Brussels now flanked by mortal enemies on four sides
In the first half of the 20th century, the German armies foundered by fighting on two fronts at the same time. Brussels is now in a four front war that threatens the EU's very existence
Folklore, and a good deal of the historical evidence, has it that the bane of the German armies in the first half of the 20th century was the desperate, and ultimately insurmountable, problem of fighting their wars on two fronts at the same time.
The Brussels elite seems oblivious to the present, never mind the past. But even the myopic Eurocrats must be starting to panic at the emerging political geography of contemporary Europe.
They are beset by problems on four flanks.
To the north, Norway continues to flourish as a successful European country that won't even join the EU.
Its treaty arrangements mean it is probably fair to say it has a kind of half in half out status. Nonethless, it stands as the proverbial threat of a good example to the deep integrationists in Brussels, showing you can do very well thank you by rejecting membership, avoiding the euro, and managing most of your affairs on your own.
Sweden and Denmark are members, but they are awkward customers from Brussels' point of view, and have also rejected the euro -- a slap in the face for the vision of Europe pushed by the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and his fierce sidekick Martin Selmayr.
The northern flank is as good as it gets. Let's do this clockwise and move eastwards.
Poland and Hungary are in a cold war with Brussels that may be about to get hot. Like others in central and eastern Europe, they're at loggerheads with the EU over judicial independence and migration policy. Poland has been threatened with suspension from the EU decision making process if it doesn't back down, which it says it won't.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has just set the stage for another major showdown by raising the prospect of linking EU funding to toeing the line on such matters. That is being taken in the east as blackmail: do as you're told or face de facto economic sanctions. The situation isn't pretty to start with; it's going to get a good deal uglier if the tough language is ever translated into actions.
The south of the continent is still smouldering from the aftermath of the eurocrisis, if indeed "aftermath" is the right word. Greece is in ruins. And the forthcoming Italian elections promise another nasty headache, not least because the major political forces are unanimous in rejecting the fiscal discipline that Germany and others want to impose for the purposes of closer economic, and therefore political, integration.
Italy is not yet ready for Italexit, but Italians are watching Britain closely. If Brexit ends up being a success, Italy may be first in line for the contagion effect.
Which brings us to the western flank. Do not underestimate the existential threat to the entire EU project that Brexit represents. For the European public, Britain is the most prominent and closely watched country in the world after the United States.
Vast numbers of Europeans have either worked in Britain, work there now, or have relatives and friends in one or other of those categories. British TV shows flood the European consciousness. Ask a Pole or a Swede or a Spaniard about the latest goings on with the Royal Family and they'll probably be as informed as a Sun reader from Bradford.
It isn't just Europe's political classes that watch what's happening in Britain. Everyone on the continent, literally everyone, has heard of Brexit.
We still don't know the precise contours of the deal that will be struck, or whether there will be a deal at all.
But 5-10 years from now, (read tomorrow for anyone with a sense of perspective) if Britain has even done moderately well after leaving the European Union, if, say, its economic growth and unemployment rates turn out to have been pretty much in line with the average in Europe, expect copycat referendums on leaving the EU all over the continent.
Brussels is no pushover. And you'd fancy their chances against a recalcitrant country here, a policy disagreement there, or a populist challenge somewhere else.
But when it's all closing in, when the enemy armies are coming at you from all sides, all at the same time, even the cooler heads must start to wonder whether the centre can ultimately hold.
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