Listening to The EU Debate on the BBC last week, I was struck again by how often the pro-European argument re-treads old arguments, and I have to admit I roll my eyes every time the peace argument is brought up.
This is not to say that there's anything wrong in the peace argument itself (or to take away from the debate on the BBC, which had a very limited time to establish the argument). The EU does contribute to peace in Europe because it promotes continuous cooperation between the Member States. NATO has contributed massively to peace in Europe, but it's not as deep as the EU or as good at generating connections and cooperation between its Member States - despite Greece and Turkey being members since 1952, the fifty years since joining have not been the most cordial (indeed the deterioration of relations between the two countries after joining was a case study in how multilateral military alliances can destabilise relations between countries at my university). Likewise the Council of Europe and its Court of Human Rights have not prevent war between its members, with the Russia-Georgia war being a recent example.
However the European Union is much, much more than just a peace project and requires a more complex argument to justify it. By launching the pro-European argument with the "peace in Europe" rationale, by the time NATO has been addressed there is less time to set out a deeper context or basis to the EU to build on when the debate moves on to the economy or justice and home affairs. Not only does the opening argument on peace sound distant from today's concerns (it's inevitably admitted that war wouldn't suddenly occur if the Euro collapsed tomorrow, etc), but it also means that there is little underlying rationale or idea that holds together the cooperation covered by the EU. Not a good way to start off the pro-European argument.
Explaining takes practise.
A common thread to discussions in pro-European circles seems to be that the pro-European case would find more supporters if it was explained. This irritates me for two reasons: it's a boring discussion that doesn't solve or further anything, and pro-Europeans are terrible at explaining things. Probably because they constantly talk about explaining things rather than actually explaining them.
Or, more seriously, there is usually less need to defend and think about defending the status quo than if you want to change something. It reminds me of the position of unionists in Northern Ireland or the unionist argument in Scotland, where the status quo came or is coming under pressure (in greatly differing circumstances), and those who supported the union lagged behind in creating an articulate narrative in its favour. While supporters of the British union have adapted, pro-Europeans still lag behind - with the pro-European position more precarious if it also wants to argue for the future changes that are a key part of the pro-European position in the Eurocrisis.
The structure of the EU and the reliance of the pro-European movement on European leaders and European summit meetings meant that it struggles to create a convincing narrative and has lost time. It also means that there's been a shrinking support base - a generation of believers in the European ideal as a way of maintaining peace have passed, and the European statesmen and women who pushed the project along in the past are less likely to be generated in the future by a generation for whom the need for peace is less visceral and the narrative for the European Union less clear.
Participation needs to be at the core of pro-Europeanism.