Trade has been the Antidote to War in Europe

October 6, 2016

Trade has been the Antidote to War in Europe

Business men and women, trade officials and EU bureaucrats don’t often see themselves as peace builders. Yet that is the real outcome of their professions.

Without the trade they foster and make possible, the continent would not just be poorer but more violent. This might sound like a bold claim but let’s briefly put the achievement of EU trade and the single market in context.

Aside from the Nuremburg trials and the lesser known mass upheavals of people as nation states reorganised themselves behind new borders (a grim tale recounted in Tony Judt’s Postwar, A History of Europe Since 1945), Europe did not really focus on reconciliation and peacebuilding per se. The moral framework of the war was too obvious and the exigencies of reconstruction and then Cold War too pressing. Rather, Europe’s post-war leaders understood that a peaceful future depended on trade.

Winston Churchill led with the way when in 1946 he called for a United States of Europe: “The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause.” The first step was the formation of the Council of Europe in 1949 with its focus on human rights and democracy.

Two of the leading post-war architects of the EU, Robert Schuman and Jean Monet, looked first to the two products that made modern warfare possible, namely coal and steel. Within the framework of the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (since 1995, the WTO), they forged the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, the foundation for the common market. Its purpose was set out in the Schuman Declaration; to “make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”

The Schuman Declaration also made clear that a united Europe would be built layer by layer: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de factosolidarity”.

Thus followed the foundational EU document, the Treaty of Rome in 1957.  The Customs Union was created in 1958. In 1993, the single market was completed by the Maastricht Treaty allowing the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

Within the Schengen Area, people from 26 countries (22 out of the 28 EU member states) cross borders without passports. Economic and monetary union began in 1999, followed by the launch of the euro which today is used by 19 member states. In 2009, the Lisbon Treaty looked to enhance the effectiveness of EU institutions and decision making processes.

The construct that emerged has proven to be robust and attractive to other European states. The EU dealt effectively with the greatest challenge it faced since 1945 with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of Soviet Bloc and the absorption of twelve new member states as a result.

The founders of the European project certainly aspired to a supranational pooling of sovereignty. There has been progress toward this but it has been very carefully, even gingerly progressed in foreign policy and security for example. The UK has played an important role in that process and Ireland has defended its interests well.

But make no mistake about it, in terms of pooling sovereignty the greatest progress has been made in trade: the single market is the beating heart of the European Union.  And the single market is the four freedoms.  It is from this perspective that the UK wish to alter its immigration regime will be judged by fellow member states.

Nowhere else on earth have sovereign nations pooled their trade laws, tariffs and customs, regulations and standards, and binding arbitration with the depth and comprehensiveness of the European Union.

And against the backdrop of Europe’s violent preceding centuries, nowhere else on earth has shown so dramatically how trade can be used as the antidote to war.


Trade has been the Antidote to War in Europe was originally posted on the Ambassador’s blog at All views expressed on this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of Ireland.


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