We have briefly considered how the initial permissive consensus was ended in part because the self-perception of the European Union as a ‘community of winners’ became increasingly less tenable. This is especially true in times of economic crisis, but we saw Majone claim that after rapid catch-up with the United States in the immediate postwar period Europe was unable to keep up. However, in the parlance of European politics itself, the EU has surely ‘delivered’ a half-century of peace and stability. We have to make the counterpoint that the increasing irrelevance of Europe’s internal borders has been offset by the arguably equal and assuredly opposite reaction of shutting out those who do not belong. Morocco’s request to become a member state was rebuked (Morocco isn’t Europe), while Spain’s holdings in North-Africa were recognised without second thought (Spain is Europe). There is no map of the EU that features the Dutch municipalities [gemeenten] in the Caribbean, and France showed that while Algeria was French whether the Algerians liked it or not, a horrible war could be fought on ‘French’ soil with many ‘French’ victims without blemishing the European record. The Algerian war ended in 1962, one year before Van Gend & Loos. That this part of European history can be unproblematically ignored shows that “not even a sizeable war fought inside the community itself has been able to impinge on the notion of European integration as a symbol of peace, and that its promotion of European identity has served as an antidote to war”.
But even if we limit ourselves to continental Europe, the causal element that is implied by the idea of the ‘deliverance’ of peace is problematic. Majone denounces it as a “cryptofederalist myth”. A first element of this mythological element is the historical frame of the postwar period itself:
[T]he European Community arrived a bit late in history for its widely proclaimed mission, which was to avert further wars between the major Western European nations; even without the Community the time for such wars was past after the two exhausting world wars of the first half of the twentieth century. (Hirschman 1981, cited in Majone 2009, 87 and Majone 2014, 82)
According to this analysis, European society itself carried a strong anti-war orientation, which allows us to explain Winston Churchill’s defeat at the 1945 election because of his reputation as a ‘man of war’. There is a general reluctance of European nations to engage in war, even in its own backyard: both the Yugoslav crisis, which began with an assertion of European ‘problem ownership’ (“This is the hour of the Europeans, not the hour of the Americans!”), and the Kosovo crisis displayed the EU’s “inability to ensure peace and respect for basic human rights even in areas of clear European interest”. Though Hirschman presents the “ironic conjecture” that perhaps the true function of the European community has been to give voice to suppressed minorities within states on the European continent, these examples show how difficult it is to make even this case.
We cannot mention human rights in this context without reminding ourselves that they are part of the EU’s self-description. It is all the more grueling that some if its actions can be described under the heading of “state hypocrisy”. During the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a committee of ‘sages’ was convened as part of an initiative to create a ‘Human Rights Agenda for the New Millennium’. After an early draft was presented in 1997, European Commission representatives “strongly objected”, although the eventual report would be based on “official, published and widely available materials”. It was clearly not the intention to come clean about areas of improvement in European human rights practice. The purpose behind the human rights agenda at the time was to “present a rosy European picture, to link aid and trade to Western human rights priorities” and to provide European representatives in international bodies with ammunition when they were criticized for applying double standards to human rights abuses in China and the Soviet Union (which were loudly decried, though in the case of China trade relations were usually not at issue) on the one hand, and human rights abuses ‘at home’ on the other hand. The eventual report was cleansed of the names of individual offending member states, instead offering the general criticism that “the strong rhetoric of the European Union [concerning its core values and human rights] is not matched by the reality”.
The above shows the EU’s track record when it comes to matters of war, peace and human rights. The Cold War was a decor in which existing antagonisms between East and West could give rise to the extreme kind of depoliticization that allows one to present oneself and one’s history in terms of a striving for peace, while at the same time engaging in (post)colonial warfare on a large scale. The current non-engagement with this same history shows the necessity of questioning simplifying and depoliticizing narratives of peace and prosperity, which present Europe as occupying, almost as a matter of necessity, a moral high ground. All of this being said, while it certainly gives us pause to reflect on Europe’s history in this manner, we need to concern ourselves in more detail with the EU’s current human rights practice and inquire into present realities.
The year 2016 provided a graphic demarcation point when it comes to the EU’s border and immigration policies, sealing itself tight in the face of a potential influx of refugees as a result of, most notably, the Syrian civil war. The EU’s response has been described as a “politics of death”. The Human Rights Watch report classifies the so-called refugee crisis as one of the “significant strategic challenges” faced by the EU, alongside the Brexit vote, terrorist attacks and “rising support for populist anti-immigration parties”. It notes that “EU governments and institutions responded (…) in ways that often undercut or set aside core values and rights protections rather than working consistently together to defend them”. Populism constitutes a challenge of its own, and we will discuss it in the terms set out in the first chapter. Let us first briefly go into the challenges concerned more directly with human rights. When it came to the refugee crisis, the concern reflected by EU policy was national security and cultural identity, which was reflected in partial border closure in the Eastern parts of Europe and heightened border controls by Austria, France and Switzerland. 2016 was the deadliest year on record for crossing the Mediterranean Sea, with estimates putting the number of victims over five thousand. In June of 2016, the EU signed a “problematic” deal with Turkey, offering payment for every refugee Turkey would take in from Greece. This involves the EU not only with a questionable deal offering money to a party willing to ‘import’ refugees, but also makes the complaints about populism less credible.