by George Jonas, National Post, February 5, 2003

The Russians have long suspected it. They've always viewed the European Union as a disguise for a re-emerging Germany, ready to assert itself again as a world power. Leonyd Slutskiy, deputy head of Russia's international affairs committee, writing in the influential Nezavisimaya Gazeta two years ago, described the "spectre" of a coming U.S.-German conflict for world domination being already "visible on the ruins of the Berlin Wall." Mr. Slutskiy posited that Americans haven't yet recognized this "hidden but unavoidable" conflict between the U.S. and the emerging Europe.

Fewer people foresaw that the "emerging Europe" might be a proxy not only for Germany, but also for France, along with the "Middle Kingdom" of Belgium and The Netherlands, comprising the ancient Frankish empire of Charles the Great. What is currently blowing in the wind in Brussels, and also in the United Nations, is nothing less than an attempt to resurrect the Carolingian "First Reich" of the 9th and 10th centuries. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and France's Jacques Chirac seek to revive Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire as a counterbalance to the "unilateral" power of the United States.

In modern times we've been accustomed to view France and Germany as not only two highly distinct, but usually hostile nations. This perception masks the historic origins of the two tribes. The French and the Germans share both Teutonic and Gallo-Roman roots. At one time, after the Frankish conquest of Gaul, they were essentially the same people. Later they shared a great ruler in Charlemagne. This was at the height of the Holy Roman Empire -- in many ways the precursor of the European Union. For France and Germany, coming together in a political union, far from being unprecedented, would be a repetition of their earlier history.

One might say that the French and the Germans, finding themselves unable to build an empire, decided to excavate one. Charlemagne, legendary ruler of the First Reich, has been a hero in both Germany's and France's national mythology. Descended from the Frankish warrior-kings of Pippin the Second and Charles (The Hammer) Martel, "Karl der Gross" was of Teutonic stock but heir to the spirit and culture of a Gaul conquered by his Frankish ancestors. His empire, extending over present-day France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, as well as much of Germany, Austria, northern Spain and Italy, secured pre-eminence for Roman Christianity. Charlemagne's Carolingian dynasty, which lasted for 159 years, from 752 to 911, was on the whole a civilizing influence in post-barbaric Europe -- at least arguably and for a period of time.

It would hardly be a civilizing influence today, though, set up in opposition to the great Atlantic democracies of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Recently Germany and France moved to dominate the EU by the creation of a Franco-German bloc of 140-million people. They announced a plan for joint Franco-German citizenship, "with hints," as John O'Sullivan put it in a recent column, "that a full Franco-German federal union might follow." They also contrived to replace the rotating presidency of the European Council with a long-term president, eliminating the influence of smaller European countries by a Franco-German potentate in a permanent position of power.

None of this came entirely as a surprise. What The New York Times columnist William Saffire described last month as "the stunning power play in Brussels" was only the culmination of a trend noted by observers earlier.

"Many of the European Project's supporters today look to the Europe united under Charlemagne for precedent and inspiration," wrote Lee A. Casey and David B. Rivkin Jr. in a 2001 issue of Policy Review. "Indeed, every year a 'Karls Preis' or 'Charlemagne Prize' is awarded to an individual to recognize the 'most meritorious contribution serving European unification and the European community, serving humanity and world peace.' " It was ironic that the 1999 winner of the Karls Preis was British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the very leader whose nation and influence the emerging proto-Carolingians were trying to diminish, along with the influence of the Atlantic community.

In his A History of Europe, H.A.L. Fisher described the descendants of King Clovis the Frank as being "for the most part either cruel and treacherous barbarians or enfeebled debauchees." The Oxford historian was talking about Clovis's immediate 6th and 7th century descendants, of course. Still, his description would often fit the Merovingian king's distant descendants as well, both on the German and the French side of the Frankish family. Whether as officials in Vichy, paratroopers in Algeria, or "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" of current persiflage, the French of the past 60 years have been no strangers to treachery, cruelty, or enfeeblement. As for the Germans, their history in the 20th century speaks for itself. Reuniting the two branches of the Frankish family under the aegis of Brussels, with the EU serving as the Middle Kingdom in this modern version of the Carolingian realm, might treat the world to remarkable spectacles of cynical, sybaritic, and perfidious empire.

This view might outrage many Europeans who like to think of their political culture not as callous, disloyal, and hedonistic, but as realistic, sophisticated, and civilized. In recent years the EU's stock-in-trade has been to contrast itself favourably with the cowboy ways and Manechian attitudes of America. It was, therefore, an interesting and revealing development last week when seven continental European countries, along with the United Kingdom, declared themselves for the U.S.

"Today more than ever, the transatlantic bond is a guarantee of our freedom," read a declaration signed by Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, and the Czech Republic. "We in Europe have a relationship with the United States which has stood the test of time." The seven expressed hope that "the Security Council will face up to its responsibilities" and ensure compliance with its own Resolution 1441 concerning Iraq, as America has been urging the UN to do over the objections of France and Germany.

These dissenting Europeans have learned some bitter lessons. They're anxious not to find themselves on the wrong side of history again. Whatever reservations they may have about Anglo-American unilateralism, it's small beer compared to their apprehensions about Franco-Teutonic hegemony. Much as they might prefer Charlemagne to Hitler, their memories of the Third Reich are too keen to greet with any enthusiasm a revival of the First.