UKIP won the highest share of the votes in the European elections this week. Anti-Europe parties did well in other countries.
I am not interested in the interminable debates about how much we pay to "Europe" and how much we get back and how "they" interfere in our laws and so on. I have one overriding concern - I do not wish to die in, nor see my country become embroiled in, another major European war.
The entire political history of our continent since the fall of the Roman Empire has been about the feuds, the power-struggles and the vicious combats between nation states. British history for the past 500 years has been driven by confrontation with European superpowers - the Hapsburg empire, Spain, France, Russia and Germany. The principal dynamic of European history in the past 250 years has been the fight between France and Germany, expressed in the Seven Years War, the Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-Prussian War and of course in the First and Second World Wars. It is possible to trace the origins of this fatal division in the European family to the defeat of the Roman legions in the Teutoberg Forest 2000 years ago, when the border of the empire became fixed on the Rhine.
Since 1945 the creation of institutions binding France and Germany, built on the foundations of a rejection of extreme nationalism and a hatred of war, have changed this immense sweep of historical deadweight. No observer in, say 1913, could have dreamt that these countries would work together with open frontiers and a degree of federalism. Britain, enemy of France for over 700 years, is entirely free of the fear of invasion from the countries that we used to watch, fearfully.
How ironic that the leader of UKIP is married to a German. One hundred years ago that would have been enough to see him denounced as a traitor. Today it is a splendid example of how far we have come.
The EU needs a good kicking to cut its bureacracy and fraud, its ponderous decision-making processes and its remoteness from the people. But the ideas behind it and the achievement in reversing centuries of hostility and violence in favour of debate and voting are far too precious to be jeopardised by a knee-jerk dislike of anything non-British. If UKIP ran on a platform of reforming the EU I might be tempted to support it. Its clumsy attempt to bring us back to the era of competing nation-states is appalling, suggesting an ignorance of history and a lack of courage. The attempt to build a peaceful, all-inclusive version of the Roman Empire is a project that must be encouraged. In this anniversary year of the outbreak of the First World War, which despite its name was simply another in the long line of intra-European squabbles about borders, influence and status, the memory of how it came about should be all the reminder we need to support European union and reject petty nationalism.