Monday 23 September 2019

Editorial: 'In times of division, we must remember mistakes of past'

Michel Barnier could hardly have chosen a better moment to issue a passionate appeal to Europe’s centre-right politicians to stand up to populism. Photo: Michael Sohn/AP Photo
Michel Barnier could hardly have chosen a better moment to issue a passionate appeal to Europe’s centre-right politicians to stand up to populism. Photo: Michael Sohn/AP Photo
Editorial

Editorial

The Abbé de Saint-Pierre was credited with coming up with the first international peace plan - an association of all the states of Europe to maintain perpetual peace among themselves. He discussed it in a letter to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who sagely asked: "Is this association practicable, and supposing that it were established, would it be likely to last?"

The question still resonates poignantly. Perhaps more so this weekend, as the centenary of the 'Great War' is marked.

Michel Barnier could hardly have chosen a better moment to issue a passionate appeal to Europe's centre-right politicians to stand up to populism.

At a time of increasing polarisation, identity politics and division, the EU's chief negotiator warned: "We will have to fight against those who want to demolish Europe with their fear, their populist deceit." He also reminded us: "The European project is fragile, it is under threat, it is perishable. And at the same time, it is vital," he added.

Time does not insulate us from the terrible errors of the past. How easy it is to lose sight of the millions of lives lost before Europe finally pulled together and said 'enough'.

It was the searing pain of sacrifice from which the links that hold Europe together were forged. Therefore every effort must be made to guarantee they are not pulled apart.

The feminist writer and nurse Vera Brittain wrote: "I wish those people who talk about going on with this war whatever it costs could see the soldiers suffering from mustard-gas poisoning. Great mustard-coloured blisters, blind eyes, all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke." So this weekend, of all weekends, we should remember how Europe was scarred by so many self-inflicted wounds.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaking in Helsinki at the meeting to elect the candidate from the European People's Party (EPP) for the commission presidency, said it was the EPP that had "won the battle of ideas in the 20th century" against fascism and communism. He also noted it was up to this generation to ensure memories of the tragedies of World War I were not allowed to fade.

"I believe we need more Europe, not less," he said. As it turned out, the Bavarian Manfred Weber was selected as the candidate to run in the race for the party to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker next year.

Mr Weber has modelled himself on Angela Merkel, and would be regarded as a safe pair of hands to defend liberal democracy, and the rule of law. Given the disruptive and volatile political climate, safe hands will be at a premium in the near future.

Irish Independent

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