While the British are tying themselves into knots of Gordian proportions over their leaving of Europe, the leaders of Germany and France have been meeting, now laying the stage for their political domination of the European Union (EU).
Indeed, it’s these two nations that began this whole European project nearly six decades ago, and it is they who will shape the course for the remaining 25 EU members — and for any other nations that will join the club — in the decades to come.
For all the jingoism and flag-waving by Brexiteers about taking back control, the bigger picture has been overlooked. The very foundation of what has evolved into the EU came from the ruins of Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Three times in the previous century, German troops have marched into France. The first was a short-lived affair but set Prussia and its neighbouring states on course for German unification in the 1870s. Next came the mud and blood of the First World War between 1914 and 1918, and the unfinished business and recriminations or the Weimar Republic’s reparations laid the conditions for the sheer horror of the Second World War that killed some 50 million, left the cities and towns of Europe in ruins, and saw the nations of the western portion of the continent stare at the massed tanks, men and missiles of the Soviet Union across an Iron Curtain.
The good men of France and Germany vowed that never again would Europe witness the spectre and horrors of modern war, and that the peace would be built on prosperity. And those devastated cities and towns, industries and factories needed coal and steel to rebuild and recommit to peace in their time.
A seminal moment in this process of building a new prosperous and peace-loving Europe was the signing of the 1963 Elysee treaty between France and West Germany, which opened their nations to freer trade and ease of access and was the very foundation block for what will soon turn the EU27 into the world’s third-largest economy.
Its market of more than 500 million people relies on the simple but brilliant notion that goods built in one nation can be shipped across international borders without any impediment. So too with the movement of services — and people. It is the practical realisation that all European nations who join the club are equal, and share the same rights and freedoms regardless of size.
Egalitarian Europe has thrived, with all of the members of the club signing on to the notions of free trade and the free movement of goods, services and people. Where the EU has failed is in becoming unwieldy, where decisions are slow, and where bureaucracy seemingly ties its administration into knots.
Is there a need for a European Court of Justice? Yes, in that it has a vital role in interpreting European law and balancing that code against the legal systems of each member state.
The bigger the EU has become, the greater the need for more centralised political powers, with the EU Commission having the de facto powers of a cabinet, with each of the commissioners overseeing policies such as foreign affairs, social programmes, agriculture, education, the environment and fisheries.
The creation of the euro, the common currency used by 19 of the remaining EU27 states, was a natural and practical answer to the needs of greater financial unity. It replaced an artificial currency, the ECU or the European Currency Unit, which was a bureaucratic solution to all the separate currencies such as the drachma, the lira, the franc and the deutshmarks.
There is a reality too that many Britons forget — and it is that every advance and move towards unity was the result of negotiations that were agreed over many summits involving their heads of state, summits in which every UK prime minister from Ted Heath onwards participated and ultimately approved.
In other nations across Europe, the treaties of Lisbon or Maastricht were approved in popular votes. It was a growth of powers by consensus and agreement, not a deliberate power grab as Brexiteers would like to believe.
And now that the Brexit matter has been fixed — the UK is leaving one way or another in nine weeks’ time — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are looking to the future.
The pair met in the city of Aachen earlier this week and agreed to a 16-page document that aims to limit the growth of Euro-sceptic parties that are on the rise across the bloc.
In Europe, symbolism is all-important, and Aachen was chosen to make a statement. It was there during the 9th century that Charlemagne, the king who united much of western Europe into his Holy Roman Empire, made his home. Britain was never part of that empire.