The EU & the Holy Roman Empire

Holy Roman Empire map

In our double issue for the Christmas holidays, I’ve once again let my hair down and indulged myself with a cheeky but (hopefully) not silly historical comparison. This time:

The Holy Roman Empire: European disunion done right

Looking over my past Christmas Specials, it strikes me that I seem to default to one of two categories:

  1. Sociological profiles of subcultures: Filipina maids in Hong Kong, Mexican farmworkers in America, Californian Hippies
  2. those aforementioned cheeky historical comparisons: Socrates in America, now the Holy Roman Empire, .. (and of course Hannibal and Me!)

Anyway, study this beautiful map we made. As you know, I’m a map geek.

And then get a glass of some Malbec-Cabernet mixture and ponder whether you think I was right to draw some analogies to the Holy Roman Empire. Would love to know what you think.

PS: Sorry for having been a lazy blogger these past months. For those of you who want to follow my ongoing weekly story output, I’ve started tweeting my articles. The Twitter feed also appears here, in the right side bar.

Which is, of course, quite a capitulation, worthy of your ridicule, for one who long took pride in being a brave Twitter hold-out. 😉

42 thoughts on “The EU & the Holy Roman Empire

  1. I don’t drink, so I’m afraid I cannot complete the assignment as stated. But I did read your piece, and I liked it, even without the lubrication. Unfortunately, due to my poor knowledge of European history, I am in no position to judge whether your analogies are apt. (I didn’t even know that the Habsburg dynasty hailed from Switzerland…WTF???)

  2. Thanks! I studied the map for a few minutes before I started reading because the history (and even geography) of the Holy Roman Empire is a lacuna (?) in my knowledge. Your article (1) filled some of the gaps (2) generated a desire to read further, and (3) puts an interesting slant on contemporary questions. Lastly, as I was reading about the lead up to the 30 years war I found myself hoping that you would include a picture of the defenestration and I wasn’t disappointed!

    • That pic of the defenestration wasn’t even my idea (it had little do with the article), but our graphics guys must have realized that the only thing anybody (Anglo-Saxon) knows about the HRE was that somebody got thrown out of a window. There is a fun sub-literature, btw, speculating about why all three were able to survive the fall. It was sort of the JFK-assassination of its day in terms of conspiracy theories…

  3. I read with interest your illuminating piece on the Holy Roman Empire, about which I had known little. All I remember of the Holy Roman Empire as it was taught to me in high-school was something some luminary allegedly said of it, that it was neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire. I thought this funny then, and still do.

    While many features of the Holy Roman Empire can be discerned in today’s EU, there are two important differences. The denizens of the Holy Roman Empire numbered a mere 20 million, whereas the EU’s denizens number 500 million, including 330 million in the Eurozone. And, most denizens in the Holy Roman Empire had a mother-tongue in common (German), but those in today’s EU don’t.

    Since the absence of a common mother-tongue and a huge population size mitigate against political union, let alone a federation, should it be surprising that a United States of Europe never materialised?

    If there was ever to be a federal Europe, would it not have arisen from the common feeling of danger posed by the Russian Bear roaring menacingly from behind the Iron Curtain throughout the 1950s and 1960s?

    The Russian Bear now defanged, is there any compelling reason for the likes of Angela Merkel to continue trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (ie create a federal Europe) – a creation needed for a successful common currency?

    • I agree with your conclusion — that a federal Europe is, for now, off the table. But I don’t think language has much to do with it:
      1) Perhaps the stablest federation in history is the Swiss one, which has four official languages.
      2) The HRE was multilingual for its first half, and even for much of its second half, with the aristocrats speaking more French than German, and the clergy more Latin than German, and the “Germans” actually speaking all sorts of dialects as different as Dutch as Swiss today.
      3) In the EU today, we have the equivalent of Latin and French: it’s … English.

    • You make a good point about language.

      Yes, English, although not the mother tongue of most Europeans, but being today’s lingua franca, would be the only practical choice as Europe’s pre-eminent official language.

