Why the Court is in Strasbourg – and other things

strasbourgcathedral2Like lots of things to do with the ECHR, the idea seems to have been British. As Simpson put it in his magnificent history of the Convention, Human Rights and the End of Empire (OUP, 2001), Our Man (Jebb), in early 1949, appears to have suggested the site of the Council of Europe should be Strasbourg 

not for its architectural or gastronomic qualities, much less for its geese, but because of its symbolic significance for Franco-German reconciliation

Quite obvious, when you think about it. I was spurred into this by my winter festival reading, Neil MacGregor’s Germany.

Strasbourg commands a chapter, Floating City. Floating, because it swapped between Germany and France regularly, with increasing rapidity in the run up to the ECHR in 1950.  Formerly known as Strassburg, it had been emphatically part of the Holy Roman Empire, an Imperial city, a bishopric and German-speaking, until Louis XIV nicked it in 1681 – in war. The French were wise enough to administer it with a light touch – German remaining the predominant language – so it remained nominally French until 1871. Indeed, Goethe (and Metternich) studied there, and Goethe lauded the Gothic mediaeval cathedral (see pics) as reflecting supremely German architecture (Von Deutscher Baukunst) –  which of course it wasn’t, given that Gothic architecture derives from France. Continue reading

Obsession with World War II distorts understanding of human rights

A fascinating article by SOAS EU law specialist  Dr Gunner Beck lays bare some of the important problems created by British hostility to Germany, which, by contrast to the profound social and economic changes that have taken place in both countries in the seven decades since WWII, appears “timeless and unchanging.”

In a wide ranging analysis of the abiding obsession with Nazi Germany in the British media and elsewhere, as well as the “strange sado-masochism” of Germany itself, Gunner Beck demonstrates how effectively this prejudice creates and fosters confusion about the current crisis in the Eurozone and the reaction of some of its members to German demands for closer scrutiny. He asks us to question why German history

is still largely reduced to the twelve years from 1933 to 1945, and why it still seems impossible in Britain to criticise any aspect of German economic or foreign policy, especially on EU matters, without some kind of Nazi connotation or similar historical insinuation lurking somewhere in the background… Why has nearly a lifetime of peaceful and liberal-democratic development in Germany done so little to put the Third Reich into some kind of historical perspective?

Continue reading