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He then expands this assumption of what "the people of Europe" (his phrase) actually want into an insanely outdated teleology that could have been plucked straight from the mouth of one of the EU's overly idealisitic post-war founders: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.
Yet more constitutional guff
(Or, On democracy, faction and the future of party)
The House of Lords is great:
"Elections are still vitally important in holding decision-makers accountable, but that does not mean that every political institution should be elected. We need the addition of more deliberative scrutiny of particular policy proposals, and that is a task that may well be better suited to an independent, life-appointed House of Lords than an elected, party-political upper house."
Too right - I've argued this before
. "Democratic" may often be used as a short-hand for "legitimate" and "best way forward". But all you need to do is take a look at our current batch of MPs, or the denizens of any county council in the land to see that "democratically elected" does not necessarily mean "best person for the job".
Of course, if Lords reform does come back on the agenda, the logical next question would be "when are we going to get full separation of powers?" How can an executive which is not directly elected (you can make a case for the Prime Minister, but not for the Cabinet - certainly not the likes of Lords Falconer and Adonis) try and claim the moral high ground by forcing democracy on a second chamber which, arguably, works far more effectively for the good of the country than the elected Commons?
There's a lot about the way this country runs that makes little sense. The fact that the House of Lords is unelected, however, is the least of our worries. In fact, in countless votes over the last few years, the lack of an elected second chamber has been the one stopper on the government's efforts to shunt us ever closer to authoritarianism. Without that freedom of action born of a sense of personal honour, the "glorification of terrorism" nonsense would have been passed without a fight the other day.
Appointments for life mean the whips have less power, which can only be a good thing in a system of government blighted by factions, parties and coalitions throughout its existence. And it is the age-old demon of party rivalry and party loyalty which has long been and continues to be the biggest threat to any democracy.
Every now and again the party behemoths need a shake-up; they need to be split and formed anew merely because the old ties that bind similar interests together will naturally, over the years, grow loose. Within both major parties there are so many differing opinions that their sole reason for continuing as they are is the desperate lust for power.
The Tories, under David Cameron, have known this for years now, and are still desperately trying to tame the birth of new internal factionism and prevent a new party breaking away. Having already lost the more extreme wings with the formation of the Referendum and UK Independence parties in the mid-1990s, they have a good chance.
Labour, meanwhile, seem not to have learned the lesson of the SDP breakaway; the party leadership is making no real effort to placate the discontents. The promised saviour Brown, long-dangled in front of the internal rebels, is increasingly looking like a false messiah, and it can surely only be a matter of time before enough people within the party realise that not only has it changed beyond recognition from the one they joined, but also that there is little hope of it shifting back.
Galloway's Respect party has proved a bit of a damp squib. In that, Labour were lucky. The next time there's a splintering, they could be set to lose far more.
And yet Blair still persists in his bloody-minded path, despite the complaints and rebellions. Concessions - as on the Education Bill - come of necessity, but always grudgingly. He has forgotten the single most important duty of any leader in a representative democracy - to effectively manage the party.
Disillusioned ex-Labour voters are already forming cross-party coalitions online through the likes of Liberty Central
. It's only a matter of time before some MPs begin to follow. Because despite all the invective spewed on the telly, in Westminster most MPs actually get on rather well, no matter what their party. Labour MPs will be chatting to Tories and Lib Dems about their discontents. And - most worryingly for the Labour leadership - thanks to the successes of the Blair/Brown partnership the single biggest obstacle to a new coalition, the economy, is no longer such a contentious issue as it once was.
Interesting times are in the offing.
To make up for lack of content for the last couple of days, content about which you couldn't care less - it's meme time! (Blame this man)
Four jobs I’ve had
Four movies I can watch over and over
- Intern in the European Commission's Information Department (while I hated the EU)
- Researcher to an MP at the House of Commons
- Handing out chocolate Easter Eggs while dressed as a giant chicken
- Staff Writer / Sub-editor on a glossy travel/history magazine with pretty pictures and stuff
Four places I’ve lived
- Anything by Sergio Leone (even The Colossus of Rhodes)
- Evil Dead III (aka Army of Darkness: The Medieval Dead, aka Bruce Campbell Vs. The Army of Darkness)
- Citizen Kane (boring answer, but true)
- Scarface (the Stone/de Palma/Pacino remake)
Four tv shows I like
- Bloomsbury, London (too many students and tourists)
- Camden Town, London (too many students and tourists)
- Eastbourne, East Sussex (too many old people and tourists)
- Sherborne, Dorset (too many schoolkids and tourists)
- The West Wing (naturally...)
- Deadwood (purely for Lovejoy swearing)
- My Name Is Earl (when I remember to watch it)
- The Mighty Boosh (likewise, when I remember to watch it)
But the only programmes I regularly watch on TV these days are the 10 O'clock News and Newsnight. Largely because my reception's so bad, and I can't afford cable...Four places I’ve vacationed
Four of my favourite dishes
- Nikko (beautiful)
- Paris (tasty)
- Tokyo (aces)
- Vancouver (also tasty)
Four sites I visit daily
- Roast beef with all the trimmings (naturally)
- The full-on traditional Japanese food overload you get in traditional Ryokans
- Pie (All sorts - fish, steak and kidney, game, apple, cherry, anything and everything)
- Properly-cooked, nicely garlicy escargots
Hardly very revealing or original, that... But they're probably my only regular dailies (bar a few blogs whose owners need no more ego boosts)