You didn’t think all that brouhaha was really about fishing licences, did you?
If you did, Manny has earned top marks for honesty by explaining what’s what. Fishing licences are merely a pretext. The real reason for his threats is different.
Britain must be punished for the temerity of leaving the EU, pour encourager les autres. The phrase, incidentally, has Anglo-French antecedents. It was used by Voltaire in his Candide to mock the plight of the British admiral Byng, court-marshalled and executed during the Seven Years’ War for ordering an unauthorised retreat.
“It is good,” commented Voltaire, “to kill the odd admiral now and then to encourage the others.”
Manny is no doubt inspired by that bon mot. As applied to the EU, it means he wants to warn other potential absconders that leaving is worse than staying.
His threats are hard to countenance but easy to understand. For only Germany, France and – perhaps – Benelux have any warm feelings about the Franco-German protectorate known as the EU.
Most of the others, and probably all the Eastern European members, have warm feelings only about cold EU cash. They take turns teetering on the brink of departure, only to be bribed back into the fold. At the moment, it’s Poland’s turn, but Greece and Hungary have also had a go, as others will in due course.
The problem is that the EU’s wallet has shrunk somewhat since Brexit. Because its leaders must at least pretend that they are committed to fiscal discipline, they can’t just get the printing press in high gear and shower the doubters with rapidly inflating banknotes.
With the carrot getting smaller and smaller, they have to use a bigger stick. Hence all this talk about punishing Britain and implicitly any other country heading for the way out.
That intention has always been there, but until now top EU politicians have tactfully refrained from expressing it in so many words. However, Manny’s loose talk may sink EU ships, and I don’t just mean those larcenous French trawlers.
Punishing a country isn’t the same as putting a failed admiral up against the wall. Countries have more resources than admirals for fighting back.
Even expressing such a punitive intention has since time immemorial been considered an act of war. And Britain, decadent and woke as she may be, has never willingly bent over to take six of the best.
Gott strafe England was Germany’s slogan in the First World War, but God demonstrably failed to comply, choosing to punish Germany instead. In the next war, RAF Lancasters razed most German cities to the ground, thus responding to another attempt by a major continental power to exact punishment.
More to the point, Napoleon’s earlier attempts to penalise Britain for steering an independent course led him straight to St Helena, with a stopover at Waterloo. If Manny indeed takes his cue from history, he ought to study it from all sides.
The example of Algeria should disabuse him of the notion that France can force other countries into compliance. The ensuing war almost destroyed France, with only de Gaulle’s statecraft preventing a military coup. And Manny is no de Gaulle.
A trade war with Britain would hurt both parties, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that Britain would suffer more. EU politicians may be willing to cut off their economic nose to spite their face, but are EU industries?
EU economies aren’t doing well at the moment, and their growth is more sluggish than Britain’s. Against that background, how, for example, would German car manufacturers react to the British market, 10 per cent of their total exports, slamming the door in their faces?
Britain has been busily and rather successfully cultivating trade relationships outside the EU. Facing overt hostility, she may accelerate that process, for example by making the US an offer it wouldn’t be able to refuse.
But it doesn’t only have to be passive resistance. Hostile action should produce a hostile reaction. Britain could, to name one obvious stratagem, try to exploit the possible fissures in the EU by encouraging vacillators, such as Poland, to break away.
Encouragement could take various forms, from moral support to beneficial trade deals to perhaps even subsidies. NATO could also provide a lever with which to prise some marginal members from the EU, for example by using bilateral defence treaties.
Also, most Britons who either live in France or go there regularly are retirees or what the French call rentiers. Yet most French people who live in Britain work or have business interests here, typically in finance. Faced with the threat of losing their livelihood, they may exert enough pressure on Macron for him to think carefully about his words and deeds.
Manny is talking tough to court the kind of voters who are likely to support Le Pen or perhaps Zemmour. He has already made some belligerent if empty noises about Putin, having previously been one of the poodles in Vlad’s European kennel.
Now he’s flexing his muscles towards Britain, “France’s historical enemy”. Quite. And he should remember how all the previous battles between the two countries went.
The EU has always had something of a mafia family about it. Any normal treaty tying countries together in some sort of alliance has to have a provision for abrogation. Should such a provision be invoked legally, that should be the end of the matter.
Mafia families are different. They live by the rule of ‘once in, never out’. Anyone who disobeys is likely to get whacked, and Manny’s present posturing comes from the same style manual. But it’s misapplied.
For the situation doesn’t involve an all-powerful don and his trembling, cowering victim. It’s a confrontation of equals, and two can play the same game.