What Future for Europe – 1814, 1914, or Something Else?




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Feb 06, 2014
by Louise Hallman
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What Future for Europe – 1814, 1914, or Something Else?

Salzburg Global Senior Advisor Edward Mortimer gives lecture at UK’s House of Lords in honor of the late Sir Michael Palliser

2014 marks the centenary of the start of the First World War, which began not only four years of bloodshed in the trenches of France and Belgium, but also three decades of instability, fascism and further war across Europe and much of the world, leading to the decline of European influence in the world. It also marks the second centenary of the start of the Congress of Vienna, which sought to rebuild Europe after the Napoleonic wars.

Today, Europe faces a stark choice: will its leaders be like the “sleepwalkers” of 1914, who blindly fell into decades of war and destruction? Or the architects of 1814, who had a clear vision of the future for Europe? Or, will it be something else entirely?

It was this dilemma that Salzburg Global Senior Program Advisor Edward Mortimer sought to address in the inaugural Sir Michael Palliser Lecture, an event held at the House of Lords on Monday, February 3 to commemorate the life of the late Sir Michael Palliser, long-serving British diplomat and former Salzburg Global board member and senior Fellow who died last June.

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Very great man
After serving in the Coldstream Guards during World War II, Sir Michael Palliser (1922-2012) joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1947. His extraordinary career in the Foreign Office included stints at home and abroad as Head of the Policy Planning Staff, a Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Minister at the British Embassy in Paris, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the European Communities, and Permanent Undersecretary of State and Head of the Diplomatic Service, to name a few. He came out of formal retirement from April to July 1982, during the Falklands War, to act as special adviser in the Cabinet Office to then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

In addition to his distinguished diplomatic career, he was Vice Chair of the Salzburg Global board of directors for 13 years, and on the faculty of many Salzburg Global sessions. He was a lifelong believer in European unity, forming part of the team that negotiated Britain’s membership of what was to become the European Union; he then helped to ensure that Britain played a constructive role in European institutions.

Held at the House of Lords, under the sponsorship of long-time supporter of Salzburg Global Seminar Baroness Prashar, the lecture was introduced by a former mentee of Sir Michael, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. Lord Kerr, who also served for many years in the British Diplomatic Service, said it was a great pleasure to introduce the event held “in honor of a very great man”.

Two crucial centenaries
Introducing his lecture, Mortimer said it was “an extraordinary honor, but also quite an intimidating challenge, to be asked to deliver this lecture in memory of Michael Palliser,” a man he dubbed “a European to his fingertips”.

Given Sir Michael’s Europhilic vision, Mortimer said it was only appropriate that he deliver the inaugural Palliser Lecture on Europe, looking not only at its future, but drawing comparisons with its past.

“In Austria, at least, 2014 brings us not one crucial centenary but two,” Mortimer explained. 

“1914, when the ‘concert of Europe’ collapsed, and 1814 when it was created; 1914, which marked the death knell of the Habsburg empire, and 1814 when a great servant of the Habsburgs…managed to make Austria the central and dominant power in Europe; 1914, the moment of the sleepwalkers – leaders who blundered into a war that few of them really wanted but many came to believe inevitable – and 1814, the moment of the architects – leaders who put together a new European state system, which was to give Europe a uniquely peaceful century, interrupted in the middle by a few short wars which tidied up the map, making Italy and Germany into single states. 

“And the question is: which of those two moments does today’s Europe most resemble? Are our leaders today sleepwalkers or architects? Or, can we learn, by studying those two epoch-making events, how to avoid the pitfalls of the one and emulate the successes of the other?”

Noting that the “architects” of 1814 were rebuilding Europe after 25 years of war, with the “sleepwalkers” of 1914 coming from 100 years of peace, Mortimer argued: “War is by definition destructive, but sometimes the destruction is creative. Obstacles to change are crushed, or bulldozed aside, in ways that are unthinkable so long as peace prevails. The world becomes molten, and therefore malleable.”

Does the world thus need another catastrophe—or at least the threat of one—to prompt it to behave as architects instead of sleepwalkers?

