One of the fun little claims that keeps popping up as part of the remain rhetoric is that the EU has kept Europe at peace since the second world war. We heard this during the pre vote campaign and it keeps popping up now and then since 52% of the population voted to jump off the continent and set sail into an exciting unknown.
It was wrong then and it's wrong now, just another lie thrown into the debate and doing more harm than good because it so easy to discredit. All the good reasons to remain in Europe and people still keep coming up with:
But the only reason we haven't had a war in Europe is the EU.
Say it in an annoying, whiney voice to get the full effect.
In 1951 the European Coal and Steel Community came into being. The ECSC was the result of the French laying the diplomatic foundations of an agreement with German that expanded to include the other founding members. With the Schuman Declaration in May 1950 the talking got serious and a year later the ECSC came into being.
The plan had been to make any future war between France and Germany "not only unthinkable but materially impossible" by placing all coal and steel production of the two nations under the authority of a higher organisation. Those two materials being considered vital to any war effort, placing control and trade of them outside of the respective nations should make any future war between the two nations impossible.
Bear in mind that at this point both nations were still rebuilding though France had a significant advantage in that the Allies hadn't carpet bombed it's major cities.
Please note that this was an economic treaty, intended to boost the European economy and prevent future wars between two traditional enemies Germany and France. Its founding members, France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg represented the main economic powers of western Europe at the time. This agreement was NOT about defending Western Europe, it was an economic step intended to prevent any future war between Germany and France at a time when Western Germany was rebuilding from the war and was an armed camp facing east while Eastern Germany was a Soviet armed camp facing west.
Now just before this, in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty had been signed by the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom. This created NATO, a military alliance dedicated to defending against the expected attack by the Soviet Union. At this stage Germany was not a member, was not considered as a member and was still occupied by the Allies. Though in 1950 an American plan was being passed around to form 12 German divisions to be used against the utterly inevitable attack by the Soviet Union.
As part of the proposal to form the ECSC in 1950 a European Defence Community was proposed, this was to include West Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries and was according to many reports directly intended to stop Germany building those 12 divisions ready to fight the Red Menace under NATO command.
The EDC was intended to form an actual European army with Germany's military directly controlled by the EDC rather than the German government or NATO. Remember that at this point in time NATO already existed and this would have created a second military alliance in Western Europe.
In the end it failed, the French parliament voted and the vote failed to pass, French fears of allowing Germany to remilitarise despite the supposed war stopping effects of the ECSC are often cited as a major factor in the vote failing. So the European army never formed and the ECSC was purely economic.
It was not until 1955 that the allied military occupation of Germany officially ended and in that same year West Germany became a member of NATO and those German divisions joined the other NATO members in staring East at the Soviet Union's numberless hordes across the Iron Curtain.
In 1958 the ECSC became the European Economic Community when the Treaty of Rome was signed by the six members of the ECSC, this was a trade union, covering all six and setting in place free trade between those nations. It included a number of supranational bodies to supervise this trade and many other details.
This organisation was not defensive, wasn't concerned with the possibility of war between Germany and France and was focused on trade, the later common agricultural policy and on the even later removal of trade tariffs on a number of goods.
The EEC also saw the creation of a number of supra national bodies with the aim of better coordinating the activities of the members, such as the European Atomic Energy Community.
In the 1961 Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom applied to join. France under Charles de Gaulle vetoed the UKs membership and all four had their applications suspended until 1967, negotiations began in 1970 and three nations joined in 1973, the last one, Norway had given up on the process after a public referendum in 1972 said the Norwegian people no longer wanted membership in the EEC.
Norway remained a NATO member, the military alliance intended to defend Europe from the crushing might of the Soviet Union whose massed tank divisions sat on the Eastern Borders of Germany ready to invade any day now.
Other nations joined the EEC, a trade alliance completely separate to the military alliance that still sat looking east waiting for Soviet Nukes to rain down from the skies followed up by massed tank divisions rolling across the Fulda gap.
In 1986 the blue flag with the circle of gold stars was rebranded the flag of Europe and later adopted as the EU flag when the EU came into existence in 1993, which was a year after the Soviet Union collapsed, two years after the re-unification of Germany and the point when those millions of soldiers and thousands of tanks stopped lurking and threatening to invade and instead went home.
So the European Union, the EU, came into being in 1993 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. A continuation of trade agreements and an ever closer union between the member states in almost all ways EXCEPT militarily.
That's the end of the history lesson so you can wake up now.
It's far more complex than this but I don't have the time to write an entire, fully detailed series of books on the subject and you don't have the time to read them so let's go with the short version.
The ECSC in 1951, the EEC in 1958, the EU in 1993, Europe, no wars since 1945. Well in Western Europe anyway, plenty of wars outside of Western Europe being fought by the European militaries.
But did you notice something else in my potted history of post WW2 Western Europe, some possible other reason why they weren't fighting each other. Maybe some reason why they weren't looking to fight each other and were maybe standing together against something else, maybe something Eastwards.
Anything spring to mind, anything with fur hats and lots of tanks maybe. Anything being kept at bay by a military alliance that was nothing to do with the ECSC, the EEC, or the EC, since all of those were NOT military alliances and the only real attempt by any of them to form a military alliance failed.
Well anyway. The EU and it's ancestors the ECSC and the EEC are not, were not and probably never will be military alliances, they have nothing to do with defence. Individual members militaries work together, train together and cooperate at times but that is a national thing, not an EU thing.
Europe has had seventy years of peace (in Western Europe) since the end of World War Two. Seventy years without enemy tanks rolling across Germany or France, seventy years without seeing their cities carpet bombed. Forty five of those years were spent staring East at a threat that forced a military alliance on Western Europe and since then there hasn't been any reason for the nations to go to war.
After all Germany has no need to conquer Europe by military might, it runs the European Economy and does very well out of the deal. The UK couldn't actually invade anyone these days. The other European nations can't afford to spend enough on their militaries to meet NATO membership requirements never mind start wars with other major nations.
There is plenty of money to bomb the middle east but none to start a proper war with someone who can shoot back.
So Western Europe has no wars, Germany and France haven't started fighting each other again, the UK and the Dutch aren't fighting trade wars again, Belgium isn't being trampled by armies going north, south, east and west to get someone else. No wars in Western Europe.
Not because of the EU, nothing to do with the EU. Everything to do with Western Europe spending most of the second half of the 20th century looking East at that big scary enemy. Western Europe spent the years from 1948 to 1991 as a living example of the adage, stand together, get hung apart.
Nothing to do with the EU, not in the slightest. Want to thank anyone for Western Europe being at peace.
Thank the Soviet Union.