But that is why it is so exciting! It's all there, just as it was! You can look down the gentle slope of Mont St Jean
to see the Middle Guard advancing to their destruction, to La Haye Saint to see the Union flag torn down and then replaced;
you can walk along the track to where Ney led the cavalry to charge three times onto the allied bayonet squares; wander
along to Hougoumont farm to see the Scots and Coldstream Guards hold the burning building to the last; and finally
gaze over to La Belle Alliance where Napoleon stood and watched his final throw of fate expire against him. It's all there,
just as it was.
Eye of the Storm
Brussels is at the heart of the new Europe. I have mixed feelings about the new Europe. For a long time
the European Union existed to maintain peace and build trust among the ancient enemies of Europe by building unbreakable
economic ties, a laudable goal.
That is to say, the Luxemburgers set the European Union up to prove they exist, the French joined to dump
all their seediest wines on Germans,
the English joined to spite the French, the Germans hoped to meet foreign exchange students and instead found all
their girlfriends dancing with mambo hipped latinos, the Italians joined to be mambo hipped latinos,
to Spanish to wander around in a confused huddle, the Dutch to learn to ski, and the Irish to build grandiose road
schemes from somewhere you wish you hadn't been, to
somewhere you'd rather not go, all at someone else's expense, and all named after obscure little grafters from Ballydemuck.
In other words, a charming pile of graft and bickery, the usual result of good intentions.
For a time as the union busied itself with normalising economic matters across Europe.
The Italians were puzzled by English chocolate, the French threatened by German sausage, the Spanish overwhelmed
by the American banana, and the Irish hoped someone else would cook.
The Commission, the workhorse of Europe, would issue decrees: English chocolate was to be renamed brown vegetable matter;
bananas would be used instead of sausage where practicable; the Irish should live with their mothers.
The Italians remained confused.
But in recent times, the Union has strayed from economic concerns and into the realm of social issues and
national politics. That was inevitable. When you store masses of professional administrators in one small Belgian city,
men and women who by their very nature like to manage other people, who like to believe they know better than others how everyone should live,
not suprising that they should have become bored with the price of peanuts and started to delve into wider issues, to seek
more power, more political integration. With themselves at the centre.
Brussels is the new Rome. It is the home of the power centre of the union, the Commission, an intricate bureaucratic
machine that rivalling any imperial machine, and housed in a vast new imperium: gigantic, mirror glassed
palaces, splendid forums, and a bureaucracy stamped with its own new importance and power. For they have the money. The multinational
euro is a wonderful thing, allowing travel across borders without the fiddly change, but look at history: where the money
goes, the politics follows. Britain gained the second empire during the Seven Years war, not with armies but with money. It
had the best banking system in the world, everything else followed.
This year, the union voted to grow again, conquering new territory in the east like Trajan sweeping across the Danube, not with
Roman legions this time, but offers of cheap mambo lessons, execrable wine and standard length bananas.
It seems to be working. The Poles, Czechs and Hungarians can't wait to join, and you wonder why this method of expansion has never
been tried before.
Imagine how history might have gone if earlier conquerors, the Ottoman Empire for example, had come not with Janissary
armies, but with an offer: listen lads, you can have a Bertie Ahern superhighway, and all the brown vegetable matter you can eat!
And the best bit is, you retain full self government! (Except that we tell you what to do.)
And they've gone for it. Ireland, had to ratify the treaty, and did so even at the cost of its own further
political dilution. Which makes the position of Sinn Fein and the Northern irish Republicans interesting, as they are now
struggling to leave a small beleagured island nation and join a huge multinational empire.
At least its got decent beer.