It’s His-story

The Author looks into the history of Europe and its progress in maintaining a balance of power and a common goal amongst states.

     In my previous article “You, I & Us”, I gave historic examples regarding the importance of setting a common goal in order to achieve a united society. The European Union recently decided to bailout Greece of its economic debt through a three year bailout program that will provide Greece with €86 billion Euros. (Shuster 2015) Why would countries that are hundreds of kilometers away pay such a large sum for a country that’s drowning in its own debt? It’s all due to a man who lived two hundred years ago in the Austrian Empire. He called for unity and was able to guide Europe towards a common goal that soon set the foundations for the most advance international systems in history, the United Nations and the European Union. His name is Klemens Wenzel von Metternich and this is “his-story”.

     Klemens Wenzel von Metternich was a politician and the Austrian Empire’s Foreign Minister in 1809. Metternich then achieved the role of Chancellor of Austria in 1821 until he retired in 1848. In the years following the French Revolution in 1802 and the Napoleonic Wars in 1814, Europe’s balance of power was disrupted and the hope for peace was frail. (Schroeder 1992) The “balance for power” is an international relations term used to describe the idea that the national security of a region is enhanced when power is distributed throughout the region so that no individual state is strong enough to dominate everyone. In Europe, the balance of power is one of the most driving factors of regional warfare; examples of this include World War One (1914), Napoleonic Wars (1803) and the Seven years war (1756).

     Through Metternich’s leadership and diplomacy, for the first time in history he was able to gather five of the main European powers under a single goal in a conference in Vienna in 1815. (Grabner 2015) The five regional powers were Austria, Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, and later France. In the hopes to restore the balance of power in Europe and prevent any individual nation dominating the region, the five major powers agreed to establish the Congress of Vienna as means to negotiate and seek peace in Europe. Although the main congress revolved around the five main powers, almost every European state had a delegation in Vienna and a voice in the congress. Note that unlike the Treaty of Versailles that excluded Germany in its treaty in 1918, France, which was considered the “evil state” that time due to its rapid expansion during the Napoleonic War, was still included in the Congress of Vienna. Metternich included them knowing that peace can never be achieved without respecting all powers.

     The Congress of Vienna achieved various important things in Europe including the restoration and balance of power in Europe and the return of all the lands that were annexed by France and other regional players during that period. Russia regained its control of Poland, the Netherlands and Southern Netherlands (Denmark) was united as a single state, the neutrality of Switzerland was guaranteed, and slave trade was condemned. This Congress System that was chaired by Klemens Wenzel von Metternich was later known as The Concert of Europe. (Chapman 1964)

     The Concert of Europe is a regional common goal amongst European states to establish a balance of power through a congress system in Europe. However, The Concert of Europe started to weaken when Britain decided not to get involved in the Congress since continental issues did not directly affect Britain. The Concert was then completely eroded in the European revolutionary upheavals in 1848. Following the Crimean War in 1853, Italian War of Independence in 1859, the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, and the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Europe decided to once again form a Concert known as he Congress of Berlin.

     The German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck chaired the Congress of Berlin that included six of the great powers of that time (Russia, Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany), in addition to four Balkan states (Greece, Serbia, Romania and Montenegro) and the Ottoman Empire. The Congress of Berlin redrew the political map of the Balkans and the old balance of power concept was replaced with a series of fluctuating alliances that set the stage for World War I. (Waller 1974)

     After World War I, the League of Nations was established in 1920 as the new Concert of Europe. However due to various reasons including the harsh treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, and the US absent role in in European affairs, the League of Nations failed to keep a Concert of Europe into place. Twenty years later, World War II broke out in Europe and Germany sought to seek out justice for its harsh treatment by the European states. By 1945, the United Nations was established as a Global Concert that brings all nations of the world together.

     Klemens Wenzel von Metternich started with a single purpose and a goal to unite Europe. He worked tirelessly to share his vision and goal to all major European powers. A few years later, that single goal became a regional common objective that lasted for more than 200 years to this very day. It’s examples like Metternich were we find the impact and the importance of setting a common goal through governmental institutions. However, using governmental institutions as a means to setting a common goal is but one of many possibilities. Another mean of establishing a common goal is through societal behavior and norms, just like that of Abu al-Hasan Ali Ibn Nafi, also known as Ziryab.


Featured Image by: Yaro42


Chapman, Tim. 1964. The Congress of Vienna origins, processes, and results. Routledge.

Grabner, Sabine. 2015. Europe in Vienna : the Congress of Vienna 1814/15. München: Hirmer Verlag GmbH.

Schroeder, Paul W. 1992. “Did the Vienna Settlement Rest on a Balance of Power? .” The American Historical Review PP. 683-706 .

Waller, Bruce. 1974. Bismarck at the crossroads; the reorientation of German foreign policy after the Congress of Berlin, 1878-1880. Athlone Press.


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