Ten years ago, in 2005, I wrote in War and Peace and War:
On March 25, 1957, in a spectacular Renaissance palazzo in Rome six European nations—France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg—signed the treaty establishing the European Economic Community, the precursor of the European Union. A glance at maps of Europe in 1957 and 800 shows that the combined territory of the six founding members traces almost precisely the empire of Charlemagne. The symbolism is heavy. It was in Rome, on Christmas day of A.D. 800 that the pope crowned Charlemagne as emperor. Is the European Union a new kind of empire?
In terms of its size, multiethnic population, and complex power structure the E.U. fits my definition. Furthermore, during the half century of its existence the E.U. has been aggressively expanding, adding most recently six central European and two Mediterranean countries during the writing of this book. The core state of the E.U., Germany, meanwhile gobbled up former East Germany in 1990. However, all expansion to date was accomplished entirely by peaceful and consensual means. Historical empires don’t always need to conquer new territories. I have pointed out above that there were voluntary admissions to the Roman and Russian empires. Many medieval European states grew by dynastic unions. Still, the entirely peaceful expansion of the E.U. is unprecedented in world history—ultimately, all historical empires had to counter external or internal threats with force. Member states have used armed force, as the United Kingdom in its 1982 war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, but the European Union as a whole has not done it—so far? The Europeans are moving in the direction of creating a unified military force, but we will have to wait and see whether the E.U. will prove capable of using the force when threatened. More importantly, how strong is the European asabiya? Will it motivate people to sacrifice their comforts, treasure, or blood for the sake of the unified Europe? So far, the main financial burden of empire has been born largely by the Germans. It is customary for core nations of empires to bear the main brunt of its costs, but how long will the Germans consent to this state of affairs? Will the years of slow economic growth and high unemployment, which as of the time of this writing show no signs of ending—will such economic hardship eventually sap the willingness of the Germans to sacrifice for the sake of the dream of a powerful united Europe?
Today’s news from Greece, and the reaction by the German-led group of the rest of the eurozone nations, answer this question quite clearly.
The European Union was a wonderful idea, but I am afraid that it is now dead. I place most of the blame on the European elites. I can’t help but think that if only the EU had stayed within the historical boundaries of the Carolingian Empire, the outcome would be very different.
(To make it perfect a match, though, the EU would have to shed southern Italy and add Catalonia and Austria).
Instead the EU expanded. And expanded. Greece should’ve never been part of the EU. I say that even though, or perhaps because, I like the Greeks a lot (full disclosure: my grandmother was Greek). Certainly, the latest round of expansion should have never taken place. It happened against any economic or geopolitical logic and, most importantly, against the wishes of the majority of the European population.
What accounts for this mindless drive for expansion? Is this because the EU is not that different from historical empires, which expanded until they collapsed? So now it is set to repeat their fate.