War in our time

Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister, believes that the crisis in Europe is existential. Like the writings of Sartre and Camus? No, more like 1940, the year in which the French, in anticipation of the Stockholm syndrome, fell in love with their conquerors. Like a pre-war girl from a good family, la belle France first put up some token resistance, then surrendered, then began to cohabit with her rapist only to marry him in the end and live happily ever after.

At least the ‘happily’ part was the plan. But Mr Juppé isn’t happy any longer. Things have gone sour, like a corked bottle of Meursault. The current crisis ‘raises the spectre of a return to violent conflict on our continent… [undoing] what we have created… since the foundation of the European community.’ The solution? How do we get out of the hole into which we’ve dug ourselves? Clearly unfamiliar with the Anglo-Saxon idiom, Mr Juppé thinks we should keep digging. ‘We’ve gone too far not to go further.’ Who could argue with this logic?

This is in line with the thinking of my many French friends who come up with highly creative arguments in favour of the EU. ‘It’s thanks to the EU,’ said one, ‘that Europe has been at peace since the war.’ Ignoring the obvious fact that the war ended in 1945 and the EU has only existed for 20 years, I simply replied that it’s colour TV that’s the real factor of peace. ‘What does colour TV have to do with it?’ ‘About as much as the EU.’

When, in response to a similar argument, I suggested to another chap, at that time a high official in the Commission, that most federations in history, from the USA to Yugoslavia to the USSR, ended up with the constituent parts murdering one another, he gave me that clichéed Gallic shrug. ‘Comparaison n’est par raison,’ he said (a comparison isn’t an argument), thereby refuting the opposite view first put forth by Aristotle.

One would think that the man responsible for the conduct of French foreign policy at this fraught time would have a clearer sense of history. Or at least one would have thought this in the past, before Europe fell into the hands of amoral, self-serving spivs. And, in addition to those qualities, the bureaucrats from the two principal powers, Germany and France, also suffer from all sorts of delusions. The Germans don’t want to be German any longer, but the French do. Though the Germans, overcome with Auschwitz guilt, hate themselves, they want everyone to be just like them. The French, though still sometimes talking about les sales boches over a glass of rouge, are ready to go along. Bringing up history seems futile in this asylum run by the lunatics. But, since I’m not due back in France until Christmas, some of the more obvious parallels have to be drawn.

When Prussia got a shot of energy after first having been kicked from pillar to post by Napoleon but then ending up on the winning side, she decided to bring all the German principalities together. To that end in 1818 she created Zollverein, a customs and eventually currency union of all Hohenzollern bailiwicks. The principalities who feared, correctly, that this would lead to Prussian domination were bribed with subsidies and cheap loans (follow the parallels?). Soon other German or at least Germanic states were drawn in. By 1866 most of them had been brought to heel. When Austria proved too stubborn, she was attacked, but managed to hold her own. Two years later another holdout, Schleswig-Holstein, wasn’t so lucky.

In 1870 Prussia led her North German Federation and several southern German states in a victorious attack on France. A year later the First Reich, now including the formerly French Alsace-Lorraine, finally came together under Prussia’s aegis. We all know what happened over the next 70-odd years.

The EU has been pieced together on a larger scale but using the same strategic blueprint. First you stuff them full of carrots, then, should anyone throw up, beat them down with the stick. Seeing that the carrots are coming up in a geyser, the stick may well see the light of day in the near future. But, contrary to Juppé’s lament, this wouldn’t be the undoing of ‘everything the EU has created’. It’ll be the natural result.

Alas, if there is something for which no historical parallel can be drawn, it’s Britain’s role in the madhouse proceedings. She isn’t the doctor any longer. She’s one of the inmates.



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