      You spoke of Switzerland as an example of stability, despite its four official languages. But you didn’t speak of bi-lingual Belgium, or, outside Europe, bi-lingual Canada, both of them riven by resentment, nay hostility, between their two respective language groups.

      Better to be multilingual than bilingual, it seems.

  4. Andreas!

    I never thought the world was going to end yesterday, so when I woke up this morning, it really wasn’t much of a kick.

    But the unexpected appearance of your posts, now that’s a kick! Nice.

    So, it’s twitter, is it? Well, sure. Even the Pope is in on the game now. I’ll figure it out so I can follow.

    I’m picking up the Christmas issue today. I really doubt I’ll have much to contribute about the Holy Roman Empire (even after reading your piece, even after the Malbec-Cabernet), but I do really like to comment (even before reading your piece, even before the Malbec-Cabernet), so maybe the end-of-the-world poem I was learning yesterday can serve as a kind of comment-Christmas gift mixture? It’s Robert Frost and it’s good:

    Fire and Ice

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    Terrific to see your posts. All good things to you in the year to come!

    • And happy new year to you, too, Jenny.
      What a great Frost poem. (You seem to have a poem for every occasion.) This one also happens to fit another Christmas Special in the issue, about hell, by Ann Wroe.

  5. A very remarkable piece in an always enjoyable issue of the magazine.

    I’ve always wondered: how does The Economist go about making their maps? They always have a distinguishing quality.

    • Thanks, Editor.

      There’s no secret to our map making. We have a graphics/charts group in London. Usually, the writers suggest charts and send the data (which we might come across in the course of our research) or, in this case, the idea for the map.

      In this case, we had a few rounds. The difficulty was that the empire
      a) last almost a thousand years, during which its borders shifted constantly
      b) had 300+ territories, many too small to show up in any map,
      c) had different cities that were important at different times.

      So we “solved” it by:
      a) choosing two sets of imperial borders, one the “maximum” (although that refers to the max since Otto, not since Charlemagne), and one the borders after the Peace of Westphalia,
      b) agglomerated most territories and just highlighted “major” territories, or those that appear in my text,
      c) named only cities that appear in my text. (though not all cities I name).

  6. Ann Wroe is a superior writer. Who wrote the obit on Dave Brubeck? That one, too, was over-the-top and captured not only the essence of Brubeck’s life, but also did it in syncopated jazz tone, much like Langston Hughes was able to do with his poetry.

  7. Whence this centuries-long obsession with European federation and union? Power or peace, culture or economics?

    These four elements combine only in enforced conformity, and this is the language now coming out of Brussels. Ever sensitive to this, the British people want out.

  8. “Thou shalt not let the euro crisis turn centripetal forces … into centrifugal ones, with member countries exiting from the euro zone or even the EU.”

    This same issue (and phrasing) turns up in The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, by James McPherson:

    “Formal political parties did not exist in the Confederacy…. Southerners considered this circumstance a source of strength. But in fact, as historians now recognize, the absence of parties was a source of weakness…. In the North, where nearly all state governors were Republicans, the ties of party bound them to the war effort. In the south the obstructionist activities of several governors hindered the centralized war effort because the centrifugal tendencies of state’s rights were not constrained by the centripetal force of party.”

    – So, are there political parties in the EU that cross national boundaries and act as a unifying centripetal force?

  9. Thank you for your observations, Jim M, which, perhaps, I am too bold to assume were directed in part at my brief comment.

    UK elections to the European Parliament are fought predominantly by UK parties. I do not know whether this applies also to other member states but suspect this is likely. Only after the election do those parties decide their affiliation within the European Parliament. All the main UK parties are in favour of continued membership of the EU but this is becoming increasingly at odds with the desires of a majority of the British electorate. This has led to the prime minister promising to renegotiate the terms of UK membership and offering a referendum to decide between exit from the EU and his new terms. Watch out for his speech on the subject in mid-January. The Liberal Democrats have always been pro-EU and oppose such a referendum. This is a major strain on the coalition. Another minority party, UKIP, campaigning for exit, now exceeds the Lib Dems in popular support.

