23/05/2013 08:00 BST | Updated 19/07/2013 06:12 BST

Europe's Fables: The Legend of European Integration


It is becoming increasingly likely that we in Britain are going to be faced with an in-out referendum on our membership of the European Union in the next couple of years.

The effects of the blinding dawn of this realisation on certain slightly dim political elements in the country has, like an alleycat let slip from a dustbin, caused a lot of high-pitched caterwauling which threatens to shatter our fragile perceptions and memories of how and why we actually got to the stage of European integration on which we are now rather precariously perched.

In order to help reframe and hopefully reenforce our understanding of Europe, I have decided to tell its story in the form of a fable. This is a true story although its truth is not necessarily contained in the individual events described.


A crippled, mummified, one-armed Germany sits forlornly in a hospital bed at the side of which stands France.

France casts his mind back to the last time he left Germany in this state and decides that his tactic of getting drunk with Britain, breaking into the hospital room and rifling through Germany's pockets for every worthless Deutschmark left therein may have at least partially provoked their most recent altercation.

This latest skirmish had left France in a coma for a month before a ragged, limping Britain and that burly colossus America stepped in to give the already exhausted Germany a quite remorseless hiding.

But now America has gone home and only ever stops by the neighbourhood to pat Britain on the head and feed her soup as she licks her wounds reclusively, and France feels a sense of unease at being left alone with Germany.

He decides that it is time to bury the hatchet, a decision facilitated by the panicky dread he experiences whenever he looks across the road and sees a sneering, moustachioed Russia waving Germany's severed arm back at him threateningly.

Germany sees it too and knows it would not survive another scuffle in its current miserly condition.

France seizes on this and suggests a way in which they can help each other out. France and Germany's ancestors were both heavily involved in building the apartment block in which they both still live. Though France has an extensive if ill-gotten property portfolio and Germany claimed squatter's rights in a couple of other flats in the building during their last feud, neither has the means to move elsewhere in the current frosty climate and both therefore need to make the most of their rather dilapidated living quarters.

Knowing this, France offers to share his coal with Germany on the condition that they can build fires in Germany's magnificent grate - which will comfortably heat the entire floor of the apartment block.

This effectively means that in order for either of them to stay warm throughout the cold winter, they must be civil with one another; without the grate France cannot burn coal without incinerating the entire building; whereas without the coal, Germany has no means of making a fire. Since neither of them wants to freeze to death, the chances of them breaking out into another slugging match should be less than remote.

The system works well for the first couple of weeks of Germany's convalescence, but the temperature drops further and hailstones the size of tennis balls rattle the windows, so France suggests that they turn on the central heating, that the two of them split their heating bills and, to make it less awkward, invites the others on their floor; Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy, to do the same.

A little voice in the back of France's head wonders if it might not be wiser just for the whole building to split the bill, but that snooty hermit Britain on the top floor would insist that her heating is a private matter, while the bottom floors are unable to afford central heating due in a large part to the protection payments they have to pay to prevent Russia from putting a brick through their windows....