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Ancient and modern

The European Empire

23 March 2013

9:00 AM

23 March 2013

9:00 AM

The EU’s decision to ignore its own rules and steal money directly from the pockets of the citizens of Cyprus is an important development in the history of an institution that long ago gave up any pretence of being a ‘Union’. It may as well rename itself the European Empire and be done with it.

The impetus behind the EU was the prevention of war. So with the Athenian empire. After the Persian Wars (490-479 BC), the Greek city-states decided to form a defensive alliance to end for ever any renewed threat from that part of the world. Each Greek state therefore agreed to donate ships or cash to provide a fleet that would keep the Persians out of the Aegean.


Nor was there much argument over who its leader should be: Athens, whose unmatched fleet had thrashed the Persians at Salamis. And so the ‘Delian League’, founded after a meeting on Delos, came into being. But in 454 BC the League’s treasury was moved to the Acropolis in Athens, and one-sixtieth of its cash ‘dedicated to Athene’, i.e. taken by Athens. Very soon Athens was using force to prevent states leaving the alliance, impose garrisons and install Athens-friendly regimes.

Sparta dismantled this empire in 404 BC, but Athens gave it a second shot in 378 BC, promising that allies would ‘remain free and independent, governed under whatever constitution they choose, without receiving a garrison, or submitting to a governor, or paying tribute’ and so on. But in five years, Athens was at it again, levying tribute, establishing garrisons and interfering in local issues. Empires never give up, until they are forced to.

The similarities with the EU are striking. The EEC seemed such a good idea at the time. But then came the Maastricht moment, with its inevitable results. No state is allowed to leave the Empire; its apparatchiks are forcibly installed on the recalcitrant; there is no appeal against its local interference. And now it starts openly robbing citizens. But that’s OK. It’s only a one-off. Of course it is. We can trust the Empire. It’s just stopping wars, isn’t it?


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