    There are a number of factors which rub the British up the wrong way including the dictatorial dismissal of national views in the most derogatory way by the presidents of the EU Commission and the EU Parliament, the fact that we have always been net contributors to the budget, our perpetual trade deficit with the single market, the interference by the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights (not an EU institution) in what are perceived to be purely national aspects of daily life .

    The last referendum on the EU was nearly forty years ago, on the Common Market, as it was then. In a mood of starry-eyed idealism I voted in favour but the scales dropped one by one from my eyes as I realised there was no future for so many of the values and traditions I hold dear, nor any attempt on the part of the EU to understand them. There is far greater recognition of identity of individual states within the USA than there is in the EU, where the democratic deficit is substantial.

    The language of physical dynamics is misleading. Human laws, ethics and institutions are variable. Physical laws are (it seems) universal and fixed. Thus reference to centripetal or centrifugal force in this connection is meaningless both in analogy and metaphor. There is no natural, fixed force drawing Europe together or apart as a political entity, only volatile human opinion and authority, and that must ever be so in the overriding interests of freedom for those who do no harm. The borrowing of terms by way of political justification from other disciplines is not only invalid, it can can also be dangerous, as in the extension of biological evolution by natural selection or survival of the fittest to matters of policy or political or social philosophy.

    Europe as a political entity is little more than the ambition of the ruling elite, certainly as very many of us in the UK see it. It is that ambition which has led to the ill-conceived creation of a single currency and its disastrous consequences, not the least of which is the damage to democracy and whatever that may lead to.

  10. If I might make bold as to intrude upon this most enlightening colloquy, what do the Scots and Welsh think about Britain remaining in or leaving Europe? While opinion polls show that Britons wish to leave Europe, is this also the wish of the non-English Britons, like the Scots and Welsh?

    I suspect an independent Scotland might see the EU as a welcome counterweight to English hegemony in the British Isles, and so may wish to remain in (or join) Europe. As Scots may think, so may also the Welsh.

    • The population of Scotland is, very approximately, about one-tenth of that of England and that of Wales about one-twentieth. Despite that, and the antiquity of the union (the Tudors were of Welsh origin and it was the succession of James VI of Scotland to the English crown in 1603 that brought about the Union with Scotland in the first place, much to the consternation of the Protestant population of England) the Parliament in Westminster is nowadays sensitive to the separate aspirations of the people of those nations, hence the creation of and devolution of powers to the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments, although that devolution is probably more to do with a subliminal fear of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

      As a result of devolution, it is the English who are now the constitutional junior partners since whereas the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments have exclusive competence in certain major areas of government as they affect those nations, the English remain subject to Welsh and Scottish votes in the House of Commons. Furthermore, if the Wales or Scotland or both of them became independent, the House of Commons would have a predominance of Conservative MPs.

      There is to be a referendum soon – in Scotland, despite the effect on the English and expatriate Scots – and there are all manner of technical problems which arise in the event of independence. Major ones include the question of the currency having regard to the fact that the central bank will be English, and the matter of EU membership. Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, around whom the Scottish support for independence has rallied, has already said he would retain the pound and retain EU membership, although, apparently, an independent Scotland would be required to re-apply.

      There is no significant move for independence from the Welsh, with whom the bonds remain strong. Both Wales and Scotland receive substantial subsidy from England, or more specifically,from the City of London, which the EU seems determined to undermine.

      The Union has become as it is not without internal bitterness and shedding of blood. The same goes for the USA. Forged allegedly as a buffer against a repetition of European wars, the EU fails to recognise the risk of conflict involved in the process itself of federation or union.

    • On the subject of referenda, I’ve just come across *this article here* about a recent opinion poll in Britain on whether to stay in or leave the EU.

      It would appear the division of opinion is very generational. Two-thirds of Britons between 18-34 wish to stay in the EU, whereas two-thirds of the over 60’s wish to leave.

      Also, overall public opinion is trending towards staying in. Perhaps Britons are beginning to realise on which side their bread is buttered!!

    • Yes. The old arguments always seem fresh to the young. Still, the world belongs to them, I suppose. The debate hasn’t really started yet.

