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I love Europe in spite of the European Union. I love Europe because, as Charles de Gaulle declared, it is a Europe of nations. I love Europe because it comprises some 50 countries, just over half of them members of the EU, each one a unique, irreplaceable microcosm of mankind. I love Europe because it abhors the uniformity of tyranny and the tyranny of uniformity. I love Europe because no region on Earth is more resistant to rule from above. I love Europe because I despise those who wish to abolish its distinctive diversity and turn it into a feeble imitation of the United States.

(Cover illustration by Michael Daley)

Europe’s architectural simulacrum is the Arc de Triomphe: magnificent in conception, monumental in scale — and monstrous in practice. It was built to celebrate Napoleon’s victories; it was the high point of Hitler’s triumphal tour of Paris. Our continent has witnessed the cruelest spectacles in human history, from religious persecution to world war and genocide. Now its most ambitious political organisation so far, the European Union, claims to set an example to the world, undertaking the greatest political experiment of all time by banishing not merely violence itself but the intellectual causes of violence, above all nationalism. In practice, though, these pacific claims are belied by the quasi-imperial tendency to centralisation that is in constant tension with the centrifugal forces of national, religious or cultural identity.

All these conflicting emotions swirled around last month’s centenary of Armistice Day, the end of the Great War. In London, the annual ceremony took place at the Cenotaph, with the Queen (now 92 and the only head of state to have actively participated in one of the world wars) watching from a balcony and the Prince of Wales laying a wreath on her behalf, and the German President also present — an unprecedented gesture that yet aroused no controversy. The Prime Minister of course attended too, giving her a good excuse to be the only absentee among the Allies from the commemoration in Paris.

This was a much grander affair, with 60 leaders including the presidents of Russia and the United States. It took place in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, surely the world’s most ostentatiously martial monument, even though the tomb of the unknown soldier lies beneath it. The highlight was neither prayers of reconciliation nor wreath-laying nor the two-minute silence, but a speech by Emmanuel Macron. It was a rare opportunity for the Président de la République quite literally to look down on the global elite, and he delivered an oration intended to remind the world that in France, at least, presidents still know the value of eloquence.
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Lawrence James
January 1st, 2019
10:01 AM
Canada and Australia have managed successful federal states and so has South Africa with its racial and linguistic differences. There is no reason to believe that the EU can surmount its current difficulties.Incidentally, you mention the 'resistance to freedom' by the EU: my freedom has never been curtailed by EU membership; has yours ?

Michael Layden
December 15th, 2018
3:12 PM
Macron's apparent adoption of the notion of Europe defending itself against the United States was perhaps the most bizarre remark I can recall in a long life of trying to keep up with world events. But the model the EU is trying to emulate is not the United States, but something more like India; a federal, democratic polity of multiple language groups and ethnicities. India thus far makes it more or less work. But it does so perhaps because its "Roman" (Mughal) period was superseded by another successful imperium, and the whole (aside from the bloody excision of Pakistan), passed on to a populace possessed of a living sense of common identity within diversity of language and culture. Europe can no more be India than it can be a United States, despite the best efforts of its bureaucracy; it has not the requisite history. The difficulties within its nation states are just that, and the idea that establishing a common currency would cause Greeks to acquiesce to German notions of fiscal prudence has always been a pipe-dream. The current shambles in which the UK finds itself in the attempt to extricate itself from the EU will not be the last such. And the vulnerability of the EU to those who really wish it harm will be vastly increased in proportion to its institutional resistance to freedom among its members.

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