Dominic Sandbrook
March 15, 2013

In Britain, a dithering Prime Minister is buffeted by crisis after crisis. Abroad, from the heart of Europe to the fringes of Asia, economic powers are rising. And there is talk of a new German empire, bigger and more powerful than ever.It sounds like something ripped from today’s newspapers. But this was the state of the planet in 1913, 100 years ago.At first glance, the Britain of 1913 appears impossibly different from the Britain of today. Our imperial dominion stretched across the globe, while our bankers and manufacturers were widely regarded as the best in the world.And in a society rigidly divided by class, the Tories were in the wilderness, Labour was merely a minority third party and the Liberals – led by Herbert Asquith – were entering their eighth successive year of government.


Beneath the surface, however, the problems that confronted our forebears back then were uncannily similar to those facing us today, particularly in the changing balance of power in Europe. This week, the faultlines that run ever deeper across the Continent were the subject of an extraordinary speech by a long-time president of the European Council, who insisted there are indeed chilling parallels between 2013 and the eve of World War I a century ago.Jean Claude Juncker said that resentment against Germany is running high because its imposition of austerity – in a bid to shore up the euro – has exposed long-running tensions between nations.

‘The demons haven’t been banished; they are merely sleeping,’ he warned, adding that ‘anyone who believes the eternal issue of war and peace in Europe has been permanently laid to rest could be making a monumental error’. Perhaps a decade ago he would have been dismissed as a scaremonger. But today, the political mood is shifting across Europe more dramatically than for many years. As the legendary American investor George Soros said last year, if the German Chancellor Angela Merkel continued in her economic demands on the rest of Europe, ‘the result will be a Europe in which Germany is seen as an imperial power that will not be loved or admired by the rest, but hated and resisted, because it will be perceived as an oppressive power.’The Left-leaning magazine the New Statesman simply labelled Merkel ‘the most dangerous German leader since Hitler’. The language may seem inflammatory, but ever more citizens in the Mediterranean countries of the eurozone in particular argue that for the third time in less than 100 years Germany is trying to take control of Europe.Of course, the Germans would say they’re simply trying to maintain economic stability in nations which for years spent far beyond their means.

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