Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Non of Verdun

The Battle of Verdun and the number of casualties

In the city of Verdun, 52,8 % voted Non in the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union.

Verdun isn't any city in France, and the result there isn't any result.

The battle for Verdun was one of the most horrible of the horrible battles on the Western Front during the First World War.

Even today, a visit to Verdun is a chilling reminder of the brutal reality of war. Large areas are still off-limits. Battered by artillery. Poisoned by gas. Filled with remnants of those thousands after thousands that were killed.

But Verdun is also a symbol of the reconciliation between France and Germany that is at the very core of the efforts at European integration and, eventually, the European Union.

It was here that French President Francois Mitterand stood hand in hand and in silence with German Chancellor Hemuth Kohl in one of the most significant symbolic scenes of the last half-century.

But now Verdun votes Non.

There are two ways of looking at this.

One is to see it as a true sign of the success of the European Union. Peace in Europe has been made so secure that it is taken for granted. The spectre of war has disappeared from Verdun - and we should remember that this was the purpose of the entire exercise. Success.

The other is to see it as a strong message on the need to develop and explain a new story on the necessity of European integration.

Obviously, the peace issue is seen as resolved in wide parts of Western Europe. Apart from appeling to people to understand that this isn't necessarily the case in other parts of Europe, what is there that can be side to support further efforts at Euopean interation?

Perhaps we should say that integration has brought not the least young people the possibility to travel freedly across borders and to study in other countries. We have got cheaper mobile phones and cheap low-cost airlines all over Europe. Borders are rapidly losing in importance.

The Non olf Verdun vividly shows that we need a new story of Europe in the age of globalisation in order to get and retain the support of the voters for all that we are trying to achieve.
Ambitious goals - but without ambitious goals we know that we are doomed for failure.