Marking the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek paid tribute to the European Union for making war on the Continent unthinkable and, “materially impossible.”
He had a point; not that the EU was a critical instrument of peace and stability in the years following World War II, but that Europeans enjoy a quality of life unimaginable just 30 years ago, never mind 70 years ago. And he’s right that it is important to remember why. The Transatlantic relationship embodied within NATO, matched with an unprecedented troika of global leaders in Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, brought about the downfall of Communism and a growth in prosperity and democracy that have transformed the world.
In terms of winning the Cold War, securing peace, and building prosperity, the EU was a bit-part player. In fact, until the early 1970’s only France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries were members. And it was only really with the introduction of the Maastricht treaty in 1993 that the EU laid a marker that it wanted to be an international actor.
European nations’ desire for prosperity derived in no small part from looking across the Atlantic. One of America’s greatest imports to Europe was their love of free trade, capitalism, liberty and democracy as the true safeguards against internal conflict. And with NATO’s security guarantee and tens of thousands of American troops on the European Continent, Western Europe was free to build its powerful economies and enjoy the fruits of freedom which were denied to those East of the Berlin Wall.
As well as commemorating the outbreak of the most devastating conflict of the twentieth century, Europeans were this week disposing of all their traditional incandescent light bulbs in compliance with new EU rules. Thomas Edison’s 100 watt light bulb has been deemed environmentally unsound by Brussels, along with misshapen bananas and certain pesticides. In remembering the tragedy and triumphs of modern European history, it is important to put things into perspective. Europe’s most successful route to peace has been through free trade, democracy, prosperity and liberty, and guaranteed by the strong and morally convicted, not by unelected faceless bureaucrats at the Berlaymont.