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240 × 163 × 35 mm
384 pages
01 Mar 2019

The Europe Illusion Britain, France, Germany and the Long History of European Integration Stuart Sweeney

In The Europe Illusion, Stuart Sweeney considers Britain’s relationships with France and Prussia-Germany since the map of Europe was redrawn at Westphalia in 1648. A timely and far-sighted study, it argues that integration in Europe has evolved through diplomatic, economic and cultural links cemented between these three states, and that – as wars became increasingly destructive and economic expectations were elevated – states struggled to survive alone. Yet it has been rare for all three to be friends at the same time.

While common trends can be seen within the European states, there is an illusion of unity, since cultural particularisms have always tempered full integration. In this broader context, setbacks like Brexit can be seen as predictable and manageable. After all, the federal project has a strong pedigree, with roots in the Holy Roman Empire, and the EU remains a formidable institution of twenty-seven states. While Britain is left to forge a role outside the EU, Sweeney identifies a familiar semi-detachment, highlighting pragmatism and historical constancy at the heart of Europe.

‘Stuart Sweeney presents a masterful account of how Europe has been shaped by the inter-twining of British, French and German interests and ambitions. He scrapes off Europe's historical layers like an archaeologist with a trowel: migration, the fumbled economics of integration, nationalism and the puzzle of pooled sovereignty, war, diplomacy and statecraft, all the bubbling crises of the moment are traced back over centuries. The continuties that he uncovers should be a revelation for those baffled, intrigued or simply anxious about Brexit. The Europe Illusion is a brisk gallop of a book. Its fluency and flashes of wit show Sweeney to be a worthy heir of the great A.J.P Taylor. It should be read by every exhausted member of parliament, everyone caught up in the complex drama of Britain’s quest for semi-detachment from Europe.’ — Roger Boyes, chief foreign affairs commentator and diplomatic editor, The Times

‘The key to understanding much of modern European history, including that of the EU, is the ménage à trois of Britain, France and Germany. Stuart Sweeney’s The Europe Illusion: Britain, France, Germany and the Long History of European Integration (Reaktion) traces this kaleidoscopically over more than three centuries.’ — Timothy Garton Ash, New Statesman 'Books of the Year'

‘the book deserves attention and is worth reading for the author’s innovative ambition . . . Sweeney tells the history of the diplomatic relationships between the three countries in their European-wide contexts . . . He has included a sheer mass of factual events and linked this ‘event history’ to his interpretation of the triangular history of Britain, France and Germany.’ — Peter Pichler, European History Quarterly

‘According to Sweeney, Brexit is yet another episode in the ongoing cycle of relations between Britain, France, and Germany. Since 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia, the idea of a united Europe has been touted by William Penn, Henri de Saint-Simon, Adam Smith, and others, though unanimity or even compromise among the three major nations of Europe has fallen victim to the inherent differences between them. The approach to integration has been shaped by wars, cultural and historical factors, and nationalism and particularism. Britain’s isolationism, France’s exceptionalism, and Germany’s conservatism also have proven obstacles in the development of a supranational Europe. The European Union, which may be the closest Europe has come to a successful interconnected structure, has aroused suspicion, in Britain at least, of 'mission creep,' as EU regulations appear to take precedence over national sovereignty. Sweeney argues, however, that although Britain's previous attempts to stand apart from the continental nations required later, expensive efforts to re-engage, Brexit does not guarantee a lesser role for the British, whose role as 'other' could prove valuable.’ — Choice

‘This history of European integration goes back to 1648, tracing the UK’s relationships with France and Prussia–Germany since the Treaty of Westphalia. Sweeney argues that integration has long been driven by these three states, although it has been unusual for them to all be friends at the same time.’ — Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

‘In this timely and original contribution to the arguments over Brexit, Stuart Sweeney shows how successive attempts at European integration have always turned on the often fraught triangular relationship between Britain, France and Germany. Crisply and engagingly written, and with a sophisticated grasp of the economic issues at stake, the Illusion of Europe adds much needed historical depth to our current debate.’ — John Darwin, Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford and author of Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (2013)

‘As the United Kingdom struggles to redefine itself and to determine its future relations with Europe and the wider world, Stuart Sweeney offers a timely reminder of how far this country's fate has been tied to those of France and Germany. In their search for prestige, influence, prosperity and security, all three powers have struggled to reconcile the tensions between their desire for autonomy and their need to collaborate. A thoughtful and measured contribution to the current Brexit debate.’ — Professor Peter Wilson, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

‘This is the timely story of the relationship between Europe’s three great powers, Britain, France and Germany. Stuart Sweeney’s engaging narrative reaches back over 370 years to demonstrate how history taught each country different lessons and shaped different attitudes towards European integration. It is essential reading for those who wish to understand the risks in Britain standing alone.’ — Gavin Hewitt, BBC’s former Europe Editor

‘Wide-ranging . . . The book should appeal to a segment of the general population who have a strong background in European history and are seeking historical precedents to current European issues, especially Brexit.’ — H-France Reviews

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Stuart Sweeney is a visiting academic at the Centre for European History, University of Oxford, and has taught at Oxford and Open Universities. His first book was Financing India’s Imperial Railways (2011). He lives in Richmond, Surrey.

Introduction: Brexit, Populist Aberration or Slow Burn Revolt?

1 From Holy Roman Empire to German Empire: Wars, Politics and Diplomacy, 1648–1864
2 From Bismarck to Brexit: Wars, Politics and Diplomacy, 1864–2018
3 Cameralism to Cobden-Chevalier: Economics of European Integration, 1648–1871
4 Bismarck’s Gold Standard to emu: Economics of European Integration, 1871–2018
5 From Empire Plantations to Boers and Boxers: Empires, Migrations and Europe, 1648–1904
6 From Entente to Enlargement: Empires, Migrations and Europe, 1902–2018
7 Religion and the ‘Other’ in Europe, 1648–2018