      The drift of opinion in the 35 to 60s might be interesting to examine since these are where one tends to find most wealth-creators, I imagine.

      The poll was commissioned by the centre-left, I see. The idea that 1980s – 90s divisions in the Conservative party might return would have raised their spirits. Things have moved on from there, though, I guess. It’s very difficult to call.

  11. Richard, you’ve outdone yourself. 

    But one thing still bothers me.

    If Scotland leaves the UK does it also leave behind its portion of the national debt? If so, then why doesn’t the remainder of the country leave first, thereby emerging scot-free?

    • Thank you, Jim M. It is normally my wife who draws my attention to such embarrassing situations.

      Scot-free? Ooh. A triple pun! You exceed yourself. 🙂 A swap like that could solve the global crisis.

  12. The British Prime Minister’s speech articulates the current mood of the silent majority in Britain.

    I shall therefore fall silent on the issue, save to say that a refusal by EU leaders to negotiate will not go down well, nor will a blanket vilification of the British nation – something which, Andreas, you have always studiously avoided.

  13. From my reading of that left-wing Socialist rag “The Guardian”, I’m led to understand that Britain is demanding that certain sovereign powers that are now the province of the EU, be repatriated. Whether or not the EU agrees to this, Britain will hold a referendum in 2017 on whether to remain in the EU.

    The thing is, were the EU to agree that Britain take back these powers, it (Britain) would have a special status (British exceptionalism) within the EU unless the other member states got back these powers too. With all the talk of an ever tighter (federal) Europe, is it realistic to think the EU will agree to Britain’s demands? I, for what it’s worth, think not.

    I expect, then, that if the referendum is held (and it is indeed an “if”) it’ll be on whether to stay in a Europe at least no looser than it now is.

    On reading further in that left-wing Socialist rag “The Guardian”, I see that Britain’s masters in Washington are telling Britain to stay. Which is why I think Britain will.

  14. A pan-European State as a salve for human conflict would have a naive charm and attraction, Christopher, were it not so sinisterly familiar.

    Only you could break my silence! 🙂

  15. Gazing down from wherever it is he is now, and noting the EU’s disquietude at Britain’s stated dissatisfaction with it, Charlie de Gaulle must be chuckling, and saying “I told you so”!!

  16. Yesterday, on the website of The Guardian, I happened upon this article, *Is Germany too powerful for Europe?*.

    It suggests, among many other things, that Bismarck’s reluctance to create a German overseas empire may be a root cause of Germans not being too well-liked in Europe today?

    The article also has this: ”…….More than 20 years ago, Germany made a sacrifice for Europe at Maastricht when it agreed to put the deutschmark to the sword so that another currency could be born……..”.

    The notion of Germany’s sacrifice appears to have been stated as a fact, and appears to be accepted as such in everything else I’ve read on this topic.

    Is it not, though, a fact that it was precisely the deutschmark that was Germany’s problem – the deutschmark that kept going up and up in value so that German goods were becoming too expensive for other Europeans to buy?

    Where, then, was Germany’s sacrifice?

    Given there can be no monetary union with no political union, would not Germany’s real sacrifice be to give up nearly all its sovereign powers to bring a real European union about?

    Maybe this can be Angela Merkel’s message to Germans in her forthcoming re-election campaign?!!

    • I find the article rambled a bit, as though it couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to be about. But as to your point about the DM: Yes, most Germans viewed it as a concession, which was largely correct. Mitterand once called the DM Germany’s “nuclear weapon” and made its submersion into a common currency a condition of his support for reunification.

      Was the DM’s strength a problem for Germany? Not really, as the Swiss Frank’s strenght is not usually a problem for Switzerland. The rise of the old DM vis a vis other EU currencies reflected the respective countries’ underlying economic changes over time. With one currency, OTHER things have to change (such as wages) to adjust to economic differences, and that sometimes hurts more. (For instance, at the moment, German wages would have to go up a lot, or Spanish wages would have to go down a lot, and both would cause problems at home.)

      As to your second point, which is that Merkel should push for political union to complement monetary union: The irony here is that she largely WAS pushing for that, as of last summer or so, but the French in particular, and others as well, would never dream of it.

