Ancient and modern

Brussels will treat Britain as Macedonia treated Sparta

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

The EU is a federation of states (Latin foedus, ‘treaty’, from the same root as fides, ‘trust, good faith’). But for how long can such a federation endure a recalcitrant member? At some stage the crunch will come, as it came for Sparta.

In 338 bc Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, completed his conquest of the Greek city-states (poleis) and formed them — for the first time ever — into a political federation. All poleis sent representatives to the Council meetings, but executive power was invested in Philip, and when he was assassinated in 336 bc, in Alexander, it was Macedon that called the shots, and that was the end of it. Its purpose was to keep the poleis weak, and foreshadowed the end of that autonomy which had been such a spur to the classical Greek achievement.


Enraged that Philip had deprived it of its border territories, Sparta refused to join this League. But Philip did nothing, calculating that Sparta could be safely left to stew in its own juice. In 331 bc, however, with Alexander rampaging across Persia, and local Macedonian reserves depleted, Sparta declared for ‘liberty’ and started reclaiming its lost territories. But not for long: in 330 bc the Macedonian general Antipater added League members and mercenaries to his army, and smashed the Spartans at Megalopolis. There was no more trouble from them. The Greeks clearly preferred life under Macedon to that under Sparta.

And EU members clearly prefer life under Juncker to interference from Britain. Wisely. For Britain, having refused the euro, is (like Sparta) a de facto outsider. So those trapped in the euro are not about to risk the wrath of the Junckers by supporting it. Further, the EU (like Macedon) holds all the cards, and at some time will play them: join the euro and you are in; refuse and you are out.

This is why Juncker, a key player in the invention of the euro, has been appointed President of the Commission — to prepare for the end-game.

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Show comments
  • disqus_IEXBZMbQzd

    I wish that someone would look slightly less far back to get a more accurate glimpse of the future. The Zollverein is how Prussia united and dominated the German States. Berlin is following exactly the same model for the EU and always has been.

    • global city

      It is the function of the Customs union, to force political merging under the all encompassing cloak and achieve exactly what you describe

      We are fools for remaining inside something based on a customs union.

  • Frank

    Daft article, countries only stay in the EU because it appears to hold the promise of future benefits. If Britain leaves, it will send shock-waves through the rest of the EU (very few people in Britain realise how much intellectual impact our actions have in western Europe). It is perfectly easy to see Italy, or Spain sailing out of the euro any day soon. As for France, it knows perfectly well that the EU game is up, but it is not going to leave the party until somebody else turns the lights off

  • suzy61

    So, the end game comes and we leave. Who, I wonder will pick up the tab for the GB contribution? When, as a result of our leaving, those countries who are now (and have been for far too long) net beneficiaries become net contributors I think the mood will change. We, of course, have been contributors in all but one year of our long, reluctant membership.

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