This is an insidious and an invidious book. John Laughland is not without a certain dangerous erudition, but the depths that his pseudoscholarship plumbs are well illustrated by the following phrase: "The danger of hostile conditions was aggravated by a feature of the Germans which they themselves have sometimes admitted: nobody likes them." Indeed, at one level this book is simply a malodorous and offensive anti-German diatribe. Hans-Dietrich Genscher is juxtaposed with Joseph Goebbels. Helmut Kohl is allowed only the basest of nationalistic reasoning and has exactly and only the same foreign policy preoccupations as Otto von Bismarck. The Iron Chancellor's customs union, the Zollverein, served as the model for the Treaty of Rome, and both, we are told, were aimed at creating Prussian hegemony. The Reich was the model for European integration and so, "even after the war, the Germans resumed their old habit of believing their own interests and needs to be identical to those of Europe".
There is a fascinating work to be written about the historical precedents set for the current European integration process, but this is not it. To take one example, in the mid-1980s, as the Delors committee's work on Economic and Monetary Union progressed, the European Commission invited economic historians to examine and analyse previous experiences of currency unions, from the Belgo-Luxembourg currency union to Napoleonic Europe and the Cisalpine Republic (after all, the Bolognese still call their lire franchi). But where Delors and his colleagues studied the broad sweep of historical experience in a genuine spirit of inquiry, Laughland is unable to raise his vision beyond a superficial and sensationalist analysis of the Reichmark and the Nazi economists' plans, following the subjugation of continental Europe, to achieve a Europe-wide currency union. Tawdry innuendo is a leitmotif of this book.
Laughland's anti-Germanism and his determination to twist all facts to his theory seem combined with more than a hint of philistinism. One small phrase struck me as being particularly revealing. Laughland describes how the Swiss philosopher, Dennis de Rougemont, had his deepest conversion to Europeanism while watching international express trains crossing Europe. "I could read on the long brown carriages 'Amsterdam, Basel, Milan, Zagreb, Bucharest'. For the first time, I felt Europe." Laughland describes this as being strange (the phrase he uses is "strangely enough"), but what is strange about this? Who would not feel a similar sense of romance and common identity? Generations of European students travelling with their Inter-Rail cards could attest to the thrill of catching a train in Paris bound for Prague, or in Venice and bound for Istanbul, or in Rome and bound for Warsaw, Moscow and Kiev. What is strange is that Laughland (who, according to the dust-jacket blurb, studied at Oxford and Munich and taught in Paris and Bucharest) should cite the episode at all.
Everything is grist to his conspiracy-theory mill. A brief, partisan analysis of personalism (by coincidence, naturally, a powerful influence on Delors) enables Laughland to conclude, with monstrous over-simplification, that there are "direct links between Nazi, Vichyite and fascist thought and the ideology of European integration of our own day". He records, with guileful innocence, how the Nazis' planning for a new European economic and political order resulted in an institutional vocabulary similar to that of today's European Union. Throughout the text, the Nazis' use of the term "European integration" is used synonymously with our own use of the term today, doubtless forgetting that, in Nazi propaganda, "integration" was a euphemism for "domination" or "subjugation". Europe's concern with the need to complete trans-European transport networks reminds Laughland of Hitler's plans for high-speed rail networks throughout the Third Reich.
Imaginative writers from Len Deighton through to Robert Harris have tried to picture what a Nazi-dominated Europe might have looked like. With the possible exception of those high-speed rail links, such dystopian visions have borne little resemblance to today's European Union, and for a simple reason; the union is based on consensus, and not coercion. Fanatical ideologues of the nation state (such as Laughland) may rant and rave about the erosion of state sovereignty. But the fact remains that everything that has been achieved by the European Union so far has been done by autonomous nation states acting unanimously together and, one might add, after ratification according to their various constitutional requirements. It is one of Brussels' open secrets that, even where qualified majority voting applies to legislative procedures, most decisions are taken consensually and without a vote. If, as most would believe, states are rational actors seeking to maximise their interests, then it must be concluded that, by and large, Europe's states have always seen the integration process as being in those interests. Indeed, historians from Stanley Hoffman through to Alan Milward have argued that the integration process consolidated the role of the European nation state.
Laughland is blind to such logic, while his own takes him down some strange avenues. For instance, having debunked the EMU process as the product of the Prussian search for hegemony (or was that the Nazi search for dominance?) he argues that "sound money", which is "one of the principles of the free society", can only be achieved through the creation of a parallel European currency based on a new gold standard or through the abolition of the fiat status of all national European currencies (so as to restore "true competition"). "It is seldom realised," he tells the now confused reader, "that the plan to integrate the states of Western Europe around a single currency ... is only part of an even larger plan." This, we learn, is the German desire for a lasting partnership with Russia which, in turn, "explains why Russia is so interested in pan-European institutions and in the process of pan-European integration generally. Such institutions tend to have an international and bureaucratic flavour that is not ungermane to Communist or neo-Communist aspirations for control over the European continent. They are, by definition, hostile to genuinely free nationhood, and their interests can therefore coincide with those of imperial powers like Russia."
Most conspiracy theorists would have stopped here, but not Laughland. His reductio ad absurdum methodology takes him to a deeper plot; to whit "'one-worldist ideology, of the kind to which international institutions are naturally disposed" and which has "a lot in common with communism", since they share "the same grandiose pretensions to universality". "Like most socialist thought," such thinking is "infused with the utopian belief in a 'new order' governed by an elite of administrators and planners". For good measure, Laughland tells us that "like all socialist thought, such 'new thinking' is predicated on a radical rejection of humanity as it is now, and indeed of liberty".
Right, John; let me see if I have got this straight. I am part of a Prussian, anti-balance of power, personalist, Nazi, antiliberal, anti-parliamentarian, postnational, socialist, communist, Russian imperialist, one-worldist plot. Did I leave anything out?
Martin Westlake is head of the unit for interinstitutional relations in the European Commission's Directorate-General forInformation and Communication, Brussels.
The Tainted Source: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea
Author - John Laughland
ISBN - 0 316 88296 8
Publisher - Little, Brown
Price - £18.99
Pages - 370