Europe’s return to Westphalia

Europe’s return to Westphalia

The euro is in trouble because Europe is in trouble. The sovereign debt crisis is symptom as much as cause. Greek profligacy, Ireland’s housing boom and Germany’s reckless state banks all played their part. But the failure to put things right speaks to a deeper malaise.

A common assumption at the opening of the present century was that it would take time for others to acquire the necessary political and economic sophistication, but the EU would eventually become a template for Asean, Mercosur and the rest.
In retrospect, the glue of European integration had already begun to dissolve.

“Europe’s return to Westphalia”. The thesis – that the Union is turning back the clock a few hundred years as it succumbs to the pressure of resurgent nationalisms – was intended as a provocation.

As I watch Europe’s leaders stumbling through the debt crisis I am increasingly persuaded that this is no more than a simple description of present reality.

The modern European state was born with the peace of Westphalia in 1648.  The doctrine of state sovereignty replaced the waning supranational authority of the church.

In retrospect, the glue of European integration had already begun to dissolve. The 1991 Maastricht treaty that gave birth to the single currency now looks like the last hurrah’s of the generation that saw European unity as vital to the continent’s peace and security.

Comment by Adamantine:

This article certainly suggests a crisis may be brewing. Such a crisis might allow for the rise of a powerful leader in the EU.


The Peace of Westphalia refers to the pair of treaties (the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück) signed in October and May 1648 which ended both the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War. The treaties were signed on October 24 and May 15, 1648 and involved the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, the other German princes, Spain, France, Sweden and representatives from the Dutch republic. The Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659, ending the war between France and Spain, is also often considered part of the treaty.
The peace as a whole is often used by historians to mark the beginning of the modern era. Each ruler would have the right to determine their state’s religion—thus, in law, Protestantism and Catholicism were equal. The texts of the two treaties are largely identical and deal with the internal affairs of the Holy Roman Empire.[1]
The Peace of Westphalia continues to be of importance today, with many academics asserting that the international system that exists today began at Westphalia. Both the basis and the result of this view have been attacked by revisionist academics and politicians alike, with revisionists questioning the significance of the Peace, and commentators and politicians attacking the “Westphalian System” of sovereign nation-states. The concept of each nation-state, regardless of size, as of equal legal value informed the founding of the United Nations, where all member states have one vote in the General Assembly. In the second half of the twentieth century, the democratic nation state as the pinnacle of political evolution saw membership of the UN rise from 50 when it was founded to 192 at the start of the twenty-first century. However, many new nations were artificial creations from the colonial division of the world, reflecting the economic interests of the colonizers rather than local cultural, ethnic, religious or other significant boundaries which serve as the foundation of cohesive societies.
The aspiration to become a sovereign nation-state so dominated the decolonization process that alternative possibilities, such as confederacy, were ignored. Westphalia, however, saw an end to countries as the personal possession of their monarchs and the beginning of respect for the territorial integrity of other nations. It did not, however, see the end of imperial expansion, since the European nations applied one rule to themselves and another to the peoples whom they encountered beyond Europe, whose territory could simply be appropriated, partitioned and exploited. Those who champion a more just sharing of the earth’s resources and some form of global governance see the Westphalian nation-state as an obstacle; nations are reluctant to act except from self-interest and are disinclined to relinquish power to any external body, which is understood as undermining their sovereignty. In Europe, as the European Union evolves towards becoming a European government, member states resist this on the grounds that their sovereignty is threatened.


One thought on “Europe’s return to Westphalia

  1. Some banks and corporations were deemed “too big to fail” by ours and other governments. I’d suggest that when the crisis hits, the EU will be seen as “too important to fail” which will be the mantra by which members will be coerced to relinquish the last vestiges of nation-state sovereignty – that is such a quaint antique to these globalist types.


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