Today officially marks 100 years since the end of the Battle of the Somme. A phase in the First World War that inflicted death or injury on over one million soldiers of all nations. It is hard to say if either side gained anything – or indeed if the battle really did finish on 18 Nov 1916. But the losses were so great and so many families were effected that the date will be remembered for a few more generations at least.
More centenaries of events will continue to be remembered during two further years – putting into perspective just how long the Great War dragged on and how trivial some of today’s concerns are in comparison. However we still have values that need to be defended and sometimes that defense will lead to a life or death struggle. For no matter how civilised we think we are there will always be nature’s self-preservation instinct waiting just below the surface.
All the news reports about Greece this year have been about migrants. But that does not mean that the nation’s financial position has improved in any way. It has simply become old news.
But just how bad things still are can be judged by today’s news that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has proposed that the Eurozone accepts major delays in the repayment of Greek bailout loans. Apparently asking that Greece be allowed to defer any loan or interest repayments until 2040 onwards. Considering that the current loans have an interest rate of just 1.5 percent and no one knows where bank interest rates will be in twenty four years time – or what governments will be in power by then – this is a big concession. Almost as bad as writing-off the entire debt.
Certainly the German Finance Minister (Wolfgang Schaeuble) was unimpressed with the plan being reported today as saying that he will not allow that as long as he is finance minister. And it is hard to imagine that any national treasurer would be happy having billions of euros taken out their economy for decades – especially when 2040 is just the start of a forty year repayment period. This, coupled with fading expectations of the approval of more funds for Greece at the meeting of Eurozone finance ministers next week, means that the Greek economy is still in intensive care …
Stop moaning and keep paying. There is no way out.
Irrespective of which song you pick in next week’s song selection contest and irrespective on how you vote in a future referendum the result will still be the same. The British choice will count for nothing against the combined views of the rest of Europe.
At Eurovision the BBC will still pay in the most but get no more out than the smallest contributor. At the Europarl UK politicians will be told what to do and, in turn, how much we must pay – by bodies that we, the people, have no control over.
And in the same way that the BBC is stuck in the Eurovision club, the UK is stuck in a political union that, in practice, forbids countries from leaving or taking back their own sovereignty.
So a master plan for Europe that will last a thousand years? Now where have we heard that before? Let’s hope that they don’t decide to invade Russia … again.
Charlemagne became king of the Franks in 768 AD and extended his control through also becoming King of Italy just six years later. This expansion of power continued to the point when, in 800 AD, he was created head of a new Holy Roman Empire covering much of Europe. Then his main base was at Aachen in modern day Germany. And in 1950 that city introduced the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen.
The first of these Charlemagne Prizes went unsurprisingly to the founder of the Pan-European Movement – Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi. And since then its aims have been to reward any major steps towards the unity of Europe and to encourage more unification in the future.
Reading the list of past winners throws up some names that even the less-interested Grandads might know. Last year it was Martin Schulz and in 2014 Herman Van Rompuy; two highly paid Eurocrats. Looking back a bit further we have Angela Merkel (2008) and Jean-Claude Juncker (2006) – so no surprises there. But things are not always so obvious. In 2004 it was the Pope – then John Paul II – that got the award and some sources say that in 2016 there be a repeat with Pope Francis adding to the Holy Roman image of this grand reenactment plan.
Now the UK has often been around the edges of any European master plans. But still Tony Blair (1999), Roy Jenkins (1972) and Edward Heath (1963) have all been winners of the Charlemagne Prize in the past – to reward their pro-European efforts. As was Sir Winston Churchill in 1956 – but in this case his efforts as the British wartime leader put him in a different league.
For any Grandads who remember WW2, or who learned about it from their parents, the whole concept of creating a single European nation has dark echoes of that previous Nazi master plan. Hitler’s megalomania had much in common with the plans of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Emperor Napoleon before him. With Britain having fought against all three of them the thought of having to give away its sovereignty to a Europe controlled by Germany and backed by France is not an easy one to swallow. Especially since we thought, and were told, back in the 1960s that we were only joining a European free trade area.
So if the UK ever gets a chance to vote on its future position in this plan for a new Holy Roman Empire let us hope that we really do know what we are letting ourselves – and our grand children – in for …
ps our links are to the English version of the official website however this has much less content than the German version. As at today only the German version contains any mention of the 2016 award going to Pope Francis.
Despite the advantages of oil and gas rights, sunshine holidays and euro-zone banks Russian interests did not jump in to save bankrupt Cyprus.
And the Cyprus government agreed a deal with Brussels far worse than predicted. With the threatened haircut on bank deposits turning into a full-blown decapitation. This deal seems certain to asset-strip investors, kill off the island’s financial services sector – but also serve to encourage the others within the EU not to expect any easy bailouts in future. But despite all this the Cypriot leaders aim to stick with the euro.
So pundits are now reassessing what all this means. Perhaps the Russians already knew that there is no oil and gas under Cyprus – or that they can get it cheaper if they wait. Perhaps Germany is running out of patience – and the funds – for bailing out governments that have deliberately mismanaged their economies. But then Cyprus may well be just one more chapter in a euro-zone disaster story that has no end in sight …
With both tourism and politics in mind, some anniversaries of battles are going to be high on the agenda over the next few years. The big ones at the planning stage already are – 100 years from the start of World War One (28-Jul-2014), 200 years after Waterloo (18-Jun-2015), 500 years after Flodden Field (9-Sep-2013) and 700 years after Bannockburn (24 Jun 2014).
In Scotland the tourism machine started some time ago – “.. clan chiefs and clans are to come together in 2014 to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn with a re-enactment weekend near Stirling organised by the National Trust for Scotland. A clan village will be set up and the town will be bright with tartan ..” and “Here in 1314, in one of the defining moments in Scottish history, King Robert the Bruce routed the English forces of King Edward II to win a much-longed-for freedom for the Scots” (NTfS)
These, and other, plans have, no doubt, some serious historic intent but all are in danger of being changed into something else. Nationalists in Scotland want stories of Bannockburn to boost their voting support while in England the victories over Scotland and France are more a boost for the national ego. But the first World War remembrance may take the edge off the popular appeal of mass face-painting and battle re-enactments. And refurbishing the statue of The Brus may not have a result that appeals to everyone …