Tue Mar 11th, 2008 at 04:01:43 AM EST
What is the real spirit and purpose of the European project? Some think of Europe, with enthusiasm or with distaste, as no more than a free-trade area. Yet from its beginnings the European dream has been far more than that. It was designed to bring stability and lasting peace to a war-ravaged continent. It offers a modern antidote to the ancient and continuing curse of international anarchy.
Historically, the only practical antidote was empire. One dominant nation ruled over many others and thus provided law and order, in place of anarchy, at international level. This is no longer feasible. The world has drunk deeply of the spirit of Woodrow Wilson, he who proposed in his Peace without Victory speech of 1917 "that no nation should seek to extend its polity over any other nation". Even if quarrelling tribes and nations were willing to accept imperial order, what state in the world today is able and willing to impose it?
Europe has another and better solution. The European Union is a "co-operative empire", a supranational authority in which every member state is subject to a common framework of laws, but also has a share in the making and administration of those laws. Here is a way to achieve international order without the dominance of one nation over others.
Promoted by Migeru
[editor's note, by Migeru] Fold inserted here for the Front Page
"Be you never so high, the Law is above you" : that famous epigram comes from Thomas Fuller, a seventeenth-century English clergyman and historian who had a talent for pithy sayings. Others of his are "Let not your will roar, when your power can but whisper" and "Good clothes open all doors". Most of us readily accept Fuller's words of wisdom on the law, provided it means the rule of law within our own countries. We want none of the anarchy that erupts when individuals or groups within a country set themselves above the law.
Yet we are loath to endorse the same principle at international level. Many find it hard to accept that the Law should be above Britain, or France, or Israel, or Argentina, or Nigeria; let alone that God's own Country, the United States of America, should bow to the dictates of international law. So Americans decline to recognise the International Criminal Court; the English jeer at the Eurocrats in Brussels and Strasbourg; in 2005, French and Dutch nationalists helped to derail the proposed new constitution for the European Union.
The basic purpose of supranational order is to prevent wars between nations. Disputing parties within England very rarely fight each other; if they cannot agree between themselves, the court exerts its authority and arbitrates. Between nations, the same rule should apply. International courts should have the power to impose arbitration where necessary. But that means that nations must not be totally sovereign; they must recognise a higher Law above themselves.
A second purpose is to prevent national governments from abusing their own citizens. Traditional sovereignty means that, within its own territory, a government can do as it pleases until its own citizens throw it out; but they may be unable, or unwilling, to do so. The principle of sovereignty implies that, had he refrained from invading other countries, Hitler (aged 56 in 1945) could have misruled Germany with impunity for decades.
A third purpose is to uphold adequate standards. Any country that falls short of them should suffer restraints on its trade. For otherwise, bad environmental or employment practice drives out good. Industries in countries that tolerate uncontrolled pollution or sweated labour have low costs; in a world of freely competitive trade, they can destroy the industries of countries whose better standards entail higher costs. Some economists see nothing wrong with this; others display a little common sense.
A fourth purpose is co-ordinate changes such as those that are urgently needed to curb pollution and waste of resources. Left to themselves, individual states find it hard to make such changes, which may well harm their competitiveness in international markets.
The eastern Europeans recently released from the Russian empire have followed a course quite different from that of the African states that quit the British empire half a century ago. The Africans, following the mood of the times, demanded total independence; and some of them have made a terrible mess of it. By contrast, east European countries have chosen to join the European Union, which makes stringent demands on standards of democratic practice and economic management, but which provides in return solidarity and practical help.
Here is the commonwealth of the future, a new kind of civilised international order, free from the old imperial dominance of nation over nation that hitherto was the only alternative to anarchic sovereignties. Never mind the naysayers! This new Europe, whatever its difficulties, represents a new and forward-looking concept in international relations, an example to inspire the world.