Did European Construction Contribute to Peace?

by René Schwok (Author)
©2018 Monographs 174 Pages


Supporters of European integration have always argued that it has brought peace. Yet no scientific study has ever developed a critical approach to such a claim. To remedy this surprising deficiency, the author builds a typology that will help to distinguish the two main opposing approaches to this question: that of the Europeanists and that of the Eurosceptics. The dialectical confrontation between these two approaches is the red thread of the book. Taken up in each of the chapters, it provides a synthetic point of view aimed at overcoming this opposition. The author shows that the contribution of the European construction to peace lies in the nuances, thus distinguishing itself from the irenical slogans of the Europeanists while dismantling the arguments of the Eurosceptics. He concludes that the EU will never be able to prevent extremist and belligerent tendencies among the European states and/or peoples. It can, however, limit the damage those tendencies could cause through the rules and institutions which the Member States have committed to respecting.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • 1. A Well-Known but Never Explored Topic
  • 2. Has the Rejection of War Been a Key Factor in the Launch of the European Project?
  • The Second World War at the Origin of the EU
  • The essential role of ethical considerations
  • Promotion of a market economy with a social dimension
  • The European countries’ loss of influence in the world: an incentive to cooperate
  • The consequences of the war: a factor behind Germany’s decision to promote European integration and peace
  • An Analysis Contradicted by the Eurosceptic Thesis
  • The trauma of the Second World War: no direct impact on the European integration project
  • The ECSC and the EEC: the results of economic considerations alone
  • East-West confrontation: the main determinant of the European dynamic
  • The relativism of constructivists
  • European Construction: the Product of an Extra-ordinary Context
  • The synthesis of two opposed conceptions
  • A western Europe at the intersection of two “tsunamis”
  • Solving the dilemma: a strong or weak Germany
  • 3. The EU – A Guarantee for Peace in Europe?
  • The Europeanists’ Arguments
  • The joint control of coal and steel production: antidote to war
  • The European project as a factor of reconciliation between France and Germany
  • The pivotal role of the Maastricht Treaty and the single currency
  • The benefits of political integration
  • The merits of free trade
  • Peace Owes Nothing to European Integration
  • The flawed arguments of the Europeanists
  • The EU: one among other factors of peace
  • A Mid-Way Evaluation
  • The ECSC and the French-German couple
  • Germany and the euro
  • The EU or the art of dialogue and compromise
  • Technocracy, a disproportionately important role?
  • The issue of free trade, an endless debate
  • 4. Enlargements, an Essential Contribution?
  • Integration into the EU, a Virtuous Process
  • Political stabilisation and geo-strategic dimension
  • Decisive financial support
  • The accession of the Mediterranean countries: facilitating the transition from dictatorship
  • Accession of the countries of central, eastern, and Baltic Europe: a goal of transition
  • The Overestimated Impact of the Eastern Enlargement
  • NATO: a key actor
  • The negative effects of EU accession
  • To sum up
  • 5. The EU and its Neighbours: a Peace-Making Action?
  • A Positive Effect in the Various Neighbouring Regions
  • External action for promoting peace
  • “Europeanising the Balkan countries” to promote their reconciliation
  • From South to East, specific policies for neighbouring countries
  • An Inefficient and Possibly Harmful Proximity Policy
  • From congenital incompetence to neo-colonialist motivations
  • Relativising Criticism and Drawing Some Lessons
  • Making good use of conditionality
  • The imperative revision of the ENP
  • 6. The Contribution of European Integration to Peace
  • Abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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1.  A Well-Known but Never Explored Topic

The question of peace has always been present in the discourse on the construction of Europe. Thus, the 1950 Schuman Declaration – founding text of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and of the process leading up to the creation of the European Union (EU) – refers abundantly to this topic.

In this Declaration, peace is presented, on the one hand, as the primary motivation for the launch of the European integration project, and on the other, as the main outcome of the process initiated by the development of an integrated market for steel and coal.

Following the publication of this fundamental text a series of proclamations were issued by national and European officials and supporters of the European cause, all of whom insisted on a dialectical link between European construction and peace.

Although this theme is omnipresent, we have found no study, in English, French, German, Spanish or Italian, that offers a critical reflection on the correlation between “Peace” and “European Construction.” Of course, many publications have titles that contain the terms “Peace” (or “Absence of war,” “Security”) on the one hand, and “European construction” (or “European integration” “European Union,” “European Community”) on the other. But in fact, most studies only marginally discuss the causal links between these notions.

To remedy this surprising deficiency, we have chosen here to build a typology that will help to distinguish the two main opposing approaches to this question: that of the “Europeanists” and that of the “Eurosceptics.” It must be emphasised that both approaches are understood as a flexible analytical framework, “ideal-types” in the Weberian sense.

