Two contradictory forces have been at work in Europe since 1945. On the one hand, there has been a remarkable effort to put the continent’s troubled history behind it, and to create the conditions under which internal conflict and competition might be replaced by perpetual peace and cooperation. Europe has, in that time, enjoyed the longest spell of generalized peace in its recorded history, and has witnessed dramatic overall growth in economic prosperity (short-term downturns notwithstanding), along with active cooperation in almost every significant field of public policy. There are multiple explanations for these changes, including the cold-war role of the United States in providing security guarantees and investment opportunities, a new climate of international cooperation, and the twin effects of globalization and the rise of new technologies. But at the core of the changes has been the impact of European integration; without the opportunities for political, economic and social change offered by the EEC/EU, the history of postwar Europe would have been quite different.
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