Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the international challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

Mark Dawsonprofessor of law, Hertie School of Governance

The Jean Monnet blueprint for EU integration was in many ways based on a model for all of the post-war international institutions: If one promotes free trade and economic interdependency, states will simply have too much to lose by going to war. If one follows this logic, the potential unraveling of the EU economic project—with David Cameron this week calling for limitations on the free movement of persons and continued uncertainty surrounding the euro—raises a real specter of conflict.

What, however, about looking at things the other way around? What if conflict is driven not by the flouting of economic rules, but by the need to follow economic rules in the absence of any underlying democratic or societal legitimacy for those rules? What if governments or even whole political systems—see the recent examples of strikes and rioting in Greece and Spain—are delegitimized as a result of the need to impose economic solutions that are not accepted by the general population? While the risk of conventional warfare along the traditional lines seems fanciful, the possibility of an inner-state conflict and turmoil as a consequence of EU integration is all too real.

Fabrizio Goriafinancial reporter at Linkiesta

EU integration remains key to restoring market confidence in Europe. The euro crisis is not only financial or economic, it is also social and political. Recent mass protests in Greece, Spain, and Portugal reveal that the road is still long. That’s why talking about war and peace doesn’t make sense. In every structural crisis in history, we can find moments of social tensions. Of course, the situation in Greece is weakened by the compulsory troika administration (EU Commission, ECB, IMF) and by a corrupt political establishment. People are tired of budget cuts and austerity. But the target is unchanged: The eurozone needs some kind of deleveraging. We should also not forget that we can only consider Europe as having known sixty years of uninterrupted peace by ignoring the Cold War and several other crises, such as the Greek Civil War (there was also a sort of battle in the Eurozone just before the Maastricht Treaty in 1992).

This crisis is an opportunity. EU politicians should be upfront with citizens about the deep transformations taking place in the eurozone and Europe. Unfortunately, they frequently transmit the wrong message. The North is not against the South. The core of the eurozone is not against the so-called “Club Med”. And Europe is not against the eurozone. They are simply speaking different languages. When it comes to financial markets, the eurozone has one, clear, voice: The ECB lead by Mario Draghi. Can Europe be saved? It will depend on politics.

István Hegedűschairman of the Hungarian European Society, Budapest

Certainly not. The likelihood of EU armed conflicts under the pressure of the current political and economic crisis tends to be non-existent. But who knows what would happen at the end of a (almost unimaginable) total disintegration. So, if you mean to ask whether European integration is a real life or death question, the answer would be yes. One of the problems derives from the structure of the European architecture: Political agendas are still dominated by the member states’ national politicians. In both domestic and European political arenas, much noise is made by nationalistic, populist, and anti-European forces. Still, as the last Dutch election shows, when Europe becomes a political issue at elections, parties with extreme views toward foreigners can be marginalized. Now the union’s political dimension will be strengthened as institutional reforms are once again on the horizon. Pro-European parties and groups have to better sell their solutions to European-wide issues to the public to ensure that their clever, non-military manoeuvres and interventions guarantee a final victory for the European mission!

Jonas Parello-Plesnersenior policy fellow ECFR

Yes. As the euro crisis shows, beneath the surface of strong EU-cooperation, vivid nationalist sentiments still lurk, illustrated by Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Greece. Hopefully, the nations of Europe will continue to meet in Brussels and fight there over the distribution of money from rescue funds and agricultural quotas. This is how European integration keeps tensions at sustainable levels.

It is often said that this model of Europe as an internal peace-stabilizer doesn’t motivate the younger generation of Europeans. It is true that Europe’s peace is taken as a given. A twist more or less of European integration isn’t perceived as changing that. Yet there is also another way in which European integration is a question of war and peace. That is in the EU’s global role, where the so far relatively unfulfilled ambition of the Lisbon-treaty was to have European global engagement in conflict-resolution, employing all its multiple tools from soft power to military means abroad. Last year, events in Libya demonstrated that there is still a need for Europe in that role. The next big challenge will be Syria where Europeans are conveniently clamoring for Assad’s exit but aren’t really preparing for the massive stabilization effort that a post-Assad Syria is likely to demand. Thus, European integration will have to cope with war and peace beyond its own borders.

Janusz Reiterpresident of the Center for International Relations Warsaw

Fortunately, there is no question of war in today’s Europe. Unfortunately, however, there is a question of peace here. Peace as the Europeans have enjoyed it for decades is more than the lack of war. The so-called European model is based on a specific balance of solidarity and self-interest and a set of rules that regulate the relations between European nations. They have helped to create a state of relative harmony, in contrast with other continents, as well as Europe’s own past. As an alternative to the traditional zero-sum game of machtpolitik, this system was expected to produce only winners, at least in the longer-term. A loser would make the system fail, the theory said. If my neighbor fails, then he can not trust me and the spiral of mistrust would likely undermine the entire system. Consequently, my neighbor’s success is a precondition for my own success.

Certainly, the practice was not as perfect as the theory, but the system worked and lowered tensions between its members to an unprecedentedly low level. That is the European peace.

So what is new? First, the outside world has changed dramatically. It is more competitive both economically and politically. This globalized order produces winners and losers. This is not a new phenonmen, but the competive pressure is higher and the speed of change faster than ever.

Second, Europe is frequently confronted with this new reality. Europe has developed its own exceptionalism. It is different from American exceptionalism, which is based on the assumption that its own model is the best for the entire world. Europeans are inclined to believe that their model is the best in the world, but restricted to Europe or even a part of Europe. So instead of being offered to the world, the European model must be protected from the it.

This protection has become ineffective. Competitive pressure has emphasized and deepened the differences between European nations. Who can pretend not to see the ever-widening gap between Germany and France in terms of productivity and, consequently, political influence? Whether this is only a French problem or also a German one is another question. Who can ignore the fact that European harmonization mechanisms can no longer neutralize national mistakes? Who can deny that some nations feel successful in today‘s Europe while others feel that they have failed?

A crisis always leaves winners and losers. If this is a temporary situation, it can be considered a warning signal. If failure and success determine the status of a nation, Europe will end up in a climate of mistrust and fear. European peace will become much colder. We may even be freezing one day.

No, a war is unlikely, but trust between European nations cannot be taken for granted. And trust is one of the greatest achievements that Europe can be proud of.

Stephen F. Szaboexecutive director at GMF, Transatlantic Academy

Helmut Kohl's formulation seems almost antique to most Europeans, especially to the vast majority who were born and raised well after the Second World War. The idea of major interstate war in twenty-first century Europe does seem very remote and this would be the case with or without the European Union. The EU, however, continues to serve as a conflict prevention mechanism in many ways. It provides a forum for Europe’s states to coordinate their policies and to each have a voice. While in some cases this may increase national resentments, the overall effect is to decrease the incentives for military conflict. The regional development funds’ redistributive function and the threat of being left out of Europe are also powerful incentives for cooperation over conflict. The decline in military spending by all European states is also due in partly due to the defense cooperation the EU provides. While not a formal military alliance like NATO, the EU is in effect a security community, and as such has a deterrent effect on potential outside aggressors. Finally, the potential for ethnic conflict remains very real both on the EU's periphery, as well as in some EU member states. Here again the EU, by minimizing the meaning of national borders, plays an important role in preventing these conflicts from escalating. It may be the case that European integration offers some incentives for regions like Catalonia, Flanders, and Scotland to devolve away from their nation states, but this centrifugal effect is outweighed by the centripetal forces of European integration. While the larger case for European integration remains that of the need for small to medium-sized European states to deal with the large forces of globalization and continental states, the beneficial conflict-prevention side of integration should not be taken for granted.