    • “…….the Swiss Frank’s strength is not usually a problem for Switzerland…….”

      Recently, though, it seems to have been a problem:

      “……With one currency, OTHER things have to change (such as wages) to adjust to economic differences, and that sometimes hurts more…….”

      So question becomes: Which is better for ordinary people: internal de-valuation (wages); or external de-valuation (currency)?

      By means of “austerity” (punishment for being wicked), internal de-valuation is now in the driver’s seat. The result is the current mess, and the people are becoming restless. Maybe, then, external de-valuation is the way to go?

      Hope all is continuing well with you in your current assignment in the Heart of Europe.

    • The article is not so much rambling as a failed attempt to bring together a variety of views as to the present German domination of the European political scene. In doing this it so confuses and and tangles the sources that it becomes impossible to rationalise them or to distinguish them from the author’s own position.

      The article is really about the protestant work ethic and the resentment felt by those who see themselves as making sacrifices simply to enable others whom they perceive (wrongly) to benefit from those sacrifices in hedonism or sun-baked leisure. That is a universal grudge, not one confined to Germany.

      How the author can so divorce Germany from its past and its massive contribution in all fields of human endeavour and claim it has no cultural relevance to the twenty-first century is prejudice of a high order. Culture is somewhat more than soccer and pop music. The sooner it is recognised that Germany’s failings in the twentieth century were human failings and not exclusively German failings the better. The EU, the EZ, the Euro, fiscal union and the rest of the pseudo-rational hodgepodge are a distraction from that central task and from the cultural lesson in all its facets we all have to learn from Germany.

      What is distasteful about the article is the overriding supposition that somehow each European state is a different species of human being. Yet this emotional perspective is the very one which has caused such misery in Europe in the past and which the EU is supposed to assuage. In reality it stirs up. The article is a symptom of the malaise.

    • @Richard – About the Guardian article, you said, ”……The article is……..rambling……..”.

      Yes, it is, I suppose, rambling. I would, though, prefer to call it discursive. And it’s the better for that, since a discursive article can raise more issues on which to ponder, than can a more directed article.

      You said also, ”………The article is really about the protestant work ethic………”

      I think it’s more about the relationship between culture and economics. While the article does talk about the Protestant work ethic, is not the “Protestant work ethic” to do with culture? The word “Protestant” is, after all, to do with religion, and religion is the foundation of culture, which in turn influences the nature of any national economy.

      In its dilation on the virtues of “hard work”, and on the tendency of the Rich to accuse the Poor of being skivers instead of strivers, the article allows us to consider the relationship between hard work and prosperity. For instance, are countries rich because their peoples work hard, and are countries poor because their peoples don’t work hard?

      If so, consider that in poor Greece, people, in terms of daily hours worked, work a lot harder than do people in rich Germany.

      And it has been remarked elsewhere and in another context, that if hard work equals riches, most women in Africa would be millionaires. Having myself spent time there, I can concur with the appositeness this remark.

      While reading the discursive Guardian article, I thought about why it is that the “Financial Sector” dominates the economies of Britain and America. Is it to do the English-speaking culture? What is there in it that compels English-speaking White Boys from well-to do families to swarm in their multitudes into Investment Banking, and to otherwise spend their working days gambling heavily on the stock market with other people’s money?

      I thought also about many other things to do with culture and economics, and of many other things besides. And I may never have thought of them but for the article being discursive.

      Bring on the Discursive Article, is what I say!!

  17. Some of the views reported in the article, Christopher, represent the very worst in nationalism: the ascribing of universal human traits arbitrarily to geographical location. Nationalism is to be sharply distinguished from patriotism, a benign sentiment for one’s homeland and the kind of healthy rivalry we see in the Olympics or in the market-place. It contrasts with the primitive cut-throat competition that has annihilation of the opponent, or the opponent’s traditions and values, as its aim, rather than learning and absorption.

