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January 21, 2019

Some thoughts about the historical origins of European integration

The AfD is fast becoming the German Brexit party although it has not yet officially endorsed the position. The controversy is not whether to leave but how and when. The rhetoric of party leader Alexander Gauland leaves no doubt about the overall direction. He portrays the EU as a totalitarian apparatus in the tradition of Napoleon (as seen by Gauland) and the Nazis. 

Jaspar von Altenbockum offers an intelligent discussion of the purported link between European integration and national socialism in a comment in FAZ - an explosive connection to make which has long been subject to a fringe discussion, including among historians. The fear of European integration becoming a conduit for German domination of Europe was certainly a prominent factor in the UK's process fo alienation from Europe, but we note it played no prominent role in the Brexit campaign. Altenbockum dissects the ludicrous claim that EU integration is but the continuation of the Nazi's plan for European domination under the guise of integration with greater forensic force than we are able to do justice to in this short summary. But we fully agree with his main conclusion that the historical origins of the idea of European integration do not date back to Napoleon or Hitler, but to the Thirty Year's War 1618-1648.

Where we disagree with him is in his attempt to seek equidistance between the position of the far right and the far left. Altenbockum argues that the Left was equally guilty of instrumentalising Hitler by using him to make the positive case for European integration. He quotes Austrian author Robert Menasse as making a moral case for European integration based of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. 

We think this is a rather strange and unfair line of attack - one that spoils an otherwise good argument. Unlike the AfD, the  Far Left in Germany is split on whether or not to support European integration. We think Altenbockum is quite wrong in associating the Left alone with Menasse's argument. We recall that Adenauer and Kohl and other Christian Democrats made the case for European integration very much on the same lines. After WW II, German Social Democrats were initially more reluctant pro-Europeans than the Christian Democrats, and as Martin Schulz' election campaign in 2017 showed , Europe still has a certain alien quality to some sections of the SPD. The case for integrating Europe to avert war and dictatorship is not a left-wing argument. 

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