unity in Europe and beyond. Only then can the intentions of the EU’s founding fathers be fully and permanently fulfilled.

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