Why the European Union is crucial for the peace of our continent
Most of Europe has been at peace since the guns fell silent at the end of World War II. It's the longest period of relative peace ever experienced by our continent.
Before the European Union and its predecessor organisations existed, our continent was all too frequently ripped apart by war.
Indeed more than 4000 residents and former residents of what are now Harrow and Hillingdon boroughs were killed in World War I and World War II – and it is estimated that more than 8000 other local people were wounded. Nationwide, the two world wars cost this country more than 1.1 million lives – and caused often terrible injuries to around 2.5 million Britons who survived. In our part of London, Harrow, Wealdstone, Yiewsley, Hayes and Ruislip suffered particularly high levels of bereavement.
But peace has been our country's and our continent's greatest blessing since the Second World War ended 75 years ago.
And yet that precious peace hasn't happened by accident,
Two organisations have been pivotal in keeping Europe relatively free of war – the European Union (and its predecessor organisations) and NATO. NATO of course, has helped secure military unity – but that unity would not have been possible without the economic integration and political cooperation (and consequent reduction in harmful national rivalries) achieved by the EU and its forerunners.
“We must recreate the European fabric, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can develop in peace, safety and freedom. Let Europe arise.”
With these words, Winston Churchill, speaking after the horrors of the Second World War to a German audience in 1949, advocated and foretold the coming of the European Union and spelt out what is perhaps its most crucial purpose – namely to bring the peoples, governments and economies of our continent closer together so as to promote peace and avoid bitter rivalry and war.
Helping to achieve that, over the past seven decades, has without doubt been the greatest achievement of the EU and its immediate predecessor organisations.
The only other similarly long era of relative peace in Western Europe was the period between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War (i.e. from 1815 to 1914) – and significantly that was partly achieved through a 19th century version of European cooperation called the Concert of Europe – a Victorian era pan-European arrangement which brought the major governments of the continent together to discuss and settle their differences peacefully.
Apart from those two eras of pan-European cooperation and relative peace (1815 to 1914 and 1945 to now), the rest of our continent’s history has been one of almost continuous violence and conflict. Without pan-European institutions, it has, for many centuries, been a fractured land with overwhelming opportunities for rivalries, disagreements and wars.
For 80% of the rest of the past 500 years, Europe’s nations and peoples have been at each other’s throats in more than 25 major military conflicts