The founding principle of the European Union was as ‘a project for peace’ in Europe, and yet there is war. How relevant is the EU to peace?
Here are three approaches to ensuring peace between nations.
‘If you want peace, prepare for war.‘ This is not the EU’s preferred maxim, understandably so in Germany’s case, although Macron is eager for an EU defence force. No doubt France would be the leading nation in such a force, being the only member with a credible deterrent (including nuclear bombs). Imagine Commander-in-Chief Macron, or a top French general, giving orders in the field to a Hungarian army brigade – Victor Orbán has effectively declared neutrality in the war between Ukraine and Russia. On the other hand Germany has been shocked and shamed out of its ‘never again’ stance and declared its intention to meet its NATO obligation to spend at least 2% of its GDP on defence, which could make its military force bigger than France’s, albeit without the dreaded ‘bomb’. Perhaps the EU Council or a sub-committee of defence ministers or generals could give the orders; maybe that’s how Russia is running its floundering campaign—that’s what it looks like.
‘One ring to rule them all.’ This is the EU’s principal formula for peace: how can you fight each other when you are united under a single government? Well, the United States of America fought a very bloody civil war after one third of the then states seceded from the Union in 1861 to form a Confederacy. This was not only about slavery but the degree of freedom to decide their own laws and taxes. They were forced to rejoin the USA in 1865; let us hope that Russia doesn’t succeed in resurrecting the USSR, whether or not the SS (Soviet Socialist) bit is in Putin’s plan.
‘Peace through trade.’ This is another of the EU’s aphorisms. The idea has been traced back as far as the first century AD (Plutarch) and by some notable philosophers since but it is contradicted by others. Mercantilism, of which the EU is an exemplar towards ‘third countries’ , has been described as using economics as a tool of warfare by other means. Furthermore, trade with Russia has not prevented destabilisation in EU-Russia relations, if not yet direct war; however, members of the Union do feel threatened, particularly those that were once Soviet nations but also Finland, and even other neutrals, Sweden and Ireland, are considering applying to join NATO.
Is the EU in any sense a peace project?
Well yes. Unlike Russia, and even the USA at times, the EU is all for peace. It doesn’t engage directly in military conflicts (Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq), not even in its own continent (the Balkans, Georgia) – it doesn’t have the collective means. It doesn’t support its members either if they are fighting just wars (UK/Falklands, France/Mali) – even if it had the means, as Macron wishes, it doesn’t have the will or a unified purpose. In this (negative) sense it is a peaceful project.
To be fair, the EU was quick to condemn the Russian invasion and quick to offer sanctuary to Ukraine refugees, compared with the UK. Around two million Ukrainians have already crossed the border to seek safety in Poland. Meanwhile the EU has sanctioned Poland for different reasons, cutting funding that will be needed more than ever to handle the refugee crisis. Perhaps the CJEU will remove or suspend the sanction eventually but the EU has already shown that in times of crisis the member states act as they think best rather than wait for the bureaucracy to wake up to their needs.
The EU has bravely imposed strong economic sanctions on Russia to curtail its attack, despite their negative effects on its own national economies. There has been some holding back—by Germany for example, where preventing use of the Swift Banking System would obstruct the purchase of Russian gas—but EU economies are more dependant on goods exports and fuel imports with Russia than the UK’s or USA’s. Despite a few sanctions following the Salisbury poisonings and Crimean/Donbas takeovers, little was done to lessen dependency on Russia, and Germany was prepared to undermine Ukraine’s economy through Nord Stream 2 until the last minute, when the shame (or US pressure?) was too great.
In contrast the USA and UK have provided military funding and training, enabling the fierce resistance shown by Ukraine’s forces today. Perhaps if the EU had allowed Ukraine to become a member after the 2014 Russian incursions the war would not be happening, or maybe that would have provoked Putin sooner. The same can be said of NATO of course although the reasons for the former’s exclusion included not just governance but the addition of another economic dependant; peace was not the foremost consideration.
The EU is not unconcerned about peace, in Europe or the rest of the world, but neither is it very relevant. Peace was its inspiration but its theories on how to achieve it are unproven in history, its own or any other. Its members have not fought each other since the second world war but there are probably stronger reasons for that. 
 Mercantilism – an economic policy that is designed to maximize the exports and minimize the imports for an economy. See our earlier post: Virtue is its own reward, but for whom?