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A view from Ypres

Travelling back from Brussels to Yorkshire by car this time, we decided to go via Ypres (or Ieper, to give its proper name).

It’s always moving to visit the area, with its countless war cemeteries, but never more so than on this 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

The Menin gate (more properly ‘Menen gate’), where the names are recorded of thousands of fallen soldiers whose bodies were never found, attracts many visitors — especially for the daily rendering of the Last Post. Among recent visitors leaving a wreath were two school groups from Yorkshire: Beckfoot school in Bingley, and Easingwold school near York, both of which I’ve visited.

There is one new feature since I last visited: the little monument that marks last month’s visit of the European Council, including the presidents and prime ministers of all 28 EU countries. This initiative by President Van Rompuy was a powerful symbol of how far we’ve come. The EU was founded on the principle of ‘never again’ (the most frequent comment in the visitors books at the cemeteries). It has ensured that, while we still have rows, they are across a debating chamber or a negotiation table, not by slaughtering each other on the battlefields.

The EU was rightly awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2012 for its work in this regard. But events just outside the EU in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere remind us of how precious an achievement this is.

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