Following on from yesterday’s thoughts on Greece, I’ve been wondering about the EU ‘project’, and the devotion of almost the entire European political class to European union.
Underlying it all is a dread of another European war like WW1 and WW2. And it is believed that if European nations could be contrived to set aside their differences, and unite into a single state, a European war would become impossible. The belief seems to be that it is the fact of having different national identities that initiates the rivalries. Do away with national identity, and all become “Europeans”, and these rivalries will vanish.
But I’m beginning to think that it wasn’t different national identities that led to the European wars of the the early 20th century. It was something quite different.
And the difference was that 100 years ago several European states had large empires. Britain still retained a global empire. France had a smaller empire. So did Belgium and Holland. The Austro-Hungarian empire was also a central European empire. And if you hadn’t got an empire, you probably wanted one – because everybody else had got one.
What I’d like to suggest is that the First World War was a war between empires and would-be empires. The would-be empire was the new state of Germany, which was looking for its own “place in the sun”. And the war that was fought was between the combined European empire of Germany and Austro-Hungary against the established global empires of Britain, France, Belgium, et al. It was a global war because these empires had colonies all over the world. And it was fought primarily in Europe because the colonial powers were all based in Europe, and were in closest proximity there.
It’s worth looking at which countries stayed out of WW1 and/or WW2. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. The first six of these weren’t imperial powers. And the last two were post-imperial powers. The sea-faring Portuguese created the first European-based global empire. And the Spanish built the second. But by 1914 both empires were a shadow of what they had been a hundred or more years earlier. Spain had lost most of its American provinces by around 1810. Portugal had lost Brazil by 1825. So the neutral or non-participant countries were non-imperial or post-imperial powers. They didn’t have a dog in the race, and wanted to stay out any European war.
By contrast, the imperial powers all had a lot to lose, or a lot to gain. So they were ready to fight.
And they did, and the result after two global wars was that they all lost all their empires. The British empire and the French empire and the Belgian empire and the Dutch empire and the Austro-Hungarian empire have all followed in the footsteps of Portugal and Spain’s empires.
And this is why a European war like WW1 or WW2 isn’t going to be repeated. There are no more empires in existence to provide the revenues and manpower to fight such wars, and there are no longer any empires to be made or lost. There is simply no reason any more for France and Britain to fight Germany and Austria or anyone else. They have all become post-imperial trading states.
The only residue of empire, oddly enough, is the European Union itself, which might be said to be the product of a Europe-wide nostalgia for empire, shared by all the post-imperial powers. If they could no longer command global empires, they would at least make a European empire through the union of their post-imperial states, and thereby become global players once again.
And this new Eempire has now expanded (as empires always do) to the borders of neighbouring empires – in this case the Russian Federation -, and precipitated conflict there (not vice versa, as many people suggest). And it’s also treating its poorer member states – Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy – more or less as colonies to be ordered around (again something empires always do).
These post-imperial states now need to gain independence from the new (and rather tyrannical and dysfunctional) European empire of the EU, just as their colonies once gained independence from them. And those erstwhile colonies – the USA, Brazil, India, etc – ought to be urging them to discover the benefits of independence.
If there is any lesson to be learned in Europe, it was the prosperity of Europe before it became the EU, and was simply the European Economic Community, with separate states and separate parliaments and separate currencies. It worked very well.
But the EU doesn’t. Europe needs to return to the successful EEC arrangement of a community of nation states, and forget its dreams of empire. Because it’s empires, not nation states, which bring war.