Balkan parallels
Parallels between the current situations in the South China Sea and the Middle East have been drawn with the pre-World War I Balkans. In the South China Sea, comparisons can be made of the tension between the US and China of today and the UK and Germany or Germany and Russia of 1914. Actions by Japan (today’s Austria-Hungary?) could, through its military alliance, draw the USA into direct conflict with China.  The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East so far do not seem to be drawing in today’s “Great Powers” as the break-up of the Balkans did in 1914, but the actions of Israel could possibly change this.

Or is the Middle East more like 1848 – a year that is known in some countries as the “Spring of Nations” for it numerous revolutions? These revolutions had long-lasting impacts on many of the nations concerned, including Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary, but did not spread to all nations, nor did they cause inter-regional conflicts or draw in external powers. 

If today’s powers successfully avoid being drawn into widespread regional conflict, is the greatest looming catastrophe not war but instead climate change? Here is where the greatest parallel with the sleepwalkers can be made, argued Mortimer.

“All of us are aware of the danger, just as everyone was aware of the danger of a general war in 1914. But, as then, many are prepared to shrug it off, deeming that what has not happened yet – or not on a scale to interfere seriously with their personal lives – has a good chance of not happening at all, and that there are many more pressing problems to be getting on with,” he said. 

“Others are convinced that the threat is real, and take some measures to confront it, but find themselves hemmed in by a web of conflicting claims and interests which ensure that these measures are not enough to make a real difference. Each state or group of states makes its move conditional on that of some other state or states, but agreement on priorities and strategies proves endlessly elusive. The metaphor of the sleepwalkers seems even more apposite here than it does to the unfortunate statesmen of 1914. The architects are badly needed. But do we need catastrophe to strike once again before the architects are given their chance?”

Greater perspective
Following Mortimer’s lecture, responses* were given by Bronwen Maddox, editor of Prospect magazine and Terje Rød-Larsen, President and CEO of the International Peace Institute and UN under-secretary-general, a role in which he advises Ban Ki-moon on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, regarding free elections in Lebanon.

Rød-Larsen brought to the debate his extensive knowledge of the Middle East, having played a key role in the Oslo Accords in 1993. He also served as ambassador and special advisor for the Middle East peace process to the Norwegian Foreign Minister, and as United Nations Special coordinator in the Occupied Territories, before he himself became Norwegian deputy prime minister in 1996, and later, in 2005, negotiated on behalf of the UN Secretary-General the Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon.

Maddox, who has been the editor and chief executive of Prospect magazine since 2010, was previously chief foreign commentator, foreign editor, and US editor and Washington bureau chief of The Times and a reporter at the Financial Times. Outside of her journalistic work, she has also been an investment analyst in the City and on Wall Street, and a director of Kleinwort Benson Securities, as well as authoring In Defence of America, a book arguing the case for supporting the US after the Iraq war.

Special series
In addition to his UN role, Rød-Larsen also now serves as the head of Vienna-based NGO, the International Peace Institute. Together with Salzburg Global Seminar, the IPI will host a series of events this year to mark the two centenaries of 1914 and 1814. The Palliser Lecture will launch this special program, in collaboration with the IPI, to analyze and explore lessons from these key historical landmarks for leaders today and tomorrow. A series of high-level debates in North America, Europe, India and the Middle East will culminate in the session ‘1814, 1914: Lessons from History for a World at Risk’ to be held in August.   

Peter Palliser, Sir Michael Palliser’s son, speaking on behalf of the Palliser family said of the event: “We found the many tributes to our father extremely moving. It seemed appropriate that Edward Mortimer’s remarkable lecture should focus on the broader issues facing Europe, particularly in a context of international peace. We are very grateful to Baroness Prashar for hosting this wonderful event, and of course to Salzburg Global Seminar for organizing it, as well as the many people who gave support to the lecture. Our thanks goes to John Lotherington who worked so hard to make this a reality. We just hope that the Palliser Lecture can now become a series.”

Edward Mortimer's lecture is available in full online

*With the exception of Edward Mortimer’s lecture, all other comments were subject to the Chatham House Rule.