How could peace become profitable?

European politics and integration

Peace is considered one of the greatest achievements of the European Union (EU). But where does it start and where does it end? Peace and conflict research distinguishes between two different categories of peace, the negative and the positive concept of peace. The negative concept of peace means the absence of personal, direct violence. Sure, peace, that is the opposite of war and it has actually not existed within the EU since World War II. Question clarified, the EU is a deserved winner of the Nobel Peace Prize? Unfortunately it's not that easy. Of course, the international community has made an important contribution to ensuring that Europeans today can live in largely safe conditions without fear of war. But peace is more than the absence of war. That is why peace and conflict research also knows the positive concept of peace. In addition to the absence of war, this also means the absence of structural, indirect violence. This is usually much more difficult to grasp. Can one also recognize a form of lack of peace in conflicts and inequalities within society? How can the award of the Nobel Peace Prize be justified when peace only extends as far as the EU's external borders? And does the EU have to go back to its actual founding idea?

Peace - a central motivation for the creation of the EU

The EU received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 on the grounds that it “has contributed to the spread of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe for more than six decades.” (Thorbjörn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee) lasting peace one of the central motivations for the creation of the EU. The Schuman Plan of 1950 is considered to be the origin of this. Through this, the French and German coal and steel production should be placed under a joint supervisory authority. The aim was to make a war between the two neighboring countries, which had fought each other in a total of three clashes in the previous 70 years, impossible. This resulted in the so-called European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), also known as the Coal and Steel Community, which, in addition to Germany and France, was also joined by the four other founding states Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. All further European integration steps were based on this. So working for peace is the foundation of the EU. It is therefore all the more critical to look at current developments that undermine this cornerstone of the European idea.

Limits to positive peace within the EU

There have been no more armed conflicts within the borders of the EU for decades. The negative peace is guaranteed here. But what about the so-called positive peace? Are there any signs of indirect, structural violence in European societies? “Structural violence does not come from an acting subject, but is built into the social system. It manifests itself in unequal power relations and consequently unequal life chances for women and men, young and old people, people with different cultural backgrounds or lifestyles. ”That sounds familiar, doesn't it? If you look at the current debates on racism, sexism, classism and other forms of discrimination, you quickly realize that European society is also shaped by unequal power relations and oppression. Be it the Black Lives Matter movement or the chalking of so-called catcalls - structural violence is and remains a problem within the EU that is fought by committed minorities and far too little by politicians. Like so many other privileges, there seems to be positive peace only for some of the EU's citizens.

Years of war on the borders of the EU

Unfortunately, this is just one of the EU's many failures when it comes to peace. At and outside its external borders, the European community of states is frighteningly little committed to peace and against war. An example of a war on the EU's borders is Ukraine. Geographically so close to Brussels, it seems to have been banned from the minds of European decision-makers. War has been raging there since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 - that is, for seven years. According to UN counts, 13,000 people have now been killed, 3,000 of them civilians. But what does the EU have to do with it? A test of strength between the EU and Russia can be seen as the trigger for the conflict. Both parties would like to have Ukraine in their own ranks, also in order to assert themselves against the other. The situation has escalated through protests in connection with an association agreement with the EU. Russia's reaction to this came as no surprise, steps to de-escalate could have been taken in advance (see also the article “Crimean Conflict: The Responsibility of Europe”). But that was not the case. The annexation of Crimea was condemned as a violation of international law and sanctions were imposed on Russia, but otherwise the multi-year war on the EU's doorstep does not really speak for an active and decisive commitment to the “spread of peace and reconciliation” (cf. explanation of the Norwegian Nobel Committee by Thorbjörn Jagland).

