Etoile de Varne

The Etoile de Varne is a somewhat forgotten project. Like all of the most forgotten projects, it was one of the most ambitious, and therefore one of the most unrealised which ensured it's place as one of those most forgotten. Finding traces of it is as such, extremely tough and you'll find that a simple Googling will be most unrevealing.

The Etoile... was proposed by the hydroengineer Thomas de Gamond to the incumbent Napoleon III in 1856. The idea being to mine a tunnel from Cap Grisnez to Dover at a cost of around £7 million in contemporary currency. The engineer's dream of a physical link between the British mainland and the European continent was revisited down the decades until finally being realised in the unprofitable tunnel we can pay to experience today.

Before Gamond, Napoleon I himself devised a plan for invading England in 1805, using the combination of a tunnel and aerial transportation. Again, the scale of the vision may have preempitively forbidden it's realisation - not to say that Napoleon I was not a successfully radical and innovative strategist. In 1985, a proposal for Euroroute - two five mile bridges and an underwater tunnel - had garnered £7.2 billion funding before being dropped due to a paper posting that it would run four-times over it's predicted budget. A true shame, as the experience of driving across and under the Channel strikes itself as far more adventurous and cost-effective (for the user at least) than the trains we have today. The Euroroute also bears startling similarities to Gamond's plan including the spiralled entry and exit points and the use of a combination of bridges and a tunnel, providing if anything, an updated version of the original.

Curiously, at the submerging/emerging points of the Euroroute, two open areas were proposed that motorists could exit at - the idea being that these international isles would be replete with necessities for the motorist as well as leisure facilities, duty-free shopping and the administration offices for the project. It's interesting to speculate as to the value of opening up these transnational areas to international business practice. Would they have become the new Cayman Islands? Devoid of national laws and regulation, would they become a new hub of international finance with more 'filing cabinet headquarters' for the multinationals?

With the Etoile de Varne, Gamond pre-speculated this for us: The island in the centre would be the first international privately held entity since the island of Cyprus was home to the Knights Templar in the mid-12th century. Gamond calculated that 170 million tonnes of Earth would be excavated for the purposes of the tunnel and rather than simply place these tonnes on the mainland either side, he proposed the construction of a synthetic island. Despite the illustration, the plan proposed a seven-pointed star layout for the base (hence the translation) almost half of which would be given up to the activity of ports - the idea being that it would act as a gateway for international trade in Europe, exempt from the quibbles of national beurocracy. It would require a new and unique set of laws, specific to it's duties with little or no civic administration, being purely a business hub managed jointly by a European consortium.

The Etoile... was taken seriously at the time, as the first proposal to be based on real engineering data and to be submitted for governmental review, but the project was simply too massive and was dropped. The dream of the tunnel was eventually realised but the island never made it to reality. By the time construction had begun in 1996, the economies of Britain, France and most of northern Europe were focused on highly-specialised financial service industries. Manufacturing had dropped-off and the consumer economies of the European elite relied on cheap imports from the east rather than the bustling, trade bilateralism of Gamond's industrialised Europe.

The 19th century's free-trade internationalism had shifted it's focus to obscure financial instruments and formalised geographies in the world's various exceptional tax havens without the desire for grand engineering to fulfil it's needs. These grandiose projects have shifted from the physical to the fiscal in the post-industrial world, their appearance and architecture all but unnoticed except by the financial giants behind them. Unnoticed though they may be, they present a stronger alternative to state jurisdiction than Gamond's project ever could and it's these silent giants - the derivatives market in particular - that are now shifting the concentration of power from nations to traders.