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A history lesson for Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper.


Walther Funk

Walther Funk. (via Wiki)

BORIS JOHNSON MADE what most people would regard as a mild observation to the Sunday Telegraph, when he said, “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried [European unification] out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.”

The furor was as immediate as it was ill-informed. The Telegraph headlined their scoop, “Boris Johnson: The EU wants a superstate, just as Hitler did”. Imagine that! The news that Hitler wanted a “superstate” was shocking. It led the BBC newscast, perhaps for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Johnson’s political opponents quickly expressed their outrage. As the Independent reported:

The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, described the former London Mayor’s comments as “offensive and desperate”.

“After the horror of the Second World War, the EU helped to bring an end to centuries of conflict in Europe and for Boris Johnson to make this comparison is both offensive and desperate.”

Former Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper joined the condemnation and called on Mr Johnson to not play “political games with the darkest and most sinister chapter of Europe’s history”.

For Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, and perhaps the headline-writers at the Telegraph, it’s apparently a chapter so dark they have never read it. After all, as Michael Blackburn recently wrote here, even those who know absolutely nothing else about the twentieth century in Europe know about Hitler: “Even the nurse who wheels you to the bathroom in your nursing home will have heard of him. Nobody forgets Hitler.”

Europe’s backers may like to pretend the spore that bore the EU was taken from the European Steel and Coal Treaty of 1951 and planted in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, the European Economic Community’s birth certificate. But in fact, as Johnson correctly noted, the latest effort to unify Europe has a slightly more colorful pedigree, one that includes the European unification plan put forward by Hitler’s Reich Minister for Economic Affairs, Walther Funk (with the persuasive support of the Wehrmacht, of course). It was exactly what Johnson meant when he used the term “superstate”: the Europe proposed by Funk and other Nazi strategists, according to Columbia historian Mark Mazower (in his excellent Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century), “bore more than a passing resemblance to the post-war Common Market.” The Nazis called their vision for Europe the “New Order” and as early as 1941, Funk and other German propagandists were proclaiming that “the United States of Europe has at last become a reality.”

The plan advanced by the Nazis saw a common currency, a central bank and the other institutions that are critical to the EU today.

The plan advanced by the Nazis saw a common currency, a central bank and the other institutions that are critical to the EU today—in the words of Hermann Neubacher, described by Mazower as “Hitler’s Balkan supremo,” a unified “Grossraum which instead of individual countries would form the economic unit of the future.” From the moment of its inception, the Nazi version of the European Union had the support of other Europeans; in fact, it was the Vichy deputy premier, Jacques Benoist-Mechin, who announced France was ready to “abandon nationalism and take [its] place in the European Community with honour.”Eugen Weber, writing in The Atlantic in 2001, observed that for the French as for the Germans, Hitler’s New Order was above all European. “With French and German bankers, industrialists, and other businessmen meeting regularly,” Weber wrote, “the idea of a United States of Europe was making its way, along with visions of a single customs zone and a single European currency. The European Union, its attendant bureaucracy, even the euro, all appear to stem from the Berlin-Vichy collaboration. Bureaucratic controls proliferated, administrative and business elites interpenetrated, postwar economic planning took shape—as did that greater Europe in which France’s Hitler-allotted role would be one of a bigger Switzerland, ‘a country of tourism … and fashion.’”

THIS IS NOT to sully an idea by association; after all, in 1946, surrounded by the rubble of war, even Churchill said a “United States of Europe” was necessary to help rebuild devastated France and Germany. But the war is long past — yet German ambitions linger. Josef Goebbels once predicted that “in fifty years’ time [Europeans will] no longer think in terms of countries.” Sixty years later, Gerhard Schroeder, from a rebuilt, resurgent Germany, echoed that thought when he said that “National sovereignty will soon prove itself to be a product of the imagination.” Every idea has its moment; moats were once the last word in security. But European unification is a constant thread running through all our postwar decades. Reading accounts of twentieth-century Europe, you can’t help notice how little the Continental political class has been affected by the massive storms that have broken over her. The worldview of the European political elites is the same now as it has always been. The growth — usually predicated on various claims of urgency and necessity — of government and the inevitably consequent centralization of power have a persistent gravity all their own. The idea of repudiating this, as Johnson and the Brexit side want, is to demand nothing less than the repudiation of the EU’s new, improved order, and to invite famine, war, pestilence, poverty, hives and rashes.

The prediction made by Goebbels is certainly true for the political leadership of the EU in 2016. In fact, for practical reasons, “Europe” has always meant Germany. For the bureaucrats in Brussels, Goebbels and Schroeder are both a little offensive, but a lot right. The Treaty of Rome, which followed Goebbels’ pronouncement by only 15 years, was intended to make Italian pasta attractive to grocery-shoppers in Luxembourg and German cars affordable to everybody. Now, after nearly five decades of festering growth by bureaucrats feeding on the rich agar of mysterious taxes and near-unaccountability, the old New Order, rechristened the European Union in 1992, has reached maturity as a gigantic, monstrous pyramid scheme run by the Germans, in which other nations are forced to contribute to the political well-being of people such as Cameron and Angela Merkel — or face doom.

Denis Boyles is the co-editor of The Fortnightly Review. His latest book, Everything Explained That Is Explainable: On the creation of the Encyclopædia Britannica’s celebrated Eleventh Edition 1910-1911, will be published by Knopf in June.

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