IFAT hosted the third session of the Stronger together series of events on 21 March 2017 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome with the title of “Can Trade Prevent War?” The participants of the roundtable discussion exchanged ideas about the EU’s past and its future perspectives.
The roundtable discussion was moderated by Dr. Gergely Romsics, Senior Research Fellow of IFAT, who asked the participants first about the original motivations behind the EEC treaty.
Alexander Mattelaer, director of the European Affiars Program at Royal Institute for International Relations of Belgium (Egmont) argued that the gist of the question is best approached by keeping in mind that politics, as Clausewitz put it, is a continuation of politics through different means. Mattelaer stated that trade increased better understanding of each other and it is a tool for avoiding misunderstanding, but is in and of itself insufficient: deeper integration is needed to realign political interests so as to make war an extremely unlikely option in the international arena.
Arnold Kammel, director of Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES) added that if trade would be able to prevent war, the economic integration would have to been unnecessary. The main aim of the economic integration, at least for some and at least in the beginning, was to contain Germany by keeping her “close” to the partner states.
As the third speaker of the panel, Karlis Bukovskis, Deputy-Director of Latvian Institute of International Affairs observed that one of the most important achievements of the European integration is that people in different countries of Europe know each other. Due to the integration process and through the European instruments, member states have a constant ongoing conversation with each other, not to mention the several European program, such as Erasmus, which could provide an opportunity to the society either to get to know other nation better. According to Bukovskis, the main current challenge derives from the technological revolution in communication which has facilitated the dissemination of (fake) information, breeding uncertainty and opening a wide range of options for manipulating public opinion.
The second round’s topic was the security policy of the European Union. Bukovskis expressed, that security guarantees for smaller states could be more effectively maintained in the framework of international organizations, where these member states have a voice opportunity. (The rotating Council Presidency is a great option for that, for example.) Arnold Kammel emphasized neutrality as a cornerstone of Austrian foreign policy identity. He argued that at least for Austrians the European integration is mainly an economic cooperation, which is not called upon to guarantee security for the first place. Alexander Mattelaer analyzed the question of legitimacy, the basis for acting as the provider of security. According to Mattelaer, legitimacy is related to tax policy and the institution, which collect the money. recently these institutions are the nation-states, which conduct tax policies, the European Union has no independent tax policy. He also added, however, that were European funds diverted to the Common Security and Defense Policy, this situation could at least be reviewed.
Finally, the participants of the roundtable discussion had a conversation about the balance sheet of European integration today. Kammel emphasized that Juncker’s White Paper and Brexit itself provide a great opportunity to the EU-27 for reinterpreting the basics and the future of the EU. Mattelaer argued that the White Paper is fundamentally about acceptable or good outcomes for the EU, whereas talking about the collapse of the EU has ceased to be taboo over the past five years and represents the actual doomsday scenario today. According to Mattelaer, the EU possesses three exclusive competencies, which are trade, competition and monetary issues. As far as other policies go, member states bear the ultimate burden of decision. Taking this as a starting point, one could expand competencies, focus on better operation or even only on a few core areas. All are acceptable outcomes as long as the operation of the community is efficient. Bukovskis talked about the peace project of the 50s, and the question is, whether a similar broad fundamental idea could be found today. The Latvian deputy-director highlighted that cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs developed only after terror attacks targeted Europe. A key question is how without the UK and in tandem with NATO security cooperation could develop in the EU and whether CSDP could in fact become a joint and unifying venture.