European system, European Union, Westphalian peace, Vienna Congress, Napoleonic Wars, informal system, peace, war, 1914-1918, 1939-1945, balance of power, the concert of Europe, revolution, diplomatic relations, major powers, the Greek movement, national liberation, Serbia, Franz-Ferdinand, multilateralism, The League of Nations, Senate, Locarno Conference, World crisis, Germany, USSR, France, USA, Churchill, Résistance, Geneva Declaration
There was a European system before the current European Union. Its roots went back to the 17th century and the Westphalian peace of 1648. It reached its maturity during the 19th century, after the Vienna Congress, and under the impression of 25 years of revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It was an informal system, resting on common diplomatic procedures and on a set of common values, and aiming at achieving peace through a careful balance between the major European powers.
It was able, if not to maintain absolute peace, at least to prevent any major all-European war until 1914. But it failed in 1914, with well-known terrible consequences. It was attempted to revive it after 1919, but it failed once again, with still worse consequences, in 1939. That is why after 1945 one attempted to reconstruct Europe along quite different lines: no longer along the old principle and practice of balance of power, but according to the new concept of supranational integration.
Whether the new concept of integration will be ultimately more successful than the idea of balance remains to be seen: we stand only at the beginning of the movie!
[...] Until 1930 the new informal system, fueled by a period of economic prosperity, was successful. It was much like the former Concert of Europe but modernized through the concept of "collective security" (which means including the possible adversary and not creating a peacetime alliance against him). The peak was reached when in 1929-1930 Aristide Briand suggested the creation of a European Union, with a common market and a system of political consultation. His aim was to affirm the European identity against the economic pressure of the US and the political one of the USSR. [...]
[...] - The values of Enlightenment developed in the 18th century liberal world outlook, before the development of the dictatorial and even totalitarian tendencies expressed by the French Revolution). The main principle was that the major powers stayed in constant touch, certainly always defending their own interests, but with the will to prevent a conflict from escalating into a major war. The system basically worked: there was no new general European war before 1914, many crises were successfully solved, and particularly the crises linked with the colonial competition between European powers. There existed a real sense of European solidarity, of what Europe, historically, culturally and politically, meant. III. [...]
[...] Synonymous expressions were: the "European system", or even: "the European order". The first expression stresses the diplomatic network, the second the common values upon which the system rested. II. The Vienna Congress The task of the Vienna Congress was to organize the reconstruction of Europe after 25 years of Revolutionary than Napoleonic Wars. Its aims were: - To contain France after its defeat (through balance: creation of the kingdom of the Low Countries and Prussia on the Rhine). - To prevent a recurrence of Revolution: The Congress helped restore or promote political regimes founded on a historical, dynastic, and religious legitimacy (like the Austrian Empire), not on the national and democratic ideal of Revolutionary France. [...]
[...] It expressed the idea that when a European country (at that time historically Spain, then France) tried to achieve hegemony over Europe, the other countries would ally themselves against the would-be hegemon in order to restore the balance. This was traditional British policy. The second expression generally used was "the Concert of Europe". It became widely used at the time of the Vienna Congress in 1815 and until 1914, or even 1939. It added to the idea of balance the concept of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic rules and habits, and also a sense of commonly shared European values. [...]
[...] Thus, the multilateral diplomatic system broke down. On top of that, the sense of common, shared values, had retreated, because of the rise of nationalism, or even extreme, pre-racist nationalism, everywhere. The idea of a European Commonwealth, very present during the 19th century, was now much weaker. And the very concept of a control of the system by the Great powers came more and more under attack, by the smaller countries and by the "oppressed nations" in Russia and Austria. [...]
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