    It is a fact that a premature agglomeration of states, as is the EU, fosters nationalism and not patriotism, aggression and domination rather than peace, spiteful vilification rather than respectful acknowledgment of others’ achievements and contributions to the common good, dangerous concentration of power rather than democracy. The noble intentions of the founders in their aspirations threaten to lead to the very opposite. Artificial constructs such as the euro and fiscal union commit the same error.

    Only through tolerance and the avoidance of compulsion at every turn, leaving laws and everyday government to individual states, can the ideals ever hope to be approached.

  18. @Andreas – I read with much interest your recent Economist piece, “Eurosceptism in Germany: Silent No More”. I noted its mention of the recent poll that showed one in four Germans not supporting the Euro.

    May I assume this means they wish Germany to leave the Euro and return to the Deutschmark?

    If so, it means three quarters (75%) of Germans don’t want to return to the Deutschmark. This seems odd at first sight, given that the Deutschmark’s abolition – just ten years ago – was portrayed as a national sacrifice.

    I recalled that in my previous comment I had questioned whether Germany’s giving up the Deutschmark was in fact a sacrifice, given that the Deutschmark’s relentlessly rising value was a big problem for exporters of German goods into the rest of Europe.

    In reply, you said: ”……Yes, most Germans viewed it [giving up the DM] as a concession, which was largely correct. Mitterand once called the DM Germany’s ‘nuclear weapon’ and made its submersion into a common currency a condition of his support for reunification……”

    While true, it appears – according to this *lengthy piece in Der Spiegel* – at least questionable that relinquishing the DM was the price of reunification. No less than Wolfgang Schäuble purportedly said (in German I assume!!): “No such trade-off ever occurred.”

    According to other stuff I’ve read, Germany, at any time during the period from 1992 (Maastricht) to 2002 (first issue of Euro coins and bills), could have scuttled the Euro project and retained the DM.

    The DM being the very symbol of the Wirtschaftwunder, perhaps the felt sacrifice at its loss was emotional rather than pragmatic, given the DM’s uneconomically rising value? Hence the Euro became for Germany the only feasible game in town, and still is?

    • The Euro probably IS the “only feasible game in town” TODAY. And most Germans probably view it that way TODAY.
      I was simply saying that this is not how most Germans viewed it in the 1990s. The “narrative”, as it were, around and for the Euro has changed several times, and is changing again now.
      Your general question of whether Germany benefits from the the euro or suffers from it is very complex, and the subject of much debate here by economists.

    • Apparently, twenty-five percent of Germany’s voters say they would support an anti- euro party. A significant minority.

      Perhaps they recognise the divisive nature of the euro and the fact that in 2011, the last year in which statistics are available, the country of 89 million put 7.5 billion euros into the EU pot, compared with five billion from France and 4.7 billion from Britain. In addition Germany contributes substantially more to the euro rescue fund to prevent EU countries with financial problems from slipping into bankruptcy.

      With this background, next Saturday in Berlin, Berndt Lucke, an economics professor, launches the inaugural convention of his party based on the Alternative For Germany movement, whose goal is to end the euro. He does so in preparation for elections next September. The movement is the first to call for Germany’s withdrawal from the Eurozone.

      I take these facts from an article by Harriet Alexander and Jeevan Vasagar in the Sunday Telegraph today, which I would link to this comment if only I could find it on the web. It registers the uneasiness many feel about the European Project in a way I can hardly do justice to in this brief note.

    • Let us forget for a moment all the mathematical modelling, the political infighting and the ideological wars and address the question of the euro itself. After all, Gödel used meta-mathematics to prove the logical limitations of symbolic mathematics.

      Single currencies arise when an economic system has sufficient cohesion to enable the currency to acquire a constant value throughout the system, or relatively so. A pound paid in Manchester will buy, near enough, the same goods and services as it will in Bristol. A Porsche, on average, will cost the same in Miami or in San Francisco. That uniformity may arise through market forces, or by compulsion. A single currency will, nevertheless, continue to be subject to market forces and to some variation from region to region. The variation might be of such a degree as to undermine its credibility and therefore trade.

      All pretty elementary stuff.

      Enter the State, invariably the source of the initial cohesion that led to the currency, for loss of credibility not only calls in question its power to govern but also the collection of taxes. Pin the currency to a specific measure such as gold or sea shells, or establish an authority to decree its value from time to time as against other currencies and the problem is solved.

