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ERC Securing Europe, Fighting its enemies, 1815-1914

Research

The Central Commission for Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) and the making of a European Security Culture

By dr. Joep Schenk –
In historiography, nineteenth-century Europe is generally seen as a place shaped by power politics and P992_320587bellicose nationalism. Rarely has the nineteenth century been perceived as a period in which common principles were enunciated and nation states established solid international bodies in order to cooperate in pursuit of limited, manageable ends. Operational to this day, thus being the oldest functioning international organization in the world, the Central Commission for Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) was installed during the Congress of Vienna in 1815 that opened this era of European cooperation.

The CCNR’s members, being representatives of the Rhine’s riparian states, quickly realised that free navigation was only possible when the river and its traffic would meet certain safety standards. Taking an opposing stance, several potentates on the Rhine felt their sovereignty encroached upon and actively sabotaged the adoption of common regulation for decades. Over time, however, the CCNR managed to impose safety regulations, abolish tolls, fees and monopolies, and was also able to coordinate complex water engineering projects. These efforts helped turn the river into the most prosperous artery of international trade and shipping in Europe.

This research aims to analyse the contribution of the CCNR to the creation of a European security culture in the nineteenth century. The referent object that the Commission sought to securitize was the principle of free navigation. This principle was threatened by man-made (political) dangers as well as natural hazards. Despite such adversity the CCNR strengthened the Rhine regime through processes of juridification and projects of civil engineering. This security regime adapted to the dynamics of a changing political, economic and societal environment and involved a growing group of international professional agents. In this way the CCNR did not just contribute to the emerging security culture by creating norms and regulations concerning the navigation of European waterways, it also had a lasting impact beyond Europe as its regime would soon be transposed to international rivers elsewhere.