Sunday, 19 August 2018

Waterloo Sunset

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Anthony Peters sees another European metaphor in the decaying state of today’s battlefield.

Monday morning and once I again I wonder whether we will, by the end of this week, truly know more about the state of the national, the regional or the global economy than we did at the beginning and whether that knowledge, if we were to have it, would assist us in taking the right trading or investment decisions.

We can but live in hope, not least because we again round off the week on Friday with the all-important US payroll report for March, the first one this year which should appear without the many distortions which the extraordinary winter weather had brought with it.

Meanwhile I have returned from my much anticipated week-end trip to the battlefield of Waterloo which I have not visited in many years. In the event, I returned through northern France where I overnighted in the beautiful town of Arras and from where I drove back by way of two significant sites, one being Vimy Ridge which hosts the marvellous but humbling memorial to the Canadians who gave their lives for the benefit of Europe in the Great War and subsequently the Coupole, the underground bunker in Helfaut where V2 rockets were assembled but which also serves as a museum to the memory of the slave labour used to construct this and other concealed factories of destruction.

At Waterloo, I didn’t need to look far to find a plethora of metaphors for much of what troubles modern Europe. The battlefield is large and to a great extent derelict. In importance it is to Europe the equivalent of what the battlefield in Gettysburg is to our American cousins. They could not be more different. The latter is a huge national monument, fully annotated, plaques where every regiment served, a museum of supreme quality and detail, didactic efforts at all corners and thousands and thousands of visitors every day of the week.

Waterloo looks like a bit of an anachronism with a tiny museum, a short (but excellent) film which my travelling companion and I were the only ones watching, a painted panorama with no guide (they gave us the key-code to let ourselves into the building stuck on the back of my entrance ticket) which would have the uninitiated believe that the French had won – it was created by a team of French painters – and the famous lion mount memorial to the Dutch troops present on the day and in the raising of which the topography which Wellington had so carefully chosen and which set the scene for his victory was wilfully scraped away and destroyed for posterity. There isn’t even a proper car park. Americans must be staggered by how little heed is being paid to defining and protecting the crucible where the first elements of a unified continent were forged.

However, the saddest bit is the state of the Chateau d’Hougoumont, that corner on Napoleon’s left and Wellington’s right flank, the fight over which turned into a battle within a battle and, had it not been held by the Coldstream and the Grenadier Guards and had it fallen to Jerome, Napoleon’s brother, would have significantly altered the course of our continent’s history. For years this site of inestimable historical value on the fringe of Europe’s anointed capital city has been crumbling in dereliction. Now, ahead of next year’s bicentenary they seem to be hurriedly patching the place up but the new and very modern looking slate and tiled roofs are stuck on with no empathy for the historic value of the building and remind me of the way in which Brussels legislation frequently rides roughshod over so many of the traditions which have made the nations of the Europe great. The place has a few random builders wandering around but there is no way that Hougoumont will be any more ready and looking good for June next year than the stadium in Sao Paulo will be for the opening of the FIFA World Cup by June of this.

The outer reaches of the perimeter walls of the château have collapsed and nobody seems to give a fig. There appears to be an air of fixing the most visible flaws – whether empathetically or not is less relevant – while neglecting to get down to repairing the crumbling foundations. EU legislation is replete with cases where, if enough new legislation is piled upon old while nobody is supposed to notice that some of the original never really represented good law to start with. Critics of, for example, the way in which the single currency was established and structured after Maastricht have been bludgeoned into submission but the flaws which caused the crisis in the euro and the eurozone have not been properly addressed or dealt with. Mind you, I must admit that driving from France in and out of Belgium without slowing down, showing a passport or needing to change money is very nice indeed.

I find myself returning, as I always do after touring historic sites, with an acute appreciation of just how irrelevant trading financial assets is. However, I sense that I gain perspective and in looking at the news and ever more articles on how banks are in the firing line over currency exchange fixing again, I wonder whether there might be secret quotas which determine how many bankers need to be chewed up every month or every quarter in order to assure that politicians’ failing in the regulatory space are not exposed?

The more regulations that are created, the more there are to be broken. The more that are broken, the more fines we get to levy. Yippee! Last year alone the US banks are supposed to have paid $100,000,000,000.00. Does anyone know for certain where the cash has gone? Has anyone thought of the simple fact that these funds come straight out of the dividends of the shares which belong to the pension funds of those citizens and tax-payers in whose names they are supposed to have been levied? Too perplexing a thought for early on a Monday morning. Have a good week.

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