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Spain’s Catalonian crisis is a microcosm of the general European crisis. Almost every country in the EU is now embroiled in struggles over identity, authority and sovereignty. Border anxiety grips the Continent; the establishment lacks respect, while the populists who denounce it lack respectability. Respect and respectability are different things, but both are important to the stability of a nation state. The truth is dawning on Europeans that they can have a continental union with ultimate sovereignty over its members — that is, a United States (or more likely Federal Republic) of Europe — or they can have a Europe des patries, a confederation of fully sovereign nation states, but they cannot have both. They must choose, just as Britain chose. Soon, they will be presented with fully worked-out proposals from the Commission for much more extensive integration than anything seen before. The mainstream parties may decide to go along with these proposals, as they have usually done before, but in doing so they will forfeit the respect of those who still value their independence. The populist movements will resist, but thereby confirm their lack of respectability in the eyes of the establishment. Once, however, the populists take power in one European country after another, they will seek to transform the respect their defiance has gained them among the people into the respectability they lack.

In The Remains of the Day, the novel that probably won Kazuo Ishiguro the Nobel Prize for Literature, the narrator is Mr Stevens, a “gentleman’s gentleman” and sometime butler to the late Lord Darlington. Looking back to the 1930s, he recalls a certain young man, John Cardinal, warning him against his former master’s role as a mediator between Nazi Germany and Britain, “the single most useful pawn Herr Hitler has had in this country for his propaganda tricks”. The butler bridles at the suggestion that his master is a bungling amateur, hopelessly out of his depth: “I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot see that his lordship is doing anything other than that which is highest and noblest. He is doing what he can, after all, to ensure that peace will continue to prevail in Europe.” When The Remains of the Day was published in 1989, readers would have enjoyed its irony, realising that the pursuit of peace at any price would end badly. Yet Robert Harris has just published another novel, Munich, in which Neville Chamberlain emerges as the hero. Appeasement is again the order of the day in Europe. From Moscow to Tehran, from Beijing to Damascus, autocrats crave appeasement. They have allies among populists and elites, nationalists and federalists. Peace is the imperative, with or more likely without honour.

Once again, the victims are the Jews. The anti-Semites too seek respectability and they are achieving it by hook or by crook. The decline of national sovereignty in Europe has allowed Israel, the only Jewish nation state, to be portrayed as a threat to peace. Europe as such is doing little or nothing to resist the return of anti-Semitism, but its member states are little better and in some cases worse. Fear of Islam, at home and abroad, plays a large part in the betrayal of Israel and the Diaspora. But so too does the loss of any confidence in Western civilisation and the values on which it is based. Israel is the front line of that civilisation, but Europeans are no longer willing to die for the sake of ideas in which they no longer believe. Hence, for the fifth time in a century — after two world wars, the Cold War and the War on Terror — Europe must turn to the United States for leadership on the question of national sovereignty. It is anathema to Europeans — and indeed many Americans — to look for any kind of leadership from the Trump administration. Indeed, when a senior Republican senator can openly refer to the White House as “an adult day care centre” and accuse the President of setting the nation “on the path to World War III”, it is clear that the prestige of this presidency has been severely undermined. Yet there is only one leader in the world today who is setting out the case for national sovereignty: Donald Trump.

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