Concert of Powers

Concert of Europe

The Concert of Europe also known as the "Congress System" was the result of a custom, following the era of Napoleon and the French Revolution, adopted by the old great powers of Europe of meeting from time to time in an International Conference, or Congress, in order to plan a solution by mutual agreement (hence "concert"), whenever some problem arose that threatened peace between European nations. Its founding members were Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia who were also members of the 6th Coalition (Quadruple Alliance) responsible for the downfall of Napoleon I. The leading personalities of the system were British foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh, Austrian Chancellor Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich and Alexander I the Tsar of Russia. The Concert of Europe lasted between 1814 and 1914 and in time assumed an official status of the type of the League of Nations which, while not in itself an entity, was an informal organization of the nations of Europe ruled nevertheless by the will of the majority. Among the earlier meetings of the Powers, were the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), of Aix-la-Chappelle (1818), Carlsbad (1819), Verona (1822) and London in 1830, 1832, and 1838-1839. The Congress of Berlin in 1878 fully settled the Eastern Question and raised the Concert of Europe to the status of the de facto government of the world. The British balance of power was in abeyance and there followed an era of stability where Europe engaged in no major conflict for 43 years.

The Congress System's first primary objectives were to

  • contain France after decades of war
  • achieve a balance of power between Europe's great powers
  • uphold the territorial arrangements made at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 and in doing so
  • prevent the rise of another Napoleon-esque figure which would result in another continent wide war.

In this historians have generally agreed that they were successful as there was no major war pitting the Great Powers against each other until the Crimean War forty years later, and France was successfully re-integrated back into Europe joining the alliance in 1818 at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle. However after this success the Concert of Europe gradually fell apart mainly because of disagreements between the great powers, particularly between Britain and the countries with more conservative constitutions (who were also members of the Holy Alliance). Despite the overall failure of the Congress System it marked an important step in European and World diplomacy. In its approximately 85 years life it had erected an imposing structure of International Law.

History

The French Revolution of 1789 spurred a great fear among the leading powers in Europe of the lower classes violently rising against the Old powers to solve the pressing issues (mainly suppressing revolutions against monarchs) at the time; however, the Congress System began to deteriorate with Britain removing itself and a bitter debate over the Greek War of Independence. Even though one more Congress was held between the five major powers at St Petersburg in 1825, the Congress system had already broken down. Despite that, the "Great Powers" continued to meet and maintained peace in Europe. It started a framework of international diplomacy and negotiation in a continent torn by war. One good example of this is in 1827 when the three of the Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia) joined in the Battle of Navarino to defeat an Ottoman fleet.

Results of the Concert

The Concert's principle accomplishment was the securing of independence for Greece (1830) and Belgium (1831). In 1840 the powers (except France) intervened in defense of the Ottoman Empire (against which they had supported Greece) to end Egypt's eight-year occupation of Syria.

Demise of the Concert

Fatally weakened by the European revolutionary upheavals of 1848 with their demands for revision of the Congress of Vienna's frontiers along national lines, the last vestiges of the Concert expired amid successive wars between its participants - the Crimean War (1854-56), the Italian War of Independence (1859), the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).

See also

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