Thursday, March 02, 2006

A polite message to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing

Piss off, chum - if you hadn't done such a half-arsed job of drawing up a draft constitution for the EU we wouldn't be in this mess.

Yep, the chap who headed up the Convention on the Future of Europe that produced the unweildy breezeblock of text that was categorically rejected by French and Dutch voters last year (for reasons which no one - no matter what they may claim - has any clue about thanks to the simple "yes / no" set-up) is still trying desperately to resuscitate his baby, despite it having dead and buried for a good six months (full text .pdf):

"the rejection of the constitutional treaty in France was an error which will have to be corrected"
No, mate - the constitution itself was an error which will have to be corrected.

The content of the rest of his talk, delivered at the London School of Economics on Tuesday evening, demonstrates precisely why he was exactly the wrong man for the job of creating a document designed to unite the continent behind a series of set ideals.

He mentions the six-monthly shift in presidency as a flaw in the current arrangement (which it is), but not thanks to practicalities - lack of a coherent policy agenda, inability to present one external face for dealings with the rest of the world, lack of a single spokesman to express the "EU view" on the rare occasions such a thing could be said to exist. Instead, the flaw in the current system is that it "is totally inadequate for building a strong political union of Europe" - when these days it's arguable that a majority even in continental Europe do not want such a thing.

He then expands this assumption of what "the people of Europe" (his phrase) actually want into an insanely outdated teleology that could have been plucked straight from the mouth of one of the EU's overly idealisitic post-war founders:
"The political Union of Europe is not a circle, periodically coming back to the same starting point. It is a trajectory, leading from a starting point to a final goal.

"This trajectory may take time, may face new obstacles, but it is a waste of time and energy to keep on reopening the initial debate.

"The ultimate goal of the political union is to give Europe the institutional framework which will enable it to carry out common policies at European level."
We've already got common policies being carried out at the European level, old chum. But it is by no means certain that "the people of Europe" have any desire to increase the supranational decision-making process. Because - ignoring the differing opinions between different states - on the few occasions when they have been consulted the questions have been far to broad to draw any real conclusions from the answers.

And let's not forget that I'm pro-EU.

He goes on to argue that
"It is no longer a matter of debating what we want to do, but of determining how to do it."
But this is yet another nonsense. The world, as you may have noticed, has changed rather considerably since the 1950s foundation of the Union, and again since the 1980s heyday of negotiations for the current set-up. The Union itself has expanded to 25 members, a number of whom are still recovering from half a century of poverty and oppression. It's no longer a rich boys' club - yet the likes of Giscard d'Estaing would like to carry on as if nothing has changed.

So dear Valéry's assertion that federalism is still the thrust is as idiotic as it is inflammatory. The insistence on a "one size fits all" approach to closer union is insane when looking at the vastly differing concerns of the member states. As it is, recent weeks have seen announcements of core members banding closer together through single energy markets (a logical evolution of the initial Coal and Steel Community); we already have the Eurozone; some member states have opt-outs from the Schengen Agreement.

Much as the thick kid at school shouldn't hold back his brighter classmates, so his cleverer fellows shouldn't force him to move onto the next text book before he is ready. If those who share Giscard d'Estaing's vision of a future Europe are so keen, let them charge ahead and form broad, all-encompassing common policy zones. But if they keep trying to drag the more reluctant members along with them, no one will end up happy. Let us thickies stay in the remedial class practicing our addition while you lot skip off to practice long division in the top set - but don't tease us for not understanding what you're doing, because the dense ones are generally more likely to beat up the smug spods. It'll all end in tears.

Giscard d'Estaing's vision of a future happy, united, federal Europe is, as far as I'm concerned, a rather nice one. But it's not even remotely likely for at least another couple of hundred years, so there's no point in forcing it.

In the meantime, it is not the French and Dutch "No" votes nor British, Danish or Austrian euroscepticism, but the self-satisfied likes of Giscard d'Estaing, with their constant rhetoric of "I'm right, everyone else is wrong, and you're all stupid for not listening to me and doing what I say", that is the single biggest obstacle in the way of the EU's advancement.

You want a federal superstate? Fine, you can dream. But it's not going to happen in your lifetime or mine, so why not accept the facts and shut the hell up? All you're doing in the meantime is stirring up shit and making it a lot harder to sell the realistic potential benefits the EU could offer if it were able to take a time out and re-think its current "one size fits all" strategy.

