Sometimes in polite company it is better to pretend that you are historically illiterate.
The evening often goes better if you do.
A couple of years ago I forgot this important lesson and spoiled a perfectly pleasant dinner.
It was,dear reader, all my fault.
In January 2009 I was invited by an Irish MEP to speak at a health conference on suicide prevention.
The politician had heard me on national radio speaking about my book on the subject of male suicide in Ireland.
I was happy to attend the conference which was held in Charleville County Cork.
At dinner that night the MEP’s staff were all ardent young Eurocrats. I was the only person around the table that didn’t take a paycheque out of the Strasbourg polity.
At that point the banking crisis was upon us from the previous autumn.
Lehman brothers had collapsed and the Fianna Fail/Green coalition government in the Republic of Ireland had implemented the now notorious bank guarantee scheme.
I merely mentioned over coffee that the banking crisis could have implications for the currency itself down the road.
I pointed out that in “dealing” with the banking crisis we were merely building up a fiscal crisis in the future.
Moreover if the Euro did run into trouble then the entire political project could be derailed.
This notion was scoffed at by my young Eurocrats.
I said that monetary union if it failed would almost certainly scupper the European political project.
The ambience was turning cold as just before I raised this spectre the animated discussion was on the accession of Moldova, all of the former Yugoslavia and, yes dear reader, Turkey into the EU.
When I pointed out that, as far as memory served me, with Turkey in the nascent EU super state would share land borders with Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria I was soothed by “it’s a very secure border.”
The response had a “there there” quality to it.
I clearly didn’t understand these matters and I really shouldn’t have been thinking about them at all.
At that point there wasn’t anything really to add to the conversation as I realised that I had stepped into an alternative reality, the Strasbourg dimension.
Then one of the young Eurocrats, perhaps out of pity, decided to educate me on the history of monetary and political union in continental Europe.
“Phil haven’t you heard of the Zollverein?”
“Haven’t you heard of the Hanseatic League?”
Unfortunately she had heard of this failed customs union from the trading ports of the Baltic and stretching to Kings Lynn on the east coast of England during the Middle Ages to the early modern period.
I was just the nice guy who had written a book on suicide prevention and I was there to speak at the Health Conference the next day. Bringing up a historically valid example of why their entire project might be doomed was not supposed to be on the menu.
The temperature was now ice cold. They had been dining with, hushed tones, a Eurosceptic!
Actually there was much to commend the European Project if it had been democratic in its DNA.
However the EU has always been a top down project.
The pesky Irish with our written constitution had to be, awful thought, consulted and asked for our ratification on the next stage of the US of E.
When we didn’t give the correct answer we would be asked again.
There is now a fork in the road for the Eurozone.
One direction goes to full political union.
This will be, for us in Ireland, Lisbon 2 on steroids.
The other direction has the unravelling of the entire EU political project.
In Ireland we are now an EU/ECB/IMF protectorate.
Our Taoiseach has about as much power as our President.
If this republic truly was a republic and not a protectorate from lá amháin then we would be outa here!
The Hansa finally collapsed because of the growth of nation states within the league’s area.
The Swedes and the Danes wanted to control their own destiny.
By the end of the 16th century the League imploded because of internal struggles.
Here in Ireland we seem to be unable to grasp the fact that we don’t need to be in anyone’s union or confederation.
Iceland, suffering from the same banking insanity took a hit, punished the guilty, devalued their currency and is now seeing economic growth after two painful years.
We are not Icelanders nor are we Greeks.
The latter have taken to the streets as they have seen their society ripped to pieces by a punitive austerity programme. The Greeks have been beggared and the human cost of this EU/IMF expropriation has been appalling.
Since I spoke at Charleville the suicide rate in Greece has risen to unprecedented levels.
In Ireland there has been no decisive political and fiscal action by our leaders nor has there been a spontaneous outburst of genuine anger on the streets from the people.
We will, no doubt, continue to be docile and accept our indentured servitude to the anonymous bondholders who now own our children’s future.
Like the Greeks our own suicide figures have never been higher.
As the centenary of Easter Week approaches in 2016 we are a province once again.