It is said that if we fail to learn from the errors of history we are forced to repeat them. As I see Selmayr's smug Moonface smiling superciliously as Britain is forced to accept the Robbins-Selmayr Treaty, a cursed document every bit as humiliating for Britain as Versailles was for Germany, my only surprise is that he is not forcing May to sign it in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiegne.... and another old chum Sackerson commented BTL here that "the EU may be clever tactically but so much so they risk disaster strategically". These remarks put me in mind of a BBC televison programme last year on the Foreign Office, the (civil servant) head of which adressed his troops as follows (I paraphrase). There are two events, he said, that I always think are highly germane to the present circumstances: 1815, and 1919. On both occasions, a Treaty was thrashed out to settle a situation where a large European country was causing trouble for its neighbours. The difference was that at Vienna, Metternich and his peers came up with a generous deal that more or less brought peace for a century. By contrast, Versailles was so one-sided, it broke down in only two decades. We should urge the EC to bear this in mind, he concluded, a tad tentatively.
My own anecdote (which has probably been told here before) is more prosaic. I once worked for a company that, in a moment of commercial weakness, had been royally taken to the cleaners in a huge deal - billions - by its counterparties who had mercilessly and indeed smugly exploited their advantage to a grotesque degree. (It was so bad that when a new CEO was appointed in my firm and he read the contract for himself, he instigated a secret inquiry using private investigators to establish if the management responsible for the deal on our side had been taking backhanders from the opposition. But they hadn't.) We offered constructive renegotiation, but this was gloatingly spurned.
Needless to say, the deal didn't stick. We had a massive incentive to pick it to pieces and, five years and one mega court case later, it was renegotiated. We didn't emerge unscathed by any means - but the other side didn't, either.
Back at the level of international dealings, another case worth citing is the settlement at the end of the Boer War. The UK was in a position to do pretty much whatever it chose - and it chose intelligent magnanimity, committing several millions (a lot of money in them days) to reconstruction in the Boer areas. The result of this enlightened policy was striking. The Afrikaaners, many of whom were a lot closer in temperament and background to Germany than to Britain, provided some of our most loyal and effective troops in the two World Wars that followed, not least of which was Field Marshal Jan Smuts, a Boer commander during the Second Boer War, and outstanding servant of the Empire thereafter.
Everyone hereabouts is probably agreed on the lessons to be learned. Well, on this side of Channel, anyhow. But the gloating is probably set to continue in Brussels.