Opinion: 200 years on from Waterloo: democracy not dictators, unity not barriers, peace not war.

WaterlooThis week’s 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is a reminder of how far Europe has come.

At Waterloo, 65,000 men were killed or wounded in one day.  In contrast, we have now had 70 years without war in Europe.  Long may peace continue.

We enjoy secure peace partly because every country in Europe now has an elected government. There are no more monarchs or dictators seeking out war for vanity or power. Most importantly, we have the European Parliament where modern opportunities and problems, which cross old national borders, can be discussed by MEPs we elect rather than fought over by armies.

The EU is imperfect and so is the UK.  Both need to be more transparent, democratic and accountable to citizens.  Both could pursue more liberal policies for the economy, justice, the environment, equality and quality of life.

But I would rather have both and strive to make them better than return to division, barriers between people and the greater risk of conflict.


* Antony Hook was a Liberal Democrat MEP for South East England (2019) and has practised as a barrister since 2003. He is currently Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Kent County Council.

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  • Eddie Sammon 19th Jun '15 - 1:57pm

    This is good Anthony Hook. The Guardian, Express, Mail and Independent have been embarrassing during the commemorations and this is a much better take.

    Commemoration, not celebration. The right wing tabloids have been celebrating whilst Martin Kettle in the Guardian said it would have been good if Napoleon invaded UK. Referendum on the monarchy? Forget about that, a military invasion is much more democratic, according to Martin Kettle. Thankfully Adam Boulton also called him out on it.

    The monarch’s of Europe were wrong to try to stop the French revolution, but Napoleon was also an aggressor. As far as I know.

  • Richard Underhill 19th Jun '15 - 2:29pm

    When Alan Beith asked “Are we still committed to the Congress of Vienna?” most of us did not know what he was talking about, except that it predated the creation of NATO by a lot, and, not having the internet immediately available on mobile ‘phones, did not do further reearch.

    Apparently the UK obtained the “nodal points” which led to the creation of the British Empire.

    This compares with the view of the late Indian prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi that the empire in India was a consequence of the American Revolution.

    Please discus.

  • The British Empire was aquired by accident: it was not until 1857 we had an imperial policy.

    We dot have peace because of elected governments , Hitler was elected. We have peace because of NATO and the collapse of communism. The Civil War in Jugoslavia occurred because Kohl supported Slovenia and Croatia leaving the country and Serbia was terrified about the safety of Serbs within the latter due to WW2. The EU allowed Kohl to support actions of Slovenia and Croatia which was bound to lead to conflict as both countries still had many people who supported fascist organisations.

    Many of the leaders of the EU want a United States of Europe which itself may cause conflict. Conflicts occur because humans are prepared to use violence to obtain what they want: institutions do not change peoples characters.

  • Whilst I agree with the thrust of the article, a lot of people died in the Balkans in the 90’s, I think they may disagree that Europe has gone 70 years without war.

  • George Potter 19th Jun '15 - 6:46pm

    I’d argue that we have peace because of economics binding together modern states in ways which make war too fiscally devastating to contemplate. The European project began as a way to bind together the economies of Europe to make war impossible – especially when it came to strategic military resources like steel and coal.

    And look at where it is today – neither France nor Germany could survive economic separation from the other.

    NATO has played a role, undoubtedly, but massive military alliances and pacts to preserve peace in Europe are nothing new and they have a terrible track record at preserving peace. NATO would likely be no different if European integration hadn’t removed any potential causes of war between European nations to the extent that it’s unthinkable.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 19th Jun '15 - 9:47pm

    Isn’t Ukraine a part of Europe any more?

  • John Tilley 20th Jun '15 - 7:22am

    I have some sympathy with Steve way’s point and could maybe mention Ireland and the Basque country where wars grumbled away for decades.

    However, Anthony Hook’s broad sweep is right when it comes to the EU. It has been a success probably beyond the wildest dreams of anyone in the 1940s. It has been so good that people take for granted all the successes. My parents and my grandparents served in European wars of 1939-45 and 1914-18. Unlike millions of their contemporaries the were lucky enough to survive.

    I do not agree with Antony Hook thatThe UK comes into the same category as the EU.. Indeed the UK is not even the same country as the one at the time of Waterloo or World War One – as we now have the success of The Republic of Ireland within the EU.

    If the UK withered way tomorrow, the nations and regions of these islands could do quite nicely thank you within a successful EU. The Westminster government in its crumbling palace by theThames is not exactly a shining example of a successful modern democracy. Whilst the EU has always looked to the future, the UK and its creaking anochronistic institutions has always been held back by the cobwebs of a feudal past.

    Inappropriate and ill-informed government sponsored “celebrations” of Waterloo and Magna Carta show much of what is wrong with the UK. How revealing that people like the Conservatives who bang on about ‘rolling back the state’ take every opportunity to roll out state expenditure and bread and circus celebrations for a twisted versions of the past, when it pleases them and fits their propaganda purposes.
    I bet there will not be many appearances of Cameron and the Queen at the 200th anniversary of Peterloo.

  • I worry that at some point the problems in Greece might lead to conflict in Europe.

  • John Tilley. Absolutely right on the mark. You can add Commonwealth Day and the VE celebrations to your list. NOTHING about Europe day or all our Allies at Waterloo and how few British soldiers there were. Waterloo was a victory against military dictatorships andfor the freedom of Nations.

    The EU is the best guarantee that the Nations of Eutope can each continue to enjoy their diverse cultures and traditions in peace and prosperity.

  • Michael Parsons 20th Jun '15 - 9:59pm

    The danger of war in Europe is serious now, and it comes about because US policy does not recognise the traditions of ‘spheres of influence’, nor the international court of justice. USA claims its ‘exceptionalism’ excuses it from normal restraint (so it is bombing other countries at will). and by marching NATO round the Russian frontier and sending men to Ukraine it is bringing us closer to nuclear war then even Kennedy in1962, because there is no choice but to respond.

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