Anglo-French sea-battle mars Europe’s peace prize

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14 October 2012

It is ironic that the Nobel Committee decided to award its annual peace prize to the European Union (EU) in a week which saw French and British fishing fleets fighting each other in the English Channel.

On 11 October the London Guardian reported the conflict from the British point of view, suggesting that it was French boats which commenced hostilities. We have no report giving the French point of view.

The fight took place against a background of EU quotas, which threaten fishermen’s livelihoods by limiting the amount of fish that can be landed in the interests of preserving already dwindling fish stocks.

According to the Guardian, British fishing boats were dredging legally for scallops off the French port of Le Havre when they were attacked with rocks thrown from French fishing boats, which allegedly tried to block their path.

At the height of the conflict, around eight British fishing boats were said to be involved as against 40 from France.

According to the British fishermen, in addition to throwing rocks, the French fishermen tried to damage the engines and propellers of the British boats by throwing nets at them. One British crewman was injured by a rock.

A French naval vessel was called to the scene but apparently refused to intervene.

At around the same time that the sea-battle was raging off the French coast, the Nobel Peace Committee was preparing to announce  that its annual peace prize would this year go to the European Union, of which Britain and France are both member states.

The award reflected the committee’s view that the EU had helped transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.

It is true that since the foundations of the current 27-member European Union were established in 1952 no member state has gone to war with another.

While the pro-EU lobby claims – and the Nobel Committee clearly believes – that this is as a result of the existence of the EU, it has no way of proving that this would not have happened anyway without the creation of the EU.

Eurosceptics (like Antigone1984) can argue plausibly that by 1945, after two major worldwide conflicts, the countries of the continent, bankrupted by war, were simply tired of fighting and had lost the stomach for hostilities.

The Nobel Peace Committee is based in Oslo, Norway, a European country which, ironically, could have opted to join the European Union but decided against it.

Thorbjørn Jagland, chair of the Nobel Committee, is quoted as saying: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU’s most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights.”

The award has triggered disbelief in Greece. Vast numbers of of Greek citizens consider that, by imposing intolerable austerity on Greece, the EU is waging an economic war against their country.

That view finds an echo in a recent article by David Priestland, who lectures in modern history at Oxford University.

Writing in the London Guardian on 13 October 2012, Priestland says: “The introduction of the euro changed the EU from an institution that used economic integration to promote peace to one that is sacrificing peace on the altar of free-market economics. Brussels is being rewarded for its pacific past at the very moment it is provoking civil strife.”

According to Priestland,  the European Union project has always had a strong element of anti-war idealism at its core, “though it would never have won a prize for internal democracy.”

However, he believes that since 2008, the catastrophic single currency has transformed the EU into a source of conflict and even violence. The euro, combined with financial deregulation, had allowed a massive build-up of debt in the south and now the bubble had inevitably bust.

“In Greece, we see Weimar-style polarisation and social breakdown. Southern Europeans denounce German ‘imperialism’ just as Germans once condemned the financial highhandedness of American ‘Jewish’ bankers. And yet as long as Brussels remains committed to the euro, dissension is bound to get worse. For the single currency stops southerners devaluing and exporting their way to growth.”

It is worth reflecting that it was this same Nobel Committee,  with Thorbjørn Jagland in the chair, that awarded its 2009 Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama – shortly before, authorising a substantial surge in troop numbers,  he stepped up the US war in Afghanistan.  New York Times columnist Yoni Brenner subsequently coined the verb “thorbjorning”, meaning to give someone a reward for something that they have not yet done.

Thorbjørn Jagland was briefly Norwegian Prime Minister from 1996 to 1997 when his performance was much criticized and even ridiculed. In addition to being chair of the Nobel Peace Committee, he is also currently Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. Unsurprisingly, he is said to be in favour of Norway joining the European Union.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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