"But you can't stop progress," said François Mitterrand, France's president from 1981-1995. He looked cocksure and had that hint of regal arrogance that goes with occupying the Élysée Palace.
I was a student at the time and I was trying to make sense of television reports on a trip to France.
The year was 1992, and the Danes had just voted "no" to the Maastricht Treaty
-- thereby (potentially) blocking the way toward the "ever closer Union;" something most heads of government saw as a historical inevitability.
Elsewhere in Europe, John Major -- the then-British prime minister -- was no less dismissive of those opposed to "Europe," individuals whom the otherwise mild-mannered Conservative leader branded as "bastards."
So all-pervasive was the belief in the historical inevitability of European integration, even the Eurovision Song Contest was won by an ode to the single market: "Insieme 1992."
But at this stage, it was already too late. The Danish referendum brought the process of European integration to an abrupt halt. And although the French voted for the Maastricht Treaty by the most slender of majorities a few weeks later, the dream (or nightmare) of the United States of Europe was replaced with the less ambitious, "multi-speed" Europe.
Destiny, historical inevitability and sheer necessity have always been a favorite theme among politicians. And so often it has proved to be premature. Just think of Francis Fukuyama's prediction that the fall of the Berlin Wall was destined to become the End of History.
Now, almost three decades later, we have another supposed inevitability: the collapse of the European Union.
In the wake of the Brexit vote in June 2016, an academic boldly predicted that the EU would "cease to exist." A prominent banker did the same
. And Nigel Farage -- lest we forget him -- believed the EU could collapse
within the next 18 months. But like in 1992, when Major and Mitterrand heroically fought for the Maastricht Treaty, history has already moved on.
The dominos that would seal the fate of the EU failed to fall, and in some cases fell the other way. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban's populist referendum on the EU's immigration policy backfired when the Budapest strongman failed to get the endorsement of a majority of the eligible voters in October 2016. And the Dutch election did not see a breakthrough for Geert Wilders -- he won a mere 13% of the votes.
Further, opinion polls in Germany
have shown gains for both Angela Merkel's CDU and Martin Schulz's SPD at the expense of the Eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland, and in France, Europhile Macron somewhat surprisingly beat Euroskeptic Le Pen into second place.
Less than a year after the predicted end of the EU, we are possibly about to witness the demise of the populist Euroskeptics' prophecies of the European Union's collapse.
It is as if there is a lesson in all of this, it's that we should take politicians of all hues getting carried away with a pinch of salt.
A citizen in a democratic society, wrote Albert Camus
, is someone who says, "there are certain limits beyond which you shall not go."
On Sunday, French voters will show that this limit has been reached if Marine Le Pen loses the presidential election to Emmanuel Macron.