The real peace-keeper
But what about peace? After the conflagrations of World Wars I and II, and before them the Franco-Prussian War, the Napoleonic wars, etc., etc., etc, Europe has now gone 68 years without such a major conflict. Doesn't the EU deserve credit for that?
Actually, there's no reason to think the EU had any role in preserving the peace during this period. There has never been an instance where two EU member countries approached war but were stopped by the EU, nor could the EU have done anything to stop them if they had. In the bloodiest conflict on European soil since 1945, the Yugoslavian wars, the EU was utterly impotent; what eventually mitigated the damage was American military intervention. It was not the EU that deterred a Soviet invasion -- NATO did that. As for "advancement of reconciliation" and promoting good relations, the EU's disastrous austerity policies and authoritarian bullying have created a state of mutual contempt and even hatred between the Mediterranean member nations and the Germanic core.
Some conservatives, pouncing on these obvious points, have argued that NATO should instead get the credit for keeping the peace. This, too, is absurd. The division of Europe (and most of the developed world) into two rival alliance systems replicates the conditions which made World War I inevitable. It was those alliances which allowed a local dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia to trigger a continent-wide mass slaughter engulfing major powers which did not even have any vital interest in the original local dispute.
So what did keep the peace all this time? Why has Europe (and the world) gone so long without another World-War-II-scale conflict?
As is so often the case, politics and ideology have been surface epiphenomena, while the true decisive change was a technological one. What differentiated most of that peaceful 68 years from the period before was the existence of the H-bomb. With both superpowers holding massive arsenals of these weapons, another all-out war between the two rival alliances would have meant the immediate annihilation of both sides, something that neither government dared risk.
During the Cold War, there was no shortage of events which could easily have played the role of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, triggering another all-out war between the two great alliances. The Soviet blockade of Berlin, the suppression of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis -- any of these could have triggered a new global war, if not for the H-bomb. Indeed, going by historical precedent, it seems safe to say that one or another of those events probably would have triggered a global war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, likely even bloodier than World War II, if not for the H-bomb. It was the H-bomb, and only the H-bomb, that spared us that.
Fear has always been one of the most effective motivators of human behavior, and the fear of total annihilation has been strong enough, for 68 years, to overcome the kinds of impulses that led politicians in generations past to blunder -- or strut proudly -- into all-out war. There was simply no point in launching an all-out war when it would have looked like this:
To note the latest example of the kind of backlash the EU is provoking in the real world, just this week Britain's upstart new anti-EU nationalist party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) stunned analysts by winning 23% of the vote in local elections in that country, just two points behind the ruling Conservative party. Anti-EU nationalist parties, some of them disturbingly right-wing or even fascist, are on the rise in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria, and other countries, as voters ignored by the pro-EU establishment parties turn to the only forces through which they can make their voices heard.