Europe is not a district in Brussels. Europe is an idea and a peace project. By Martin Griffiths
Staying in or taking a 'leap in the dark', that is the question for us Brits in a few months. The choice we British will have to make will not be a matter of balancing careful arguments. It will, rather, be an emotional statement.
What is home?
I suppose London is as much my 'home' as is anywhere, if 'home' is defined in that rather quaint way as the place you expect to return to, and where you feel most at ease. It's an odd concept for me, as I have lived in Switzerland for the most of the past two decades, and am content to apply for its citizenship. But would never call it 'home'.
Twenty years ago I moved from London to Geneva. I firmly told friends that I was very happy finally to be moving to Europe. Eventually one of them pointed out that, in one sense, I was actually leaving Europe. I laughed off my ignorance. And it took me years to realise my own fundamental truth: that Europe is a matter of geography not of organisation. And what I was trying to say was that I was glad to be leaving the physical insularity of the island for the central land-locked connectedness of Switzerland.
This desire to belong is complicated. It's not a herd instinct, nor does it at all reflect my character. I am not especially gregarious; and I enjoy solitude. No, the desire to belong is not a question of character, it's a political statement.
Europe is a peace project
My instinctive support for Europe has nothing whatsoever to do with its institutions. My support for a united Europe is because, in some fundamental and almost unconscious way, I find that it is the nation state with its presumptions and entitlements that threaten the possibilities of a peaceful world. The nation state is, simply, not the modern building block of peace.
Many years ago, I passed a summer evening in Brussels in the company of three French men. Two of them were senior politicians, one a former Prime Minister and the other a renowned humanitarian. Both were at that time members of the European Parliament. What I remember of that evening was their peroration on the great success of the vision of the founders to make war in Europe a matter of history. Europe as peace project. And these were men who had known a Europe at war. They knew of what they were talking about. And yes, I got that. Their enthusiasm for this peace project was real and realistic. For me Europe comes to life at the level of rhetoric, not at the level of detail. But it is a rhetoric grounded in the desire of ordinary people to be free of war.
I understand the frustrations expressed by those who are going to vote for the exit, their dismissal of the regulations which come with membership, and the distance that ordinary people feel from these European institutions. I can feel the temptation to retreat from all this.
But I won't. Europe for me is an idea. We want to keep it that way, and damn the details. Europe is not a district in Brussels; it is still no more and no less than a hedge against war.
Of course, for someone like me, the creation of a European Institute of Peace was long overdue. It was an obvious part of the original idea. So, it comes as no surprise that, for all of us who sentimentally believe in this idea of Europe, our Institute has to be an expression of those values, of the open society, of the tolerance of difference, of the power and meaning of populism over officialdom.
What has, however, been striking is how common is the belief in Europe as a place for these values and as a reasonable partner for peace. This is true even as our continent's deep divisions become more evident and more dangerous.
Spare a moment, even in these gloomy times, for those I often meet in countries being destroyed by conflict. Time and again they tell me they trust Europe and its diplomats to be fair, to be honest and to care. We may find that surprising. Sometimes we may feel these are standards we do not always live up to. But I can tell you it is still treasure in our bank, earned by honest effort over recent generations. It makes me proud to continue to be European, even now. Especially now.