The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation traced its origins back to the time of Charlemagne (Karl Der Grosse in German), crowned by the pope on Dec.
The Austrian Emperor Francis was forced to renounce the title of Holy Roman emperor, thereby formally ending an empire that had lasted a thousand years.
The only Roman emperor in the year 800 was the ruler of Byzantium, the eastern Roman Empire, who ruled from Constantinople.
The French philosopher Voltaire in the 18th century famously said that the Holy Roman Empire was “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.” Charles V, one of the more famous emperors in the 16th century at the time of the Protestant Reformation, ruled over the Austrian Empire, the Spanish Empire (including Portugal), the Netherlands, foreign dominions including South America and the southwestern part of what is now the United States.
Such a reading would warn leaders of the EU today against repeating history: Thou shalt not let the euro crisis turn centripetal forces (“ever closer union”) into centrifugal ones, with member countries exiting from the euro zone or even the EU.
For this would lead to a gradual break-up of the EU similar to the erstwhile dissolution of the empire, and deliver the continent to its old curse of Kleinstaaterei (small-statism) in a world of giants such as America, China and India.
Originating in Germany in recent decades but increasingly accepted in academia elsewhere, it also regards the institutional structure of the empire as it emerged from the 1653 Reichstag as a prototype for the EU today.
Peter Claus Hartmann, a historian at the University of Mainz, says that the old empire, though not powerful politically or militarily, was extraordinarily diverse and free by the standards of Europe at the time.
With the principle of “subsidiarity”, which organised both the empire and the EU, Europe can remain free and happy, Mr Hartmann thinks.
But the princes, led by the charismatic elector of Brandenburg, an upstart power in the east, rejected the emperor’s proposal to make all estates pay imperial taxes authorised by the Reichstag ie, what would have been a rudimentary “transfer union” as it is contemplated in the EU today.
The empire faced the same problem as today’s EU, only worse.
But the ridicule masks a huge success: both in the empire and the EU, disagreements were and are resolved peacefully, an achievement for which the EU won this year’s Nobel peace prize.
The EU follows a principle called subsidiarity, which also had its prototype in the empire, says Mr Hartmann.
In its ways, the empire was as varied as the EU, where fun ranges from bull fighting at one end to naked saunas at the other.