Let there be no misunderstanding here. Our aim is not, in any way, to classify academics, politicians, government officials or intellectuals into rigid categories.

In other words, some of the scholars or politicians whom we have identified as Europeanists can, depending on the themes considered, be ← 11 | 12 → found to be in line with the Eurosceptic viewpoint. Conversely, people we have placed in the category of Eurosceptics because of their perspectives on certain topics could legitimately challenge this categorisation.

The purpose of this construction of ideal-types is, therefore, above all didactic: to shed light on what comes into play when forming an opinion and, thereby, to help us to reflect on our conscious or unconscious visions of the world.

The Europeanist approach

The people we call “Europeanists” in this text are those who see correlations between the ideas of “European Construction” and “Peace.” Some are federalists, some are not; they may be in favour of, or against more European integration.

The overall argument used by the advocates of this approach is the following. First, they consider that the shock produced by the two world wars, particularly WWII, was the primary catalyst for the project of European unification. According to Europeanists, the desire to build lasting peace by turning the page on this painful past was the main driving force behind the European construction. Thus, the quest for peace (in other words the refusal to let new wars break out) is presented as the main variable (independent variable) explaining the advent of European integration (dependent variable).

Secondly, the supporters of this thesis attribute the absence of war in Europe to the very existence of the EU. Here, the Union becomes the primary explanatory variable, while peace is the explained variable. In their view, the EU’s specificities are what contributes the most to the absence of conflict on the Member States’ territories.

Among the qualities of the EU that have made it possible to overcome the temptation to resort to war, the Europeanists cite the following as the most important: the communalization of coal and steel production, the Franco-German reconciliation, the creation of a supranational legal system, economic interdependencies, the rejection of protectionism, social and regional solidarity, the socialisation of the elite, and permanent consultation between government officials and politicians.

To these factors, Europeanists add the active role of the EU in pacifying regions in its neighbourhood. Thus, the successive enlargements of the ← 12 | 13 → Union, because they have been motivated by a desire for stability and security, are considered the main success of the EU’s peace policy.

Europeanists also stress the central stabilising role played by the EU – following the wars that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia – through the civil-military operations it has conducted since the early 1990s and, in particular, through the implementation of a European Neighbourhood Policy aimed at forging constructive relations with the southern Mediterranean nations and former Soviet-bloc countries.

On a conceptual level, this school of thought has developed an ad hoc terminology to characterise the EU’s original contribution to peace, defining the Union as “a civilian power,” “a normative power,” or even a “soft power.” In 2012, this Europeanist approach received symbolic support when the EU was awarded the eminent Nobel Peace Prize.

The Eurosceptic approach

On the contrary, the school of thought we refer to as Eurosceptic regards as misconceived the argument according to which there are cause and effect relationships between the notions of “European Construction” and “Peace”. But let us stress again that this does not, in any way, mean that the people we place in this category are inevitably hostile to European integration or that they wish their country to withdraw from the European Union.

The notion of Euroscepticism can also be confusing in that the term “Eurosceptic” was originally coined to describe those among the representatives of the British Conservative Party who stood against too much European integration.

As for the term “Europhobe”, it will also be used, but only to describe analysts who consider the EU to have a harmful influence. This concept is close in meaning to that of hard scepticism, which is sometimes used in scientific literature1.

Unlike Europeanists, those we refer to as Eurosceptics consider that the shock of the Second World War was not a direct factor in the start of the European integration process. ← 13 | 14 →

Some of them place more emphasis on the role played by the Cold War, the communist threat and the American military presence as factors explaining peace in Europe (just like the exponents of the realist theory of international relations).

Others attribute the origins of European integration to other motives, such as economic interests and the decisive part played by some states such as France.

Some Eurosceptics also highlight factors such as the recognition by many in Germany of their country’s responsibility for the crimes committed during WWII and their desire for redemption (the German aggiornamento), the diffusion of democracy, the decline of protectionism and the development of the welfare state to explain the absence of war in Europe since 1945. The combination of all these elements has, in their view, had a far greater effect than the existence of the EU.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (July)
Union européenne Construction européenne paix sécurité stabilité projet européen Europe monnaie unique traité de Maastricht CECA pacifisme UE européistes eurosceptiques unification guerre Seconde Guerre mondiale
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2018. 171 p.

Biographical notes

René Schwok (Author)

René Schwok is Director of the Global Studies Institute and Professor at the Department of Political Science of the University of Geneva. He holds a Monnet Chair in political science. He studied at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva as well as at the Institut für europäische Studien de Mainz and at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University.


Title: Did European Construction Contribute to Peace?