Is life a cabaret? Who knows but there is much singing and dancing in diplomatic circles of late. No sooner do I suggest (in Thief of Damascus) that it is time for a more constructive engagement with Iran to deal with the current crisis in Syria and beyond when, lo and behold, the Iranian President Rouhani starts popping up all over the place, from Twitter to the United Nations, being thoroughly reasonable while British Foreign Secretary Hague and US President Obama try to catch up. As we saw last time in Operation Diplomat these are exciting times for diplomacy. Not quite as exciting, perhaps, as the Congress of Vienna when Viscount Castlereagh (Great Britain), Prince Metternich (Austria), Prince Karl August von Hardenberg (Prussia) and Count Nesselrode (Russia) and the ever slippery Tallyrand-Périgord (France) gathered together to tidy up the mess after the then recently failed attempt at involuntary European unification under Loius XIV. In fact, once the final whistle was blown at Waterloo, the system they put in place kept Europe more or less free of war until 1914. And, as you will no doubt remember, it was Metternich who later came up with the phrase; “Italy is only a geographical expression”. Similarly, “greater Germany” as I have used it here (please see for example Executive Decision or Money Matters) was intended to be only a geographical expression – or so I thought.
It may seem only yesterday (but it was in fact November 2011) that Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister said in Berlin: “I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity”. And as if that wasn’t controversial enough this week Poland’s former President Wałęsa said in an interview with Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency: “We need to expand economic and defence co-operation and other structures to create one state from Poland and Germany in Europe”. Of course, he really meant this in the wider context of European unification reflecting the fact that with technological advances we are no longer located in our own countries and so national boundaries are not as relevant as they once were and changes are in consequence required to geographical structures, the economy and democracy, seeing countries as Lego bricks to be built into blocks. In Wałęsa’s view, institutions such as the United Nations, NATO and the Council of Europe are ideas from a past era and the world is “badly organized” (that’s certainly true).
Dismissed here as yet another example of Wałęsa’s eccentric views, is it such a bad idea? Not really. Much of the territory of modern Poland was historically German or Prussian and Germany and Poland today enjoy good relations, the wounds of the past having been largely healed because, according to Wałęsa, Germany fully confessed to all its dirty tricks and it is necessary to draw a line under the past, even if people did something evil, “because until we do, wounds won’t heal.” Good advice, no doubt, and in the modern economy, with Polish manufacturing particularly becoming well integrated into the German supply chain, there is much to be gained by both countries from this continued close cooperation. Germany itself has changed will the now benign motherland under the newly re-elected Chancellor “Mutti” Merkel singing a vastly different tune to the fatherland of yore. Or, in Cabaret terms, less Tomorrow Belongs to Me and more Maybe This Time with a healthy dose of Money, Money.
Why stop at Germany and Poland? If a single European super state is too shocking a change why not try a gradual change. Having 28 member states in the EU is clearly inefficient so why not reduce the numbers by a few more unifications? Spain and Portugal could unite; France with the Benelux countries; Scandinavia – obviously; Austria, Hungary and the tricky bits in the bottom right hand corner; and Italy with Greece to remind Europe of the roots of its civilisation. Which, funnily enough, would create an arrangement in Europe not wholly unrecognisable to Castlereagh, Metternich and chums. However, although Metternich suggested: “it is useless to closet the gates against ideas; they overleap them” I think this is an idea whose time has not yet come no matter how high it leaps. But be that as it may to the idea of greater engagement with Iran and President Rouhani’s new openness we do (or should) say Willkommen (Welcome).