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Oliver Hartwich leaves behind rose-tinted accounts of the history of European integration with a more realistic view of how they wandered into a dead end

Oliver Hartwich leaves behind rose-tinted accounts of the history of European integration with a more realistic view of how they wandered into a dead end

This is the second chapter of Oliver Hartwich essay "Why Europe Failed", an analysis of an ageing Europe, burdened by the size of its welfare state. He draws cautionary lessons for New Zealand's policy makers. You can read the full version here.

This second section is titled "Some revisionist thoughts on European integration".

By Oliver Hartwich*

The official history of European integration is easily told.

The attempt to unite Europe came out of the experience of previous conflicts. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, in which Prussia defeated France, not only paved the way for Germany’s first unification. It had also humiliated the French, who had to pay substantial war reparations to Germany and cede the Alsace-Lorraine territory.

The result was deep enmity between the two countries. After World War I, which Germany lost, France not only regained its lost regions but also imposed severe financial conditions on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. These conditions crippled the German economy and ultimately led to the rise of radical political forces, culminating in World War II. In both cases, the resolution of wars sowed the seeds of future conflict.

The French longed to avenge perceived German injustices after 1871, and it was the other way around in 1918.

Fortunately, there were politicians after World War II who sincerely believed that this vicious cycle had to be broken.

They realised that no country should be humiliated and punished following a war defeat because such measures only made the next war more likely. Instead, European countries had to work together to ensure that the horrors of the two world wars were never repeated. The best expression of this idea is the Schuman Declaration of 1950. Issued by the French government and its foreign minister Robert Schuman, it stated:

World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it. The contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. In taking upon herself for more than 20 years the role of champion of a united Europe, France has always had as her essential aim the service of peace. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.5

The contrast between past military conflicts on the one hand and European integration on the other is the founding myth of the EU. It is also the motif that European politicians cite whenever problems arise in the governance of European institutions. The message behind it is clear: Yes, integrating European countries is not without its problems. But the alternative is war.

Over the course of European integration, leading politicians like German Chancellor Angela Merkel have often appealed to such reasoning: “No one should think that a further half century of peace and prosperity is assured. If the euro fails, Europe will fail.”6

As useful as this argument may be for political rhetoric, it is wrong on two grounds. First, it is a non sequitur fallacy to proclaim that failure to integrate Europe and to drive this process to an eventual political and economic union would inevitably result in military conflict. There are many neighbouring countries in the world that are not integrated but do not go to war with each other. European integration on its own is not responsible for peace. Without the EU, would Germany invade Austria? Would the Netherlands attack Belgium? Would Sweden conquer Finland? If such questions appear absurd, it is because they are. To claim that without the EU (or even just by weakening the EU) there would be more conflict is rhetorical hyperbole and nothing else.

The second reason to question the EU’s founding myth is historical. The EU regards Konrad Adenauer, Joseph Bech, Johan Willem Beyen, Winston Churchill, Alcide De Gasperi, Walter Hallstein, Sicco Mansholt, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak and Altiero Spinelli as the ‘Founding Fathers of the European Union’. The EU says on its website that these men “were a diverse group of people who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.”7

People like Hallstein and Churchill may have been idealists to some degree. But they were also realists, pragmatists and rationalists – but most importantly, they were politicians. However genuine, would their commitment to (post-War) peace alone have impelled them to build the EU?

To ask this question is to answer it. It is quite implausible that peace-loving idealism alone would have led to a pan-European integration, otherwise Eastern Europe would have initially been part of the EU and its predecessors. Indeed, the reason Eastern Europe played no role in (Western) European integration is also the real reason for the beginning of European integration after World War II.

The Soviet Union was allied with Western powers in defeating Nazi Germany, but parted ways soon after over the spoils of war. Europe was divided into two spheres of political and ideological influence after 1945. Democracy and capitalism were the guiding ideas in the Western sphere under the United States and Britain, while socialism and central planning ruled in the Eastern sphere under the Soviet Union.

The collision of these two economic and ideological spheres defined European politics from 1945 to 1989. It divided Germany and tore Europe apart.

The European Economic Community (EEC) and its predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community, were founded in 1957 and 1951, respectively. They were established against this background of increased confrontation between the East and West due to the Cold War and deepening schisms in their spheres of influence. Both the West and East defined their interests and united against each other. This was most evident militarily with the West’s defence alliance NATO (founded in 1949) pitched against the Warsaw Pact (1955), the Soviet Union’s military bloc.

