The prospect of an exit from the EU by Britain, a core European ally, is especially worrying to many on a continent where British engagement has been an essential ingredient of peace and prosperity for centuries.
PARIS — The French, it seems safe to say, have had a hard time getting over Waterloo.
Their defeat on the battlefield 200 years ago June 18, at the hands of the British Duke of Wellington, ended Napoleon’s empire. The humiliation is so lasting that even as the British royal family attended commemorations in what is now Belgium, President François Hollande of France “found more important things to do,” one of France’s leading newspapers, Le Monde, noted in an editorial.
For its part, Le Monde used the occasion — and the editorial — to sift some important lessons from what it could only bring itself to call “a glorious defeat” at Waterloo, and to issue an unusual appeal.
Written in English, the editorial, published Thursday, amounted to a letter to the former adversary and current partner in the European Union, a troubled, continuing experiment in Continentwide comity the British have been threatening to leave, a prospect that has come to be known as the British exit, or “Brexit.”
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Don’t do it, Le Monde’s editorial writers said.
“Defeat does not come easily to a proud nation,” Le Monde wrote. But it also noted that as painful as the defeat was, “Waterloo marked the beginning of an unprecedented era of peace, stability and development in Europe.”
That’s not all. “Another spectacular achievement of Waterloo: two centuries of Anglo-French peace,” it said. “Never again have we been at war with each other, except on rugby fields.”
The editorial struck an exceptional tone at a moment the European Union (EU) faces a full slate of problems that are chafing at its unity: economic doldrums, a surge in migration, racial and religious tension, the threat of terrorism, and the increasingly urgent possibility that Greece could leave the eurozone, too, unless a deal is reached soon to end its debt crisis.
But the prospect of an exit from the EU by Britain, a core European ally, is especially worrying to many on a continent where British engagement has been an essential ingredient of peace and prosperity for centuries.
Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director of Le Monde, said that the newspaper was trying to “play on British humor” and have some fun by writing in English but that the subject was serious.
“We are against this absurd possibility of a Brexit and we see it as a threat for France and for Europe,” Kauffmann said.
“Here at Le Monde we see Great Britain separating themselves from the EU and UKIP’s rising popularity as affecting us as much as euroskepticism in France or the National Front’s popularity,” she said, referring to the euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party and the far-right party of Marine Le Pen in France, which has won increasing influence in local elections.
The editorial endeavored to use Anglo-French history to make its case urging Britain not to be held hostage by Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, which has rallied conservative sentiment against remaining in the EU.
“On this bicentenary, we feel entitled to call on our British allies to resist the familiar temptation of splendid isolation,” the editorial said. “The country which cornered Napoleon cannot succumb to Nigel Farage.”
The editorial had a big finish:
“Messieurs les Anglais, don’t let the sirens of a fake independence pull you away from the continent. Just as in 1815, your future is in Europe.”