      Suppose then, that Friedrich designs and makes in some out-of the-way place in the Black Forest a mousetrap of vastly superior quality to any built anywhere else. On Monday he offers it for sale and potential customers across Europe beat a path to his door. Those from countries that already have trading arrangements with Germany discover how those arrangements ease the negotiations and rapidly displace others who do not have them. Working together not only has financial advantage, it also increases power to trade and all other powers. Everyone wants in.

      Guillaume, from France orders 10000 mousetraps on Monday at one Deutschmark per unit for delivery and payment on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the French State, with the object of boosting its exports, devalues the franc against the deutschmark. Up goes the relative value of the deutschmark as against the franc, and poor all Guillaume finds that on Wednesday he has to dig deeper into his pocket to buy his mousetraps. Maybe he should have written something into his contract to take care of this, but why pay lawyers who never get it right anyway?

      Now, if France and Germany had a single currency, the problem would never arise, so, wouldn’t that be a good idea? Plan ahead, pick a moment when the deutschmark and franc have settled down to a constant relative value and Bingo! do away with the old and bring in the deutschfrank. What if the same could be arranged for lots of different states? Call it the Euro. Quietly forget the rules for entry and Hey Presto! we have it.

      There’s one problem, though. For one reason or another, Friedrich still produces the best mousetraps and is glad enough to see his business grow and get more and more orders and he makes more and more deliveries, but somehow he doesn’t see the cash . He finds himself having to work harder and harder to make ends meet. He doesn’t mind, eventually he will be paid and he knows how many euros he’ll get. He’ll give a bit of credit and there are mysterious mechanisms, which he doesn’t really understand, that allow everything to carry on as normal and keep up the demand for mousetraps and most of the cash flowing in. The euro doesn’t feel the same as the deutschmark, somehow, but never mind, things can only get better. The feel-good factor spreads round all his customers and it’s all very heady. There is a fantasy world of virtual value, not real value.

      After a while it all begins to fall apart, though, and Friedrich feels he’s making his sacrifices for nothing and others are reaping the benefit. It’s not quite like that, but that’s how he feels. No longer can Italy devalue its own lire to help Giuseppe to sell more olive oil to England and pay Friedrich.

      Nor can the euro be adjusted, for nobody is fully in charge of it, and anyway how are the adjustments to be calculated? Could everybody have the same tax rules? Having the euro first was putting the cart before the horse. How can everyone now agree in these bad times?

      Who will win? Should Germany be placed in charge of a European Empire, compensating other countries only partially for their poverty, or should the old currencies be restored to allow the individual countries to devalue and undercut Friedrich’s mousetraps with their own?

  19. I am in the course of reading Ian Mortimer’s 1415 Henry V’s Year of Glory.The year, is, of course, that of Henry V of England’s victory at Agincourt. I have reached the entry for 3rd February and it entirely justifies your drawing of parallels between the EU and the Holy Roman Empire.


    …Henry’s representatives at Constance set about the serious business of their mission. The first objective was the recognition of ‘England’ as a nation.

    In the fourteenth century the idea of a ‘nation state’ as we know it did not exist Europe was made up of kingdoms … independent princedoms, duchies and counties … Austria, Germany, Eastern Europe and the low countries were part of the Holy Roman Empire…


    …The idea of a political ‘nation’ in which the people participated in one single financial, legal and defensive sovereign government … was only just beginning to develop. The furthest along this line was England, which had seen a nationalist programme of reform under Edward III. This extended to parliamentary representation, the adoption of a common law and nationwide taxation for national defence…


    …The word ‘nation’ did, however have meaning in ecclesiastical circles … The anomaly was the British Isles … England and Scotland were regarded as part of the German Nation. But at the Council of Pisa, England had been recognised as a nation in its own right …this was not just a matter of national pride .. if voting was to be done by nations, then there were four national votes at Constance – those of Germany, Italy, France and England…

    I can’t wait to see how things turned out. 🙂

    plus ça change… !

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