Next year will see the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome. In half a century much has been achieved, but no matter what Giscard d'Estaing may say, the failures and confusions of the last couple of years would tend to suggest that it is precisely the initial debate which needs to be re-opened. The only thing that seems certain is that the EU is not agreed on its future heading.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Paul Davies said...

He just can't be killed can he? I'm beginning to think one could remove his voice box and VGE would still find a way to infect the EU with his deluded nonsense.

3/02/2006 11:09:00 am  
Blogger Devil's Kitchen said...

He just can't be killed can he?

Oh, I don't know: ten grand and some adverts in the right place could probably get it sorted...

DK

3/02/2006 01:07:00 pm  
Blogger Jonn Elledge said...

This is what happens when self selecting cliques come up with proposals that are supposed to affect everyone. At the convention that drafted the constitution there will have been lots of arguments between states with different interests, debates about different shades of pro-Europeanism...

...but I'd be shocked if there was any real representation of Euroscepticism as we understand the term in Britain.

Two reasons for this: the Eurosceptics don't want to be involved because they think the whole thing's stupid, and the pro-lobby don't want them involved because they ruin stuff for everyone else.

Consequently you get blokes like d'Estaing who communicate almost entirely with people who think more or less like they do. He genuinely thinks that Europeans want a superstate because most of the Europeans he's been exposed to of late probably do.

Getting out of messes like this is the biggest argument in favour of engagement with Europe even if you don't like it very much. Pulling the Conservatives out of the EPP is going in exactly the wrong direction.

3/02/2006 03:56:00 pm  
Blogger David Weman said...

I don't think d'Estaing want a superstate. He's less intergovernmentalist than the French plitical elites in general, but not to that extent.

3/02/2006 06:47:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

The thing is I neither know nor care what he wants - his vision for the EU failed and has been rejected. All his claims about 60% of the EU ratifying the thing in that talk are meaningless (the majority weren't in referenda, so aren't going to be accepted by opponents, which makes that statistic utterly pointless as a PR move), as are his excuses about national politics affecting the polls (they're always going to to some extent, and it's a measure of how useless the constitution was that the bigger, continental vision didn't win out over local concerns).

I doubt there are many true federalists knocking about at the top end of the EU these days - only federalists in the sense I am, who reckon it'd be nice in some dim and distant future, but isn't remotely likely in the short to medium term.

The problem is the language they use to express what they want - a problem d'Estaing acknowledged in his talk when he first brought up the "federalist" word. He knows it's contentious, and must know that "political union" is likewise contentious - purly for how these terms were used at the staart of the European project. They now have associations with superstates and the loss of national sovereignty which simply can't be shaken. So they need to find new terminology to desribe what the EU's aiming for NOW to replace that of 40-50 years ago.

The need for new terminology is basically the short-cut to what John's on about - getting the sceptics (rather than the cynics) involved in the process. And to get them fully engaged and working together - which a lot of the milder sceptics would be happy to (cf. Boris Johnson, who likes the idea of the EU but hates the execution) - the debate needs to be taken back to the start.

In the 1950s what was wanted was economic and political union, with many of the founders genuinely hoping for a United States of Europe within their lifetimes. That vision of the EU has failed to materialise, so it's time to get a bit more realistic about it, and be prepared to dismantle some of the machinery that was built up to support that now obsolete ideal.

3/02/2006 07:36:00 pm  
Blogger BondWoman said...

David Heathcote-Amory represented British Euro-sceptic opinion at the Convention. Nuff said really. Nosemonkey is right. It's not that the Constitutional Treaty is particularly bad (or good) - actually I personally think it's a huge improvement on what we have at the moment, particularly in terms of stopping some of the really ghastly stuff being pushed through in the field of justice and home affairs, but the point is this refusal to accept the political processes which have occurred since then (both at the domestic level in numerous states, but also within international relations amongst the member states and between the MS and other third states).

3/03/2006 12:53:00 pm  
Anonymous Pete in Dunbar said...

He just can't be killed can he?

Oh, I don't know: ten grand and some adverts in the right place could probably get it sorted...

I think it might involve garlic, a sharpened stake, and possibly silver bullets as well... a job for the Lone Ranger?

3/03/2006 05:54:00 pm  

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