Culture & ideas Ideas

Debate: The EU is an empire, and empires mean war

9 July 2012
NRC Handelsblad Amsterdam

We are often told that the EU has brought peace to Europe. However, this view is not shared by historian Thierry Baudet who provocatively argues that a process in which nation states give up their sovereignty inevitably results in conflict. That is why he recommends dissolving the euro and restoring national borders.

Partisans of the European project invariably argue that nationalism leads to war and while the development of Europe will safeguard peace – a noble objective that is more than sufficient compensation for any loss in democracy, sovereignty and transparency caused by Brussels. However, this theory is fundamentally flawed.

Nationalism does not lead to war. Attempts to build European empires lead to war. The urge to impose a straitjacket on the will of peoples will leads to war. In short, the European project will lead to war.

Fascism and Nazism were both focused on the creation of Europe. As early as 1933, Mussolini declared that Europe could once again exert its power in the world if it succeeded in establishing a certain political unity.

Mussolini’s new Roman Empire

The Norwegian collaborationist Vidkun Quisling argued that we should create a Europe that does not waste its blood in murderous conflict, but one that is solidly united. And on 11 September 1940, Joseph Goebbels affirmed: I am certain that 50 years from now, we will no longer reason in terms of countries.

On 28 November 1941, in the course of a conversation with the Finnish minister of foreign affairs, Adolf Hitler remarked that the countries of Europe should obviously be together, like the members of a big family. In his authoritative study, Nations and States (1977), historian Hugh Seton-Watson, of the University of Oxford, concludes that Hitler’s intentions were not confined to what could be described as German nationalism.

His goal was to conquer all of Europe as well as a vast territory further afield. For his part, Mussolini wanted to found a new Roman Empire centred on the Mediterranean, while the Japanese were intent on building a Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.

German racism was not an expression of nationalism. On the contrary, race transcends the national borders of the state, and racist theories are thus by definition international – rather than national – doctrines.

EU founding fathers

It is worth noting that until 17 July, 1940, Robert Schuman, one of the founders of the European project, was a Secretary of State for the Vichy regime which collaborated with the Germans.

In 1938, as an MP representing Lorraine in the French parliament, he actively supported the Munich betrayal thus facilitating the annexation of part of Czechoslovakia by Hitler’s Germany. At the time, he also recommended that Mussolini and Hitler develop closer ties. On 10 July, 1940, Robert Schuman was among the MPs who supported Pétain when he took power.

Jean Monnet, another one of Europe’s founders, spent the war years in London where he attempted to prevent the broadcast of De Gaulle’s daily radio news bulletins (something he succeeded in doing on 20 and 21 June, 1940).

Setting aside the Second World War, “nationalism” is also blamed for starting the First World War. However, Germany’s goal in the the First World War was to impose the authority of a German empire over regions that were not German. It is also important to bear in mind that this particular war first broke out in the pan-national powder keg that was Austria-Hungary – a forerunner of the EU which refused to grant independence to Bosnian Serbs, which is why a group of “young Bosnians” plotted to assassinate  Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914.

Political unity – a major source of tensions

Oppression exerted by a centralised regime is a source of tension, and one of the major lessons of the First World War was the “principle of self-determination” – most notably promoted by Woodrow Wilson, who advocated respect for different nationalities, arguing that they should not be dissolved and integrated in larger entities.

If we look further back in history, once again we see that it was not “nationalism” but imperialism and the desire to unify Europe that led to wars. Take for example the Napoleonic Wars. For the well-being of Europe, Napoleon wanted the same principles to apply throughout the continent: a European law, a high court of European justice, a common currency, the same units of measurement, the same laws, and so on. Napoleon expected that thereafter Europe would rapidly become a single united nation.

The idea that nationalism leads to war while European unification promotes peace is therefore false. And let’s not forget that Europe has not been at “peace” over the last 50 years. During most of that period, the countries of Europe were engaged in a fight to the death with the Soviet Union, which was once again the expression of yet another anti-national philosophy – in this case communism. As the Communist Manifesto insisted, “Working men have no country.”

As you might expect, today’s attempt to bring about political unity in Europe is a major source of tensions. The political landscape in virtually every country in Europe has now been marked by the emergence of increasingly powerful parties that are opposed to the established order.

Nationalism makes democracy possible

Distrust of the South is increasingly prevalent in Northern Europe, and vice-versa. Here again, it is not nationalism but the European project which is the source of the conflict. It follows that we should seek to create a Europe that is radically different to the current EU.

What we need is a Europe without a central regime: a Europe comprised of nation states, which are not afraid of national differences, and willing to cooperate with each other. The authority of nation states over their own borders should be restored, so that they themselves can decide who they want to allow in their territory.

In the service of their economic interest, they should opt for flexible visa regimes, which will nonetheless allow them to keep control of crime and immigration. We will also have to dissolve the euro to give nation states some monetary breathing space so that they can once again set their own interest rates in response to local conditions. Finally, we will have to get rid of harmonisation which undermines diversity.

Far from being a source of conflict, nationalism is the force that makes democracy possible. Without this unifying force, parliaments would be unable to take legitimate decisions. As the example of Belgium has shown, a lack of national unity can make the administration of a country extremely difficult. The irrational fear of nationalism could ultimately result in the establishment of a restrictive empire in Brussels. The time has come to call a halt and restore the nation state.

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