But there is a revisionist view. 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. However, its proponents mean that in a good way. 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. As one of its subjects, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, wrote, it was a place “in which, in peacetime, everybody can prosper.”
Why, then, did the empire fail? The reason was not military weakness per se. Imperial armies repelled the Ottomans eight times in 300 years, passing more martial tests than the EU ever has. But in the end the empire was no match for Napoleon, who walked over it, tore it apart, then hinted to the last emperor that he might as well dissolve it, which Francis II did in 1806.
But the empire had grown weak long before Napoleon, and that development may offer the real warning to the EU. In the mid-18th century two members, Austria and Brandenburg-Prussia, outgrew the empire, reducing the other territories to a “third Germany,” says Peter Wilson at the University of Hull. That was destabilising.