Concert of Europe
The Concert of Europe (also Vienna system of international relations), also known as the Congress System after the Congress of Vienna, represented the balance of power that existed in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the outbreak of World War I (1914).
The Concert of Europe was founded by the powers of Austria, Prussia, the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom, who were the members of the Quadruple Alliance that defeated Napoleon and his First French Empire. In time, France was established as a fifth member of the Concert.
At first, the leading personalities of the system were British foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh, Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich and Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord of France was largely responsible for quickly returning that country to its place alongside the other major powers in international diplomacy.
The age of the Concert is sometimes known as the Age of Metternich, due to the influence of the Austrian chancellor's conservatism and the dominance of Austria within the German Confederation, or as the European Restoration, because of the reactionary efforts of the Congress of Vienna to restore Europe to its state before the French Revolution. It is known in German as the Pentarchie (pentarchy) and in Russian as the Vienna System (Венская система, Venskaya sistema).
The Concert of Europe had no written rules or permanent institutions, but at times of crisis any of the member countries could propose a conference. Meetings of the Great Powers during this period included: Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), Carlsbad (1819), Troppau (1820), Laibach (1821), Verona (1822), London (1832) and Berlin (1878).
The Concert's effectiveness came to an end due to the rise of nationalism, the 1848 Revolutions, the Crimean War, the unification of Germany and the Risorgimento in Italy, and the Eastern Question and other factors.
The idea of a European federation had been already raised by figures such as Gottfried Leibniz and Lord Grenville. The Concert of Europe, as developed by Metternich, drew upon their ideas and the notion of a balance of power in international relations, so that the ambitions of each Great Power would be restrained by the others:
The Concert of Europe, as it began to be called at the time, had ... a reality in international law, which derived from the final Act of the Vienna Congress, which stipulated that the boundaries established in 1815 could not be altered without the consent of its eight signatories.
From the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792 to the exile of Napoleon to Saint Helena in 1815, Europe had been almost constantly at war. During this time, the military conquests of France had resulted in the spread of liberalism throughout much of the continent, resulting in many states adopting the Napoleonic code. Largely as a reaction to the radicalism of the French Revolution, most victorious powers of the Napoleonic Wars resolved to suppress liberalism and nationalism, and revert largely to the status quo of Europe prior to 1789.
The Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian and Russian Empires formed the Holy Alliance (26 September 1815) with the expressed intent of preserving Christian social values and traditional monarchism. Every member of the coalition promptly joined the Alliance, except for the United Kingdom, a constitutional monarchy with a more liberal political philosophy.
Britain did however ratify the Quadruple Alliance, signed on the same day as the Second Peace Treaty of Paris (20 November 1815), which became the known Quintuple Alliance when France joined in 1818. It was also signed by the same four powers that had signed the Holy Alliance on 26 September 1815.
Differences between the Holy Alliance and the Quadruple Alliance
A lot of debate has occurred between historians as to which treaty was more influential in the development of international relations in Europe in the two decades following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In the opinion of historian Tim Chapman the differences are somewhat academic as the powers were not bound by the terms of the treaties and many of them intentionally broke the terms if it suited them.
The Holy Alliance was the brainchild of Tsar Alexander I. It gained a lot of support because most European monarchs did not wish to offend the Tsar by refusing to sign it, and as it bound monarchs personally rather than their governments, it was easy to ignore once signed. Only three notable princes did not sign: Pope Pius VII (it was not Catholic enough), Sultan Mahmud II of Ottoman Empire, and the British Prince Regent because his government did not wish to pledge itself to the policing of continental Europe, and in the opinion of Lord Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary at the time of its inception, it was "a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense". Although it did not fit comfortably within the complex, sophisticated and cynical web of power politics that epitomised diplomacy of the post Napoleonic era, its influence was more long lasting than its contemporary critics expected and was revived in the 1820s as a tool of repression when the terms of the Quintuple Alliance were not seen to fit the purposes of some of the Great Powers of Europe.
The Quadruple Alliance, by contrast, was a standard treaty and the four Great Powers did not invite any of their allies to sign it. The primary objective was to bind the signatures to support the terms of the Second Treaty of Paris for 20 years. It included a provision for the High Contracting Parties to "renew their meeting at fixed periods...for the purpose of consulting on their common interests" which were the "prosperity of the Nations, and the maintenance of peace in Europe". A problem with the wording of Article VI of the treaty is that it did not specify what these "fixed periods" were to be and there were no provisions in the treaty for a permanent commission to arrange and organise the conferences. This meant that the first conference in 1818 dealt with remaining issues of the French wars, but after that instead of meeting at "fixed periods" the meetings were arranged on an ad hoc basis, to address specific threats, such as those posed by revolutions, for which the treaty was not drafted.
The Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818) resolved the issues of Allied occupation of France and restored that country to equal status with Britain, Prussia, Austria and Russia.
In 1822, the Congress of Verona met to decide the issue if France could intervene on the side of the Spanish royalists in the Trienio Liberal. After receiving permission, Louis XVIII dispatched five army corps to restore Ferdinand VII of Spain.
In 1830, the Belgian Revolution against the Kingdom of the Netherlands began. French ambassador Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord presented a partition plan for the Southern Provinces to the Concert, which was not adopted. Nevertheless, the Great Powers unanimously recognized Belgian independence from the Kingdom of the Netherlands at the Treaty of London (1839). The treaty also established Belgian neutrality, which would last until the German invasion of Belgium in 1914.
Gradual erosion (1818–1914)
In 1818 the British decided not to become involved in continental issues that did not directly affect them. They rejected the plan of Alexander I to suppress future revolutions.
The Concert began to weaken as the common goals of the Great Powers were gradually replaced by growing political and economic rivalries. It was eroded by the European revolutionary upheavals of 1848 with their demands for revision of the Congress of Vienna's frontiers along national lines.
The Concert unraveled in the latter half of the 19th century amid successive wars between its participants – the Crimean War (1853–56), the Italian War of Independence (1859), the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). While the Congress System had a further significant achievement in the form of the Congress of Berlin (1878) which redrew the political map of the Balkans, the old balance of power had been irrevocably altered, and was replaced by a series of fluctuating alliances.
World War One (1914–1918)
By the early 20th century, the Great Powers were organized into two opposing coalitions (the Triple Alliance and the Entente Powers). The last conference was the London Conference of 1912-1913 convened to discuss the Balkan Wars. As the 1914 July Crisis unfolded, Britain proposed a conference but Austria-Hungary and Germany both refused to attend. World War I would break out in the following month. In the aftermath of World War I, a new, permanent international organisation, the League of Nations, was set up.
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- Chapman, Tim (2006). The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815. Routledge. p. 60. ISBN 9781134680504.
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- Jarrett, Mark (2013). The Congress of Vienna and its Legacy: War and Great Power Diplomacy after Napoleon. London: I. B. Tauris & Company, Ltd. ISBN 978-1780761169.