The other day I visited Bruges, the Belgian city that inspired a film about British gangsters.
I too found it inspirational, though not in any straightforward way. As a tourist attraction, Bruges has always reminded me of a Hollywood starlet: pretty but dull. It’s also, well, a bit twee. But the good thing about Bruges is that it’s only an hour from Calais, if one drives fast (one always zips through Belgium).
The thirteenth-century Belfry, which co-starred in the film, is a case in point. That period was the height of Gothic, as demonstrated by the glorious structures erected at the time across the border in France. And what did they put up in Bruges, just a few miles away? A megalomaniac, over-ornamented, astigmatically proportioned monument to money unsullied by taste.
The city used to be mostly Catholic, but by the looks of it there are quite a few Calvinist households about. One can always tell: Flemish Calvinists leave their curtains open after dark, to let passers-by know that nothing sinful goes on inside.
Having taken full advantage of the opportunity to be a Peeping Tom, I can testify that I indeed espied no nude Lady Godiva, though I did see several boxes of chocolates named after her. The people indoors were chasing the chocolates with beer.
However, it was on this visit to Bruges that I saw the light, and I’m thankful to the place for it.
You see, Bruges is clearly – and rightly! – proud of being at the heart of the European Union. Those starred flags are everywhere, as are numerous plaques commemorating various EU milestones, such as the Hague Convention.
Suddenly I was struck by a lightning and fell off my high anti-EU horse. The problem with this organisation, it dawned upon me, isn’t that it has pushed federalism too far. It’s that it hasn’t pushed it far enough.
Champions of the EU, which until the other day I wasn’t, like to draw parallels between it and the Holy Roman Empire. At the same time they incongruously and disingenuously claim to be champions of democracy.
But the two simply don’t go together, unless you believe that Charlemagne was secretly committed to universal suffrage. So why not go all the way? Why not turn the EU into a real answer to the Carolingian empire? How great would that be?
Just as its precursor, the new empire must be run by the Germans. Its capital should be sited not in Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle, as it’s sometimes called as a sop to the French), but in Bruges. The city deserves the honour because of its unsurpassed ability to fleece outlanders, which is both a necessary and sufficient qualification.
All the elements would fall in place as if by themselves. Frau Merkel would obviously become Empress Angela I. Her realm would be called The Angelic Empire of the Franco-German Nation, and Bruges would be renamed Lost Angela’s.
The imperial emblem would be the outline of the continent with the superimposed slogan Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Frau. The anthem could be based, with minor modifications, on the old German song Spaziren, Spaziren mit Diversity Offiziere. The insertion of the English word is necessary to emphasise the pan-European nature of the Empire, along with its principal moral tenet.
The language of the Angelic Empire would have to be English, but in a slightly simplified form. The words would be spelled phonetically (e.g. ‘nife’, not ‘knife’), though in such a way as to make the pronunciation easier for the Germans and the French.
Thus the letter w should be replaced with the v. To the same end the th combination will be replaced either with the s, as in ‘I like sin vimmen’, or with the z, as in ‘Zat vooman is too sin.’
To please the French, the adjective must always be placed after the noun, as in ‘federalism European’, while as a concession to the Germans the verb should always come at the end of the sentence, followed, if required, by its negation. This simple sentence would illustrate the changes: ‘Federalism European in ze context of ze history geopolitical entire of ze continent a sawt hooz advantages denied can be not.’
European politicians currently holding national offices need not worry: their talents would thrive under the Empire as they may not have done in their own countries. For example, François Hollande could be appointed Viceroy (Gauleiter) of Holland. Thus the country (Niederlandische Gau) wouldn’t even have to change its name. And François would be mercifully removed from France, where he runs the risk of dismemberment every time he shows his face in public.
Dave could also find a suitable imperial position commensurate with his talents, such as Angela I’s Head of PR (Reklameführer), while Nick could easily slip into the position of leader of the biggest parliamentary faction, ze International Socialist Verkers Party (Internationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei, INSAP for short).
Such sketchy but insistent thoughts kept haunting my mind as I walked along the dreamy canals of Bruges. Really, you ought to visit the place. If Bruges has proved so inspirational for me, imagine what it could do for you.