This military integration not just bound together Western European nations as an exercise in promoting peace but also unified the bloc against a common enemy from the east. More importantly, it was a similar project (and a precursor) to Western Europe’s economic integration.

Thus the great Schuman Declaration may have waxed lyrical about war and peace – but European integration came down to something as prosaic as coal and steel. What Schuman was really talking about was a treaty to pool coal and steel production – two of the most crucial industries in Europe.

Pooling Western Europe’s coal and steel industries fulfilled two purposes at once. Applying the lessons learnt from 1871 and 1918 helped integrate the loser of World War II, Germany, instead of isolating it. It also gave shape to Western Europe’s bloc-building exercise directed against the Soviet Union to form a strong alliance in the Cold War.

More than the genuine peace rhetoric after World War II, it was the Cold War, an ideological fear of communism, and economic profiteering that spurred Western European politicians to create the EU. After all, the EU has always been a project with an idealistic superstructure and a means of achieving less idealistic political goals. It has been a tool for overcoming nationalistic egotisms and a means of promoting national interests at the European level. It has been a framework for enabling trade between its members and a way of protecting one’s own industries.

The dual nature of European integration is exemplified by the two core nations involved in the European project: Germany and France. Both subscribed to the narrative of promoting the project of European integration. But they did so for entirely different reasons.

For West Germany, European integration through the European Coal and Steel Community and the EEC was a pathway back to international recognition. The total defeat of Nazi Germany was not just a military collapse but a moral collapse as well. By its war atrocities and genocide of the Jews, Germany had turned itself into a pariah within the community of nations. It wanted to re-enter the international community, and closer economic and political engagement with its neighbours offered just that. Germany also needed this international engagement to reinstate the sovereignty it had lost to the Allied Forces of World War II (and would not finally regain them until the so-called ‘two-plus-four’ negotiations preceding Germany’s reunification in 1990).

Reaching out to its former arch enemy, Germany, made sense for France, too. In 1952, just a year after the European Coal and Steel Community had been founded, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin proposed that Germany should be reunited and neutralised (the so-called ‘Stalin Notes’). There was a real threat of the whole of Germany being drawn into the Soviet sphere of influence. France (and other Western countries) decided to counter Soviet advances by developing closer relations with West Germany and locking it into the Western sphere.

Second, spearheading the integration of Germany into Europe allowed France a degree of control over its former enemy. Metaphorically speaking, it was a close French embrace of Germany with the unvoiced intention of reducing the latter’s ability to move. This motivation was visible in the European Coal and Steel Community, and it reared again in France’s push for a European monetary union in the 1970s. The reasoning was simple: the more Germany was enmeshed in a European framework, the less it could dominate European affairs (and the greater would be France’s influence).8

European integration was thus an insurance policy for France against both German and Soviet aggression. For Germany, European integration was a path back to respectability and sovereignty. But for either of them, it was unequivocally never solely a peace project (maybe not even predominantly).

None of this is to diminish the genuine efforts of European citizens of different countries to promote peace, reconciliation and international understanding. Of course, there were idealists driven by the desire to end war once and for all, and move towards a peaceful future for all of Europe. Out of this wish came countless initiatives such as student exchanges, town twinnings, and cultural cooperation.

Indeed, the past 70 years have been (largely) a time of peace for Europe. With the notable exceptions of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s and the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, conflicts between states have not been allowed to escalate to the military level. The EU may claim that this is its own success, and it may be true to a degree. Having said that, the counterfactual is hard to prove. Would a Europe with NATO but without the EU have been less peaceful?

Regardless of whether and how much the EU can claim responsibility for post-War peace, there is a danger of falling prey to the European elite’s rhetoric of integration as a peace project, which is used as a justification for all sorts of polices. For example, it was used to introduce the euro currency and bail out individual Eurozone members.

Calling the EU a by-product of the Cold War is a heresy in Europe, where the idealism of the European project is stressed at every occasion. But the louder the idealism, the more suspicious the public ought to be.

It is important to realise that Europe’s integration was not just a peace project but also an exercise in power politics and economic profiteering. The role of the Cold War in creating the EU will otherwise be all too easily forgotten.

More importantly, accepting the real reasons behind the European project is essential to deal with Europe’s current crisis of existence. European integration was not founded solely on idealism. But the pretence of such idealism often makes dealing with Europe’s problems harder than it ought to be. If only we could discuss the euro crisis without having to put it in terms of war and peace, it would be easier to solve. Instead, European problems are addressed not in economic but in political terms.

