Europe’s integration project is historically unprecedented. For the past millennium Europe has lived in an uneasy equilibrium, giving birth to every great empire that dominated and pacified the world in the last 500 years. Its eight or nine principal nations made war on each other whenever one threatened to seek and secure mastery over the others. Europe gave us the last two world wars, and to the balance sheet of monstrosities must be added its grotesque refinements in the art of murder: the Holocaust and the Gulag.
Sixty years after the end of the last war – a pittance in the light of history –
twenty five European nations, including nearly all of the countries on the Continent, are united in a common project that guarantees a definitive peace. The institutionalization of Europe makes war impossible and it motivates reconciliation: between France and Germany, between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, and soon between Hungarians and Romanians. At the same time, deep economic integration and a common commercial policy make the European Union a zone of prosperity that is relatively well protected against contemporary financial crises.
Those who dreamt of a single federal nation, capable of asserting a strong foreign policy backed by potent armed forces, are perhaps disappointed by the shape of today’s EU. But it is a mistake to focus too much on the Union’s shortcomings and ignore the extraordinary reality that exists before us. Although Europe is more a space governed by a shared rule of law than an expression of a unitary political will, it is currently becoming the greatest economic power in the world.