Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Europe: remembering past tribulations, facing today's

Strange to think that 68 years ago today the French Chanel coast was facing a massive onslaught by American, British, Commonwealth and indeed French troops. Ranged against them were the tenacious defenders of German domination of the European Continent. 

Strange because given how well those nations are all getting on these days, it’s hard to believe there was a time when so much as a hard word passed between them. 

My father, in the Royal Air Force at the time, flew over the landing beaches. His comment? ‘I was bloody glad I wasn’t in those German defences under that naval bombardment. Even from 10,000 feet it looked fearsome.’

6 June 1944.
Nice if we can avoid the violence next time we decide to get closer
These days the stakes are different. Far from trying to drive the Germans out, the French toady are trying to lock them in.

‘You’re the ones with the money,’ they’re saying, ‘and a lot of it you made from trading on favourable terms with the rest of us. Time to give some back by helping us stop the collapse of our banking sector.’

Of course, that does beg the question of why we’re so keen on the banking sector. When the coal mines went in this country, in the days of Thatcher, no-one said ‘hey, can’t we find a few billion to keep them open and protect those jobs?’ For bankers, it seems, things are different.

Actually, I’m particularly bemused by the argument that bankers’ bonuses have to be kept obscenely high on the basis that we might otherwise lose the best ones. I mean, if those were the best – and look at the mess we’re in – what could the worst possibly be like? Wouldn’t it be great if we just regulated the banks into a corner? Then if ‘the best’ of them decided to slope off to Shanghai, we could just say good riddance. I don’t think we’d miss them.

But still, let’s allow the premiss that European banks do need baling out. It does seem to make sense that the wealthiest nation in the Continent acts as everyone’s banker. It’s a welcome consequence of the election of Fran├žois Hollande in France that more people are beginning to say the same and even Angela Merkel is moderating her stance a little.

At this rate, they might save the Euro and even keep the Greeks in it. A long shot, but who knows, if things go the way they’re suggesting they might just pull it off.

Which is why The Guardian has been taking the position over the last couple of days that we are at the start of a crucial three-week period for the Eurozone. That’s a pronouncement that I’d take more seriously if I could think of a three-week period in the last few years which hasn’t been crucial for the Euro.

The result of moves towards closer economic and even political cooperation is that we might see more of a union between the 17 Eurozone members, something beginning to look like a United States of Europe.

But that means another great tradition will have been maintained. Because when those troops landed on the Normandy beaches, back on 6 June 1944, it was only the second successful invasion across the Channel in a millennium, the previous being William the Conqueror’s in the opposite direction in 1066. So the Channel has been a pretty effective obstacle down the ages. And since Britain is not in the Eurozone, if the new European Federation really does begin to form, that branch of sea will remain its frontier. 

If the United States of Europe emerges and we want Britain in, we’ll probably need something pretty well as spectacular as my father witnessed 78 years ago, though it would be a great relief if it could be undertaken with less violence.

So there are many fine traditions to celebrate on this anniversary of the Normandy landings. Still, I can't wrap up without mentioning one that is particularly British: the weather on this day in 1944 was lousy and so it is again today. Which, since I’ve just got back from Madrid and proper summer temperatures, is a shock to the system.

‘Welcome home,’ the rain and wind seemed to say me as I hunted through my suitcase for a jacket.

Still, no reason not to have a happy D-day anniversary, everybody. And if you’re in Britain, wrap up warm.

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