Last week marked the 200 year anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo fought between the army of the French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte and the combined armies of Britain and Prussia. The battle, and Napoleon’s subsequent exile, brought about a century of relative peace for Europe until the First World War in 1914.
It is certainly tempting for journalists to rework history and revive old myths into their own narratives. This is something both sides can be accused of. Yet we have already seen the anniversary reveal some uncomfortable truths among the federalists.
In early June French officials, not recognising the difference between commemoration and celebration, blocked Belgian attempts to mint a new €2 coin to mark the anniversary. According to one official, the coin would provide “a negative symbol for a section of the European population”.
So why has a reference to a military battle caused so much fuss?
The crowning achievement of the EU is the banishment of so called ‘outdated borders’, whereby each nation has its own sovereign laws, culture, flags, anthems – and most of all – history.
Is this what officials in Paris meant when they claimed the battle holds “a particular resonance in the collective consciousness that goes beyond a simple military conflict”? Clearly, history has its part to play in the EU. Observing this past episode gave the federalists a kicking as it reminds them of their ideological wishes for a centralised Europe.
From Charlemagne, to Napoleon, such historical figures are revered in a twisted version of European history, as they aimed to create their own European superstates. Even ex-European Union chief Manuel Barroso, someone who you would assume keep relations cordial with struggling Southern European members, declared his own idealism regarding his view of the 28 Member States of the EU. He stated “Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empire. We have the dimension of empire”.
So much for a voluntary trading bloc then.
One could dismiss this as the inflation of Barroso’s ideals, which are incredibly disconnected from reality. But you do not have to take it from him. Going back to the EU’s inception, it is a worrying discovery the founders of the EU also held such views. One of the architects of the European project Jean Monnet, stated “The European states must constitute themselves into a federation.”
Military engagements can be interpreted in many ways. To some, Waterloo represents a victory over another Continental dictatorship. To others, a triumph of British free trade over European protectionism. What remains clear is the commemoration draws up uncomfortable parallels with today’s troubled situation. Attempts to converge Europe with one capital will always fail.
Thanks to Qualified Majority Voting, a system which ensures all Member States must agree as a collective whole, the French rejection of recognising the commemorative coin stands. Albeit not before the Belgians replied with their own humorous €2.5 coin to issue within its own borders.
Why so much fuss was caused by such a trivial matter is for all to see. Waterloo ensured the prevalence of nation states, at a time when the empires of old and today’s supranational states like the EU are outdated and not fit for purpose.
To create a ‘European demos’, you have to construct its own history and single identity. Britain has and always will play its part in Europe. However ‘ever closer union’ was never mandated by the Great British Public.
Thanks to today’s civilised society, this is not being done coercively, instead the EU chips away at our history with slow gradual steps. Waterloo was a milestone in European history, and one which prevented an alternative centralised superstate. We must Get Britain Out of the EU as soon as possible.