It is high time to leave behind rose-tinted accounts of the history of European integration and approach it with a greater sense of realism.

5. European Union, “The Schuman Declaration – 9 May 1950,”
6. Joe Murphy, “Peace in Europe at risk: Dire warning from German leader Merkel,” Evening Standard (London: 26 October 2011),
7. European Union, “The Founding Fathers of the EU,”
8. For an account of the origins of the euro, see Johan van Overtveldt, The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union (Chicago: B2 Books, 2011).

Oliver Hartwich is the Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative. Before joining the Initiative he was a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, the Chief Economist at Policy Exchange in London, and an advisor in the UK House of Lords. Oliver holds a Master’s degree in Economics and Business Administration and a Ph.D. in Law from Bochum University in Germany.

This is part II of a serialisation of his essay "Why Europe Failed". Part I is here. Part III tomorrow is titled: "Building utopia: Europe as an elitist project".  You can read the full version here.

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Europeans slaughtered each other for centuries. For 70 years now they haven't. Oliver wants to be picky but he can't get past that one. That's a great result for European culture and should be applauded.

DC. I hope the NZ Initiative are paying you for these placements.

They've denied it before. In which case, OMG SUCKERS.

Not only are they not paying (they never do - we never take advertorial, ever), they didn't even offer it. I sought it out. I called them for permission to re-post. I thought it is an interesting alternative view to the usual EU 'cultural' 'soft-power' content you always see run in our euro/british dominated media and widely available. And thought it might round out or even challenge embedded sterotyping.

Some readers commenters seem to think a) we should only run views they agree with, and b) what we run is a reflection of our personal views. Neither is true. We are however interested in the debate of ideas (well thought-through, well articulated ideas). Thoughtful readers will recognise the variety.

Readers who have a cogent alternate opinion are welcome to offer their own essay. But I suggest you first make sure you have read the whole Hartwich piece.

Well said David. While there has been some absolute rubbish from the NZ initiative and there is no doubt they have a definite slant, these ones from Oliver are most interesting IMHO, whether you agree with the conclusions or not. Thank You.

"Trescott University president Kevin Abrams confirmed Monday that the school encourages a lively exchange of one idea.
“As an institution of higher learning, we recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion,” said Abrams, adding that no matter the subject, anyone on campus is always welcome to add their support to the accepted consensus. “Whether it’s a discussion of a national political issue or a concern here on campus, an open forum in which one argument is uniformly reinforced is crucial for maintaining the exceptional learning environment we have cultivated here.”

My view is that a headline "Why Europe failed" is a target in itself. Akin to the infamous gambit. "how often do you beat your wife". The strong assertions in the article had similar flavour. It's an extreme tactic to the point where NZ Initiative articles are almost recognisable in style. And my view that is quite worthy of comment.
Oliver Hartwich expresses a view on "how they wandered into a dead end". But did they wander into a dead end? Oliver uses it as a given. I don't think so. And it's not an argument technique that contributes.
It's more a task that goes on through thousands of years. There is no end. Sometimes you are doing well. Other times tracking down to disaster.

Gosh, I mean statements like "It is important to realise that Europe’s integration was not just a peace project but also an exercise in power politics and economic profiteering." ... sorry, but what do they actually add in their triviality?

You could just as well argue that France, after losing its colonial empire was looking to find other idiots (the Germans) to work for it. Look at the blantant demands for direct money transfers from Germany by France's economics minister Macron, yesterday (!). Why does this not get reported here? It is SO revealing about France's role in the dirty EU game.

It is also interesting that German mainstream politicians also go with the "contain Germany" approach. Former German foreign minister "Joschka" Fischer famously called for EU integration to weaken Germany externally by constantly sucking money out of it, while uncontrolled mass immigration is meant to weaken it internally by establishing a costly new underclass. Why? Because the racist German "elite" thinks it cannot trust its own people and has to therefore constantly press the lifeblood out of them. This goes very far to explain why German politicians today sink billions into provenly ineffective EU structures e.g. in Greece and run an open border policy towards anyone saying "asylum". The agenda obviously is to abolish Germany as a nation state, slowly but surely.

There are many, many aspects to that fascinating continent and I feel you need a hardcore economic historian to have a realistic stab at it. What Hartwich writes is in many ways true, but not shaping up coherently and in the end - we will see the upcoming parts - probably present the usual babble of the trade: "we" need more immigration, more free trade, less regulation etc. The stuff we heard for decades now and which is not producing good outcomes for the majority in "our" countries.

