Europe: "inward-looking and self-absorbed"?
Well, yep. That sounds fair enough... Thanks to Alun (a lovely chappie like wot gave me an email heads-up on this one) for pointing out BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Eyes Wide Shut, which was broadcast last night. (I think you should be able to listen to it here, assuming you've got RealPlayer). I missed it due to excessive workloads, but will certainly try and have a listen in a spare moment later today. The basic argument seems to be the relatively obvious one that Europe is no longer the centre of world power, with economic and political strength increasingly shifting towards the US and Far East, but it will be in the details that the programme no doubt makes its most interesting points.
Coming the same day that Jaques Chirac gave a speech in London on his favourite topic of a "multi-polar world" and the need for a strong Europe to provide an alternative to the hyperpower that is the United States - and the same day that the new Commissioners were finally approved by the European Parliament (despite some typical bitching from the UKIP which led to UKIP MEP Nigel Farage being likened to a football hooligan) - could such a multilateral worldview be a useful model for any future shift in direction for the EU?
Chirac, to be fair on the guy, made some good points: "we must avoid any confusion between democratisation and Westernisation" and that, post-Iraq, "If you observe the way things are developing in the world in terms of security and the expansion of terrorism, not just in the Middle East but throughout the world, you cannot say, credibly, that the situation has significantly improved." He also made much of the shared thousand-year histories of Britain and France, and the bizarre yet unique love-hate relationship the two nations (especially England and France) still maintain.
He has, predictably, been attacked for his pains, with the Times seeming particularly annoyed: "[it] is not acceptable... is to insist in one breath that he wants to see a strengthened transatlantic relationship and a Nato in which Europe and America pool their efforts for peace, and then ridicule US domination of the world 'based on a logic of power' and qualify support for Nato by saying that its actions must have United Nations legitimacy. It is not simply the hypocrisy of juxtaposing his insistence that France would never forget what it owed America with his remark that the Bush Administration did not repay favours; it is his use of a visit to Britain to sneer at America and, by implication, Mr Blair’s trust in the US, that makes his behaviour so chiraquien."
Yet at the same time Chirac made a few nods towards the perceived "special relationship" between Britain and the US, and the UK's unique place within Europe as a result of this:
"Obviously for historical reasons, and for cultural reasons and linguistic reasons, it is obvious that the relationship between the UK and the US has a sort of a family (nature), an exceptional link. It is history that has given us that.
“Consequently, the fact that the UK can be a friendly partner between the EU and US is an advantage to Europe.
“The US and Europe have a natural vocation to work together in the face of the issues in the world of tomorrow.”
This is an almost Churchillian take on the UK/US/EU partnership, reminiscent of his famous "Zurich Speech" of September 1946. In that speech Churchill called for a "United States of Europe" - it was he who popularised the phrase. Of course, he didn't mean for Britain to actually be part of that superpower because he thought that the Empire would survive the post-war chaos and retain its position as a world power. But times have changed, and even the most rabid British nationalists have realised we lack the strength to go it alone - hence the constant binary choice those on the Right seem to offer - Europe or America? (Quite why it can't be both, I have yet to work out...)
Is Chiraq's revision of Churchill's hopes for a European future the right one? Well, as he said about Iraq yesterday, time will tell. One thing that is certain, however, is that Europe needs a new ideal to unite itself now that most of the groundwork of the union is done, the continent is finally united (if only in name), and the threat of war between nations in Europe has all but vanished.
With the accession of many of the countries of the old Eastern European Soviet bloc in May this year, the first stage of the European project as envisaged by Churchill is almost complete. The ratification of the European Constitution could be the next step, or it could be time for a shift in direction. Either way, the current global situation is far, far different to that of 1946 when the project was suggested, and from 1957, when the Six signed the Treaty of Rome and kicked the whole thing off.
Perhaps Europe really does need to take stock of itself, and take a realistic view of its chances in the current world. Should we look to a closer union, or go our separate ways, look to America, or look to the potential new economic powerhouses of the Far East, India, Latin America, or wherever else will be the next big thing?