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Playing the Verdun Card

Fearmongering in Brussels.

May 26, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 35 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
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In the curious pantomime that is the EU parliament, the French politician Joseph Daul is a star. He’s the president of the European People’s party (the principal center-right bloc in the parliament), an apparatchik with impeccable EU establishment credentials. He has euro-federalist beliefs, a funding scandal in his past, and a willingness to warn that Brussels is all that stands between the continent and a reversion to its warring ways. He’s also a little twitchy about the elections to the EU parliament later this month.



“I am convinced,” he announced recently, “that if Europe succumbs to the siren voices of populists and Euroskeptics, there will be a turning back towards chaos and war.” 

This is an all too familiar eurocratic refrain, but it is heard even more frequently on those rare occasions when Europe’s voters are given a chance to slow down the march to a superstate. Trying to cajole his compatriots into choosing the euro in a 2003 referendum, Swedish prime minister Göran Persson recalled how Germany’s “weeping” Chancellor Kohl had told him that he did not want his sons to die in a third world war, an understandable sentiment, but an unpersuasive argument. Swedish voters stuck with the krona.

Two years later, another Swede, Margot Wallström, then the EU commissioner charged with selling the proposed EU constitution to a somewhat doubtful continent, took the opportunity presented by a visit to the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt (Terezin) to observe that “there are those today who want to scrap the supranational idea. They want the European Union to go back to the old purely intergovernmental way of doing things. .  .  . Those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads.”

With this month’s election falling within a few weeks of the hundredth anniversary of a certain shooting in Sarajevo, the dire warnings now tend to refer to a different dark chapter in Europe’s tumultuous 20th century. Last year, José Manuel Barroso, the EU’s top bureaucrat, implied that those “who want to roll back our integration” were risking a regression to “the war [and] the trenches” of the past, a ludicrous variation on an already ludicrous theme.

If all this scaremongering were a matter of cynical calculation it might be possible to treat it with a degree of admiration. As a political tool, it has, after all, proved very effective: Fear works. And so does the manipulation of historical memory, another integral element in Brussels dezinformatsiya. If Europeans could be persuaded to blame the nation-state for their wars, they could be talked into distrusting their own patriotism and buying into the bogus made-in-Brussels “European” identity.

And, indeed, this is what we have seen over recent decades. As it came to be widely accepted that a united Europe was the key to peace, those who persisted in dissenting from the principle of a broader federalist agenda, except, perhaps, in reliably stubborn Britain, were pushed into uncomfortable and ultimately self-segregating corners far from
the electoral mainstream. Outside the skeptic isle, almost the only political parties prepared, until lately, to reject “ever closer union” were those drawn from the rougher ends of the political spectrum, an uninviting destination for centrist voters. That, in turn, made it easier to claim that Euroskepticism was, by definition, evidence of extremism and, maybe, a screw loose too.

The mantra that the EU was staving off a return to the hecatombs also operated as an unsubtle reminder to the Germans that they had a moral obligation to confine their role in the new Europe to keeping quiet and footing a large chunk of the bill. Meanwhile the rest of the continent—and, such is the power of guilt, much of Germany too—was led to believe that only Brussels could keep the Hun on the leash, a notion that rested on the absurd premise that panzers still prowled through Teutonic dreams. Such is the power of history.

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