Having said all that, however, it is good that you remain one of the last vestiges of open discussion and exchange of new ideas in the NZ media landscape.

Dr. Hartwich's geopolitical focus and timeframe is altogether too narrow and short respectively. The European Union can be best seen as the culmination of the efforts of political leaders, academics, diplomats financiers, and industrialists to foster greater transnational integration in the West. The Western elites of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s believed that only it would be only through tight political and economic integration would serve the West as an effective bulwark against the twin threats of fascism and communism. The highly influential American journalist Clarence Streit, propounded the establishment of a supranational entity which would comprise the former sovereign nations of the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and most of Western Europe.

"In fact, Western elites in America and Western Europe after World War II made a serious effort to get rid of nations altogether, and combine all “freedom-loving peoples” into one giant “Atlantic Union,” a federal state built on top of the NATO military alliance."

And it wasn't just an idle fancy of a idealistic journalist. The influential diplomat George Kennan wrote this memo to Harry Truman in the wake of World War II. He wished the United States to encourage Great Britain to pursue closer integration with the European Union in recognition of Britain's economic decline even before the destruction wrecked by the Germany bombing campaigns and he realised its weakness would only encumber the United States with an economic burden that it would prefer to be without, especially knowing the Soviets' expansionary aims.

"In the first place, Britain could be encouraged to proceed vigorously with her plans for participation in a European union, and we could try to bring that entire union, rather than just Britain alone, into a closer economic association with this country and Canada. We must remember, however, that if this is to be really effective, the economic association must be so intimate as to bring about a substantial degree of currency and customs union, plus relative freedom of migration of individuals as between Europe and this continent. Only in this way can the free movement of private capital and labor be achieved which will be necessary if we are to find a real cure for the abnormal dependence of these areas on governmental aid from this country. But we should also note carefully the possible implications of such a program from the standpoint of the ITO Charter.[7] As I see it, the draft charter, as well as the whole theory behind our trade agreements program, would make it difficult for us to extend to the countries of western Europe special facilities which we did not extend in like measure to all other ITO members and trade agreement partners."

Some readers commenters seem to think a) we should only run views they agree with

It is not fair to call some "conspiracy theorist" while giving others an oportunity to have their different opinion.

France has always had excellent civil servants and their post war policy was (a) to embrace, and therefore dominate, the western half of Germany and (b) maintain their own independent nuclear deterrent.

When Germany wanted to re-unify both Mrs T and Mitterrand were very concerned as they knew it would de-stabilise Europe.A re-united Germany would have a much larger population than any other European state and be much more productive and stronger economically. Now Germany finds itself in the position of being the dominant power in Europe but does not have the political will to lead effectively.

I'm a bit disappointed the author misses out the financial history. The reason Britain and France demanded war reparations was principally because the US demanded repayment of the war loans it had made to Britain and France. This meant they needed the reparations to repay the US. This power grab by the US was intended to weaken Britain and France as well as Germany; previously war debts between allies were written off.

Another strand that gets airbrushed is the abolition of the monarchy in Germany post WW1. The German king was forced to abdicate but instead of encouraging an orderly transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy the US and France enforced a highly chaotic (read internally violent) and disorderly transition to a republic. This was highly destructive to German society, which had been highly civilised prior to WW1.

Finally, the US desire to destroy the Empire Preference free trade system after WW2 is a major strand, the effects of which are still very evident in NZ today. The destruction of Britain's free trade system by the US was the reason Britain was forced to join the EU. It was the final capitulation at the end of the British Empire. I'm not sure New Zealand has fully recovered from the efffects, witness the rather sad fawning on the US for a free trade deal.

"Now Germany finds itself in the position of being the dominant power in Europe ..." Really? Every single French demand is being met: banking union (assuring shaky French banks), EFSF/ESM as bail-out funds for French banks that overextended themselves in Greece (and in violation of previous EU treaties), keeping Greece in the Euro as a first step to an outright transfer union from which France is stand to benefit most financially.

It is strange definition of dominance that Germany has practically no say (although Merkel acts as if she had) but foots all the bills of a selfish French hegemon.

In other words, for France the EU is simply a means of establishing political dominance and rescuing its failed economic model. The naive and stubborn Germans are idealistic about the European project and throw billion after billion at it to maintain the fairy tale land they are living in.

I think there is another side to the Greek saga. The French and German banks lent vast sums to Greece. Much of this was for the purchase of German and French military equipment, presumably with plenty of "commissions" paid into Swiss bank accounts of the officials involved. The bail out is not a bail out of the Greek people, it is a bail out of the French and German banks. The money is only lent to Greece in time for previous loans to be repaid.

