We seem to be heading towards a United States of Europe. For some this seems a good idea, others see it as yet another mistake.European  nations united under a central government, with  centrally controlled tax laws, national parliaments which can make  laws but  only subject to an overall set of superior laws for the whole of the united states; much the same idea as that of the old European empires, whose central governments controlled trade,  culture, army and peoples. No doubt this would benefit a growing European elite, but  would it benefit anyone else?

It might  well put everyone else into relative powerlessness and create disunion. In the USA, it is difficult to see how that union can survive into the unknown future – there has been disastrous use of resources  by central government, in unnecessary wars, in directing scientific investment away from satisfying need at home into providing more weapons and surveillance for wars abroad. Most alarming is how people accept increasing poverty in a country which could be an example of prosperity, and the effect that  has on Europe. Fears about  a coming United States of Europe were once  derided as imaginary, conversation about it was stopped by  carefully timed whispers of “conspiracy theory”.  All you had to do to stop a serious conversation was whisper “conspiracy theory” and you were condemned as a crank. But last week and the week before Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy showed that those who said we were being urged towards a United States of Europe with central control of tax laws, trade,  etcetera are not cranks. They are people reading the signs of the present times, not  fantasising about the future. The present financial crisis may or may not have been  carefully arranged – it probably was – but people are more respectful of the view that  it is being cleverly used now for political reasons by some European governments. Governments  still only a short time away from  empires and dictatorships with  strong  governments for some and subservience for the rest; from wars between them for who would be boss; from dictators and monarchs with dreams of a new world order, which is a codeword for new world control. European governments  only in their  infancy in growing into democracies.

So what do we do, help or hinder what is happening? For one thing we respect those who do not accept the idea that centralisation always produces excellence. In the past it has also produced poverty, misery and wars. It may seem a long way from  centralising in European government to centralising  in local communities in Belfast, but it is not. Even local communities, if they survive, will always be urged into centralising  into umbrella groups, into centres of excellence. Fair enough, provided  policies are still made by communities, not just for them. One of the people most conscious of all this  is John Robb, surgeon, senator, thinker, who did not want  the genius of either communities or nations gathered into what people called centres of excellence, but rather the excellence of every community to be enriched exactly as and where it is. If there has to be centralisation let it help this to happen. And let as many people as possible make their own decisions.

There lies the  heart of the  European problem  today, a problem on an international scale underlined  on  a local one. Do we need the disastrous empire builders or their masterful ideas in Europe once again?