That the European Union and its precursors have succeeded in their primary function – preventing another war between France and Germany - is universally accepted. In fact it is so self-evident that critics say the EU is a hangover from the 20th century that has outlived its purpose. But this view neglects the very real prospect of war breaking out elsewhere in Europe.
Vernon Bogdanor, one of Britain’s leading constitutional experts, writes here that ‘The EU in the Balkans has become a roof over warring nationalities, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire tried to be in the years before 1914.’ Drawing on his experience as an adviser to the drafting of the constitution of Kosovo, he believes that a weakened EU would not be able to prevent open warfare breaking out again in the Balkans between Slavs and Muslims.
However much Britain might like to think of itself as an island apart from the continent of Europe, Bogdanor writes, it was trouble in eastern and central Europe – in Sarajevo in 1914 and Danzig (now Gdansk) in 1939 - that took Britain to war.
With British voters due to cast their ballots on Thursday to decide whether to stay in the EU, it is fair to say that issues of war and peace are far from their the minds of the majority. What exactly is going on and how much to trust the opinion polls is analysed by Matthew Goodwin here. The only certainty is that whatever the result, British society will continue to be split by the issues of immigration and national identity for years to come.