The stupidity of it is the German politicians spread the lie that it was the Greeks that were at fault, not the German and French bankers. Unfortunately, blaming a nation is not that different to blaming a race or religious group, and is incredibly divisive. Given German sensitivity about history I'm surprised they made that mistake.

Germany has been the main beneficiary of the Euro as it has supercharged their exports, that is why they continue to support it.

These are no more than wild conspiracy theories.

1. Greece lived vastly above it means by creating the largest public service (per capita) in Europe. Only a fraction of the borrowed money went to military purchases. Greeks of all shapes and sizes bunker many billions in Swiss accounts, but no Greek government has shown any interest in recovering the untaxed wealth. Greek billionnaire ships owners are tax free up to this day and there are no plans to change that. And so on. Greek is a dysfunctional state, always has been and the rot has only been multiplied by never to be repaid "loans" and "bail-outs".

2. French bank involvement in Greece far exceeded that of German banks, even in absolute terms. Germany could have bailed out its own banks after a Greek default. France could not have. That is why those bail-outs were constructed to save the face of the French. What a gigantic mistake.

3. Blaming a nation is racist? So how do you talk then about Greek government debt in politically correct terms? Incidentally, people around here are usually not very shy about blaming "the Germans", incl. one B. Hickey.

4. Germany exported lots long before there was a Euro. If there is one country in the Euro zone that does not need the Euro it is Germany. However, the German "elite" is dreaming about a EU utopia and makes the common man pay for their folly. German home ownership rates and average per capita asset wealth are even below that of Greece. That is how much ordinary Germans have benefitted from the French Euro scheme.

I agree with most of what you say. Blaming the Greek people is pretty close to racist, their politicians, on the other hand, are clearly corrupt. Everyone would be better off if Germany left the Euro, particularly the German people.

At the same time, Greek politicians have been voted in by Greek people, right?

The Euro project is a dud and Germany should leave it asap - but wont for ideological reasons. And if it did leave, the Dutch, Finns etc would not stay behind either to finance Clud Med profligacy.

Btw, before the Euro was introduced, one model put forward was that of "gradual convergence" i.e. to have two or three groups of countries with similar economies, one currency each and a single Euro only after those zones converged economically. France vetoed this proposal as it wanted to get is fingers on German taxpayers' money straightaway.

Anyways, good to see that at least our views convergy :-)

Another good accompaniment to this series from OH is 'Bloodlands' - the sorry history of the nations sandwiched between the Soviets and their revolutionary ideals, and Germany: the strong man of Europe before both WW's. One is reminded of Churchill's quip re Germany - at your throat , or at your feet. Well, they've risen to dominate EU for a third time.....

To be fair, another aspect that has been airbrushed away is historic differences between the different regions of what is now Germany. The present unified Germany came about through the domination of the other states by the militaristic Prussians, as far as I understand it. Probably as a way a defending themselves from French military aggression. It's a long and complex history.

Nonsense. Merkel is a toothless tigress. Making grand announcements to only follow the French script. France sets policy in the EU, that is why the EU is such an underachiever economically and politically.

You have to ask who benefits by this and how decisions are reached. It seems to me most decisions in Europe are made behind closed doors and for the benefit of those making them. The decisions are then presented as "good for the people".

By contrast, decision making in the US and UK is relatively open to the public. It therefore seems more chaotic as you get to hear at least some of the arguments for and against each policy.

I thought the spectacle of Christine Lagarde lecturing the Greek people about how naughty they were for not paying their income taxes, was particularly revealing. Chrsitine pays no income tax (she is except as she is a member of the bureaucratic cartel). The Greek people avoid paying taxes if they can because they know their politicians are corrupt and will use them to line their own pockets.

The welfare state is being destroyed deliberately.

It is easy to do

Just bring in tens of thousands of immigrants and put them straight onto a benefit.

Let them then bring in their parents and put them onto a pension

Not susutailnable so blame the system.

Hard to see anything contentious in this article. The notion that the union was founded as a cold-war bulwark and for amoral economic reasons as well as idealism is hardly a novel one.

Kudos to you David for promoting a diversity of opinion on your site. I am usually a fan of Oliver's articles but less so on his recent fixation on the EU. There seems to be too much emotional involvement, which sort of hinders insight. Hope that doesn't come across as too cynical!

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Days to the General Election: 39
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.