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Remember the future.

For some reason the anniversaries of the First and Second World Wars become more poignant as time passes. Whatever the reasons for this, it is worth reminding ourselves how often Europe has torn itself apart down the years.

Tribal warfare, ideological differences, land-grabbing contests, grand imperial designs, intolerance or overweening ambition have ensured that some part of the continent is put to the sword fairly regularly.

Even since 1945, Europe has scarcely been at peace and is not at peace today, given the genocide or "ethnic cleansing" being conducted under our very noses in what was once Yugoslavia. The collapse of the Soviet Union may have freed vast tracts of Europe from the Communist yoke but that, too, has led to conflict in countries we hadn't even heard of a decade ago.

When Europeans are not actually shooting each other, they are not exactly getting along well. Disputes between neighbours abound. In Italy, Belgium and Spain, in Ireland and even in Scotland, separatist tendencies continue to lead to stresses and conflic ts, sometimes resulting in violence.

The European Union is, of course, a child of the Second World War. It was established primarily not as a trading zone but as a means of maintaining the peace, especially between France and Germany, who have been fighting wars since long before the latter came into being.

Closer economic and political union is intended to make further armed conflict unlikely, if not impossible. The aim is to bind the various potential combatants together with laws and economic ties which cannot be undone so that it is impossible even to d ifferentiate between the interests of one "nation" and those of its neighbour.

In the light of the events we remembered yesterday, it is not surprising many weleaning international statesmen wanted - and still want - to create a union which is indissoluble. Their high-minded intention to make future war impossible is thoroughly pra iseworthy.

The tragedy is that it will not work. Indeed, the real pity of the European Union is that its best intentions will actually drive new wedges between the nations of Europe and make the prospects of further conflict more, not less, likely.

Like Communism, it runs contrary to human nature, which is prone to tribalism especially in a world where multi-national corporations are now so dominant. The tighter the EU tries to tie the knots, the more some peoples will struggle to free themselves f rom their bindings.

The EU will become a breeding ground for resentment, mistrust and antipathy between the very peoples its idealism is trying to help.

The single European currency may make life easier for companies like BMW or for tourists but its real implications are political, not economic. It is one of the great chains intended to bind down the giant European Gulliver while the Lilliputians in Brus sels celebrate not just peace in our time but peace for all time. In truth, Gulliver will throw off these shackles whenever he feels like it and then, who knows what chaos may follow?

As we remember the people who died fighting for peace in Europe, we should consider the future and recognise the dangers of ties that bind too tight.
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Title Annotation:Leading Article
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 12, 1998
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