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Speeches

R. Vandemeulebroucke: From a Culture of Conflict to a Culture of Peace

Address to Eurasia - Europe Conference on 
Peace and Security in Multicultural Societies at a Time of Global Crisis

Moscow, Russia - April 6-7, 2012


A case study for world peace: the reconstruction of Europe and the creation of the European Community of Coal and Steel after World War II by the Treaty of 1951. This was the forerunner of the European Economic Community, later renamed the European Union (EU).

Introduction

A good starting point to this subject is the promotion and preservation of internationally recognized common values such as democracy, good governance, the rule of law, and respect for human, religious, and minority rights. These principles have been accepted, applied, and developed by a large majority of modern states over the last century and a half. Without them no modern society is able to operate or keep its citizens happy.

Over the past 60 years the world has witnessed a technological, scientific, and economic development that has no equal in modern history: many more people enjoy a better education and lifestyle and have become more mobile than ever before; economies are becoming more and more intertwined; heads of government, politicians, community, and religious leaders meet on a regular basis in person and, if not, then through the Internet; international organizations have been created or reinvented; and new ideas and concepts are spreading around the globe by the click of a mouse.

However, promoting and preserving peace is an objective and a challenge as necessary now as it was 60 years ago, at the end of World War II.

Despite the growing “internalization” (the global village image springs to mind), people in Europe, the USA, and elsewhere treasure and preserve their rich cultural and historical heritage as never before. This rich diversity is paramount when it comes to studying international relations and promoting or preserving peace. It should be well understood, respected, and applied by everyone in all circumstances.

The subject of this contribution, the reconstruction of Europe and the creation of the European Community of Coal and Steel shortly after World War II, is a perfect example on an extraordinary scale of the combination of human goodwill, economic priorities, and choosing the right policy among former enemies; it was undertaken shortly after the most devastating cataclysm Europe had witnessed. It is, so far, a unique example of promoting peace and cooperation between most European states.

A short historical note helps to understand the impact of this event as well its significance for peace today and in the years ahead of us.

In 1945 a devastating World War II ended in Europe with the defeat of the Nazi regime. The 1000-year so-called Third Reich was no more. The cost in human suffering and in the destruction of factories, cities, and other infrastructure was enormous. Families had been decimated as a result of massive bombardments, exile, famine, or deportation to German concentration camps never to return. Few factories were undamaged and able to operate, jobs were almost non-existent, and finding food, clothes, and shelter was the order of the day for countless destitute families and individuals in many European countries.

Soon after the war, politicians with a vision proposed a bold initiative with consequences unknown at the time: in order to ban war in Europe, French and German leaders, until then archenemies having fought three wars in Europe in less than a century, suggested the establishment of a voluntary union between European states focusing on coal and steel, the two principal commodities at the time. At first, the idea was rejected massively.

An economic union made sense, but why involve Germany, the trigger country of two world wars and so much misery, devastation, and human suffering? The suggestion made perfect economic sense because France had steel plants and coal, but not enough of the latter, while Germany had coal in abundance in the Ruhr region as well as steel plants, although most of them destroyed by the war.

Notwithstanding significant opposition, the idea slowly made its way into politics, not only in France and Germany but also in other West European countries, and the treaty mentioned above was signed in 1951, only six years after the end of the war.

One cannot thank the founding fathers enough: French leaders like Jean Monnet (2) and Robert Schuman (3) insisted against all odds that Germany should be included in the deal. The first post-war German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer (4), supported the idea from the outset. The Italian politician Alcide De Gasperi (5) and his Belgian colleague Paul-Henri Spaak (6) worked overtime to convince other doubting European colleagues.

At his junction, I would like to mention the massive American economic and financial assistance Europe received immediately after the war. Known as the Marshall Plan, it was instrumental in helping to rebuild Europe, make it prosper again, and keep the USSR and Stalin at bay.

Although coal mines have all but disappeared from today’s European landscape and steel factories are of less importance to its economy due to globalization, one has to remember that both sectors were considered to be the two essential engines of economic growth and prosperity at the time.

The rest is history... The European Economic Community, now the European Union, became the successor to the coal and steel treat by the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957 by six European countries: Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Italy. Today the EU counts 27 member states, has its own currency (the euro), and economic and social policies are discussed and agreed upon in Brussels before being ratified into law in all member states.

