French-speaking Europe and no world wars: what if Napoleon won Waterloo?

Updated 07 June 2015
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French-speaking Europe and no world wars: what if Napoleon won Waterloo?

BRUSSELS, Belgium: It is the evening of June 18, 1815 and an exultant Napoleon Bonaparte surveys the field after winning the Battle of Waterloo, planning his next conquest.
Within years his empire will stretch as far as China, French will be spoken across the continent, and in the 20th century a global war between the great powers will be avoided because of the stability his rule created.
These are some of the alternate histories that writers and experts have envisaged had Napoleon really been victorious in the battle 200 years ago, which actually ended in his humiliating defeat and exile at the hands of British and Prussian forces.
Historian Helmut Stubbe da Luz said that had Napoleon beaten generals Wellington and Bluecher on the plain of Waterloo, he would have carried on his march as far as northern Germany.
“Bremen, Hamburg and Luebeck would have become French again,” da Luz told AFP.
That scenario, however, should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, da Luz added, as the European monarchies of the time would not have let a defeat at Waterloo go unavenged.
As Belgian historian Philippe Raxhon, a specialist in the Battle of Waterloo, puts it: “Waterloo was a total victory for the allies but it would not have been a total victory for Napoleon.”

Wider ambitions
But if one imagines that Bonaparte had eventually defeated his European enemies in the long-term, his ambitions afterwards would have been demonstrably larger, historians said.
“If Napoleon followed his original plans for 1810, he would have invaded Russia again and potentially extended his empire as far as China,” Helmut Stubbe da Luz said.
An even more radical scenario was put forward in the 19th century by the French writer Louis Geoffroy. In his novel “Napoleon and the Conquest of the World, 1812-1832” he described how Napoleon was able to overrun China, turning it into a mere “Asian province.”
The 1836 alternate history novel — a literary genre that imagines parallel realities and includes classics such as Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” about a United States beaten by Japan and Germany — Geoffroy takes the story back to three years before Waterloo.
“I wrote the history of Napoleon from 1812 to 1832, from Moscow in flames to the universal monarchy and his death, 20 years of incessantly increasing glory which elevated him to an all-powerful level above whom there is only God,” he wrote in the introduction to the novel.
But what would an all-powerful Napoleon have been like to live under?
For Stubbe da Luz, “Napoleon was a dictator but not a reactionary dictator like the Tsar of Russia.”
Napoleonic rule across continental Europe, balanced by Britain’s enduring maritime supremacy, would not necessarily have been that bad for the world, he said.
“The dictatorship that Napoleon exported to the countries under his domination was a regression compared to the progress of the French Revolution, but it wasn’t bad for his new subjects in Germany, Holland, Italy and Spain,” he said.
He cited the “equality of rights for religious minorities and rural populations, the right to vote for men, a new judicial system and an expanded economic area.”

Risky business
Cautiously looking further into the future, the historian imagines a “continental Europe dominated by France” throughout the 19th century.
Had that happened Germany would not have become so strong during that period, he says.
“Germany would therefore probably not have been in a position to provoke a First and Second World War,” he said.
But imagining parallel histories is risky business for historians.
“The causes of events are innumerable,” said Raxhon, the Belgian historian, from the University of Liege.
He limited himself to scenarios directly linked to the fates of the main protagonists. For example, a defeated Duke of Wellington would no doubt have returned by sea to England via Ostend, because Wellington himself had “envisaged losing the battle,” he said.
Novelists of course have freer rein. In his 1992 best-seller “Fatherland,” British writer Robert Harris imagines a Germany in 1964 that is preparing for a visit of the American president “Joseph Peter Kennedy” (JFK’s father) to Adolf Hitler, the winner of World War II.
That of course is a war that according to some scenarios would not have happened... if Napoleon had won at Waterloo.


Brexit in disarray as Theresa May faces possible ouster plot

Updated 24 March 2019
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Brexit in disarray as Theresa May faces possible ouster plot

  • British politics is at fever pitch and nearly three years since the 2016 Brexit referendum
  • With Theresa May humiliated and weakened, ministers insist she and the British government are still in charge of the country

LONDON: The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union was in disarray on Sunday as Prime Minister Theresa May faced a possible plot by ministers to topple her and parliament prepared to grab control of Brexit from the government.
At one of the most important junctures for the country since World War Two, British politics was at fever pitch and, nearly three years since the 2016 referendum, it was still unclear how, when or if Brexit will ever take place.
With May humiliated and weakened, ministers insisted she and the British government were still in charge of the country, and that the best option was still for parliament to ratify May’s twice-defeated Brexit divorce deal.
As hundreds of thousands of people marched across central London on Saturday to demand another Brexit referendum, May was the subject of what The Sunday Times said was a “coup” by senior ministers seeking to oust her.
The newspaper cited 11 unidentified senior ministers and said they had agreed that the prime minister should stand down, warning that she has become a toxic and erratic figure whose judgment has “gone haywire.”
When asked by Sky about reports in The Sunday Times and other newspapers of a plot and whether she had run out of road, finance minister Philip Hammond said: “No. I don’t think that is the case at all.”
“Changing prime minister wouldn’t help us,” Hammond said. “To be talking about changing the players on the board, frankly, is self-indulgent at this time.”
Hammond said the best way forward would be for parliament to back May’s deal, although he said that it might not be approved and so parliament should then try to find a way to end the impasse.
“I’m realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the prime minister’s (Brexit) deal and if that is the case then parliament will have to decide not just what it’s against but what it is for,” he said.
Brexit had been due to happen on March 29 before May secured a delay in talks with the EU on Thursday.
Now a May 22 departure date will apply if parliament rallies behind the British prime minister and she is able to pass her deal. If she fails to do so, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave the EU without a treaty.
Some lawmakers have asked May to name her departure date as the price for supporting her deal, though it was unclear when a third vote might take place.
If May’s deal is dead, then parliament will try to find a different option. That opens an array of options including a much softer divorce than May had intended, a referendum, a revocation of the Article 50 divorce papers or even an election.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said May’s deal was the best option and urged people to get behind the prime minister.
“The government and the prime minister are in charge,” Barclay said. May went to her usual church service near her Chequers country residence on Sunday with her husband.
The Sunday Times reported that May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington, was one contender to be interim prime minister but others are pushing for Environment Secretary Michael Gove or Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“I don’t think that I have any wish to take over from the PM, I think (she) is doing a fantastic job,” Lidington told reporters outside his house.
“One thing that working closely with the prime minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task,” he quipped.
Lawmakers are due on Monday to debate a government motion saying parliament has considered a statement made by May on March 15 which set out the government’s next steps on Brexit, including the plan to seek a delay.
They are likely to propose changes, or amendments, to this motion setting out alternative ways forward on Brexit. These are expected to include a proposal to approve May’s deal only if it is put to a public vote.
While amendments are not legally binding, instead simply exerting political pressure on May to change course, lawmakers could use one to attempt to change the rules of parliament to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government.
A British election could be the consequence of parliament seizing control of the Brexit process if lawmakers back proposals contrary to the pledges the government was elected on, Barclay said.