European arms exports as amplifiers of wars in the Sahel region

In other regions the responsibility for wars can be seen even more clearly with the EU. The member states of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, which in the spirit of Alfred Nobel is supposed to campaign for the "abolition and reduction of standing armies", were the second largest arms supplier in the world in 2015 - after the USA and even ahead of Russia. In addition to the arms deliveries from the member states, the so-called “European Peace Facility” (EPF) was adopted on March 22, 2021. So far, the interventions of the EU as a community of states have mainly been limited to the training of government groups, which should be supported in the fight against terrorism, as well as the delivery of technical equipment. With the EPF, the international community is now able for the first time to deliver weapons to third countries itself - previously only the member states could do this. Officially, the EU documents say that they want to help partner countries to better protect their people. One of these partner countries to which the EU can now deliver arms is Mali. German Bundeswehr troops have also been deployed here for several years. But a stable peace is not in sight.

Paradox: more violence despite more international actors

“The acts of violence in the entire region have increased ten-fold compared to 2015. We see a paradox here; more violence although there are more international actors on the ground. But they are not helping to defuse the conflicts in the Sahel region, ”Giuseppe Famà of the International Crisis Group told Monitor. How can more arms deliveries from the EU under the EPF be conducive to peace in this situation? Especially since it is known that human rights violations by the Malian army repeatedly occur. According to the United Nations, 320 victims were killed last year alone. In the future, these acts can be committed using weapons that come directly from the EU Nobel Peace Prize laureate. It doesn't go together. And one cannot help but think that the European community of states is more interested in the profits from profitable arms exports than working for peace.

Criticism of the European refugee policy

But actions are seldom without consequences. Originally, the aim was to combat the causes of flight with military interventions in Mali and other regions. But delivering arms to dictatorial regimes does exactly the opposite. For years, various NGOs have criticized the European refugee and asylum policy (e.g. UN refugee agency, Amnesty International, Seawatch etc.). Inhuman conditions in camps, in which people with refugee experience in Germany, France and other European countries have to live, and deportations to supposedly safe countries of origin, where persecution and war are threatened, are just a few examples. However, nothing has changed in recent years. The situation on the Mediterranean Sea and in so-called refugee camps is still extremely problematic and far from promoting peace.

Criminalization of sea rescue in the Mediterranean

Actually, captains are committed to sea rescue by three international agreements (International Agreement on Sea Rescue, International Agreement for the Protection of Human Life at Sea and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). The international law of the sea also stipulates that the rescued must be brought "within a reasonable time to a safe place", "where the lives of the survivors are no longer in danger and where their basic human needs are met". This requirement is not met in Libya, a country with a civil war, to which refugees are sent back on a daily basis. There are repeated reports of rape, torture and mistreatment in the camps for refugees. Nevertheless, civilian sea rescue has been criminalized by the EU for years. The best-known example is probably the arrest of the captain Carola Rackete by Italian authorities in 2019. But other ships of civil sea rescue organizations are also repeatedly arrested and thus prevented from saving human lives. In addition, the EU supports the Libyan coast guard. This intercepts people fleeing across the Mediterranean and brings them back to Libya. This is also called illegal pushbacks.

Deadly foreclosure policy of the EU

The sad result of the European foreclosure policy: 21,500 people on the run have drowned in the Mediterranean since 2014. This year alone there were several hundred. And as long as the EU does not fundamentally change its refugee policy, there will be more every day. These figures may seem abstract, with the Mediterranean Sea and the EU's external borders far away, but they are human lives. Behind every single number is a human life, a person who fled war, persecution and terror and had to leave everything behind. But the hope of these people for a secure life within the borders of “Fortress Europe” was not fulfilled. The EU does not seem to want to share her peace, of which she is so proud and which she likes to write on her blue flag with the 12 yellow stars. What that has to do with a "fraternization of peoples", which Alfred Nobel wanted to honor with the Nobel Peace Prize, remains a great mystery - as deep and unfathomable as the deadly Mediterranean Sea in front of the European borders.

The EU needs to rethink.

There is no doubt that the EU started its history with a praiseworthy ideal. And the absence of war, which has become the norm for most of its citizens, is an extremely valuable achievement for which one can and should be grateful every day. In order for the EU to be the peace project it would like to be, it must actively work for peace - inside and outside its borders. This requires a rethink, which will sometimes become uncomfortable. But it is a possible and necessary step for the EU to see itself as a defender of peace. True to the motto: "Peace is not everything, but without peace everything is nothing."