Many social and economic issues today are decided by a simple majority. Only in exceptional circumstances is a country allowed to make use of its veto power (for example, increasing the membership of the EU or setting policies for the European currency, the euro). In other words: on a majority of issues member states have voluntary submitted huge chunks of their national sovereignty to the European Commission and its institutions.

My point: In the course of the last 2,000 years Europe has been the theatre of perennial conflicts of local or regional natures and or wars between states. It also has been the trigger of two world wars.

The Roman Empire at its zenith included Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, a much bigger territory than the EU today; it came and went. Charlemagne started an embryo of a European Union; it came and went. Charles V created an empire so vast it was said that the sun never set under his realm; it too came and went. One of the best-known French kings, Louis XIV, through harsh taxation policies unwittingly prepared for the eventual downfall of the French monarchy in 1789, when the French revolted, deposed, and beheaded Louis XVI. The colonies waged wars of independence from their European masters, the latter being again at war among themselves in the 18th century; this continued in the 19th century. New independent European countries came into being, notably Belgium and Greece, in the 19th century, and other states disintegrated; e.g., the Habsburg double monarchy and Yugoslavia.

World War I and 20 years later World War II reduced Europe to rubble and forced it to undergo painful and costly reconstructions.

The list of armed conflict anywhere in Europe throughout its history is endless...

And yet, soon after the most devastating war Europe and the world had ever seen, visionary politicians in Europe stood up and defended the idea of creating a union including, from its inception, arch-enemy Germany. Defending such ideas needed lots of political courage at the time. Outside the small nucleus of inspired leaders, such proposals were branded daft, ridiculous, or even suicidal; its promoters were considered deranged politicians.

Today, with the exception of the war in the Balkans in the 1990s which dismembered the former Yugoslavia and created eight new states all aspiring to become EU-member states or having been granted membership status already, it is safe to say that Europe in its 2,000-year history of armed conflicts and wars has never known 65 years of continuous peace as it is enjoying today. This is in Europe a major feat by any standard. A closely integrated Europe is on its way to become the first continent where wars and armed conflict will have been banned successfully, and will continue to be banned for a long time, hopefully forever!

Conclusion:

With regard to the subject of this article, there are obviously also other success stories to report:

  • The peaceful ousting of many a dictatorship in Latin American countries in the 1980s and 1990s as a result of pressure by citizens. Nearly all Latin American countries now enjoy full democracy;
  • The successful transition from the “apartheid regime” in South Africa to Nelson Mandela in the early 1990s;
  • The creation of international agencies such as the African Union and Asean (Association of South Asian Nations), which seek to prevent tensions and contributing to peace in their respective regions;
  • The peaceful implosion of the USSR, the reunification of the two Germanys, and the resulting full independence of all east European countries, which were former Soviet satellites.

But the EU, notwithstanding its numerous critics and weaknesses, the crisis it is currently going through, and the fact it is still a "work “in progress,” has been, so far, a very successful instrument for an increasing number of European countries who have clearly chosen peace and development over armed conflict, as well as prosperity and welfare for all their citizens over personal greed, despotism, and egotism.

These days, there is still need of people such the gentlemen who initiated these fundamental changes decades ago:

  1. Jean Monnet (1888 – 1979): French economist and diplomat, regarded as the chief architect of European unity after World War II; first President of the High Authority overseeing French and German steel and coal industries
  2. Robert Schuman (1886 – 1963): Luxembourgish-born French politician and statesman; active member of the résistance against the Germans during the war; Bible scholar; founding member of the Council of Europe and the European Economic Community in his capacity as French Minister of Foreign Affairs
  3. Konrad Adenauer (1876 – 1967): German politician and statesman; devout Catholic; mayor of Köln (1917 – 1933) and fierce Nazi opponent, he was sacked for refusing to organize an inaugural event at the Köln city hall for the then newly democratically elected chancellor Adolf Hitler; imprisoned during the war; served as chancellor for 14 consecutive years of the new West Germany (1949 – 1963)
  4. Alcide De Gasperi (1881 – 1954): Italian politician and Prime Minister (1945 – 1953); a conservative Catholic, he opposed fascism in Italy and was imprisoned under Mussolini; strong supporter of a unified Europe after the war
  5. Paul-Henri Spaak (1899 – 1972): Belgian socialist statesman and Prime Minister; first President of the UN General Assembly in New York (1946 – 1957); the so called “Spaak report” led to the signature of the “Treaties of Rome” in 1957 that established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Community (Euratom)