The closure this week of France's last working coal mine is both a practical and symbolic reminder of the change that the European Union is undergoing.

In practical terms, 400 more workers in Europe are without a job. And these are the remnants of a French workforce that at its height numbered 300,000. Now a sector that for 300 years was central to France's industrial wealth has disappeared for ever.

The symbolism is poignant. This mine is the final vestige of the once huge Alsace-Lorraine coalfield - the object of repeated conflict between Germany and France. The European Union's first manifestation, the European Coal and Steel Community, was born among the ashes of those conflicts.

The same movement of reconciliation and harmony has since flourished - so successfully that the Union is now on the brink of expanding to 25 Member States. And the impending enlargement should at last heal other deep wounds that were inflicted on Europe in the middle of the last century.

But Europe's new political maturity is coinciding with the decay of Europe's old industrial fabric: the destiny of this little corner of Alsace-Lorraine is reflected across Europe, in Charleroi and Tyneside, in Sagunto and Brescia. Even where Europe's older industries have transformed...

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