Monday, 5 January 2004

The History of an Idea

The idea of a united Europe stretches back thousands of years. The early enthusiasts were seldom as high-minded as their modern successors.

A FEW months ago, George Bush gave a lunch at the White House for Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission. Mr Prodi, keen to impress upon his host the grandeur of the European project, launched into a description of the enlargement of the European Union. By 2004, he pointed out, the EU would have 450m citizens and its territory would stretch from the Atlantic to the borders of Russia. “Sounds like the Roman empire, Romano,” remarked Mr Bush. Other lunchers guessed that the American president was being gently satirical. But Mr Bush, wittingly or not, had touched upon a serious point. The drive for “European unity”, which will proceed further next year when the EU’s membership expands to 25 countries, has deep historical origins. Indeed, they do stretch back to the dissolution of the Roman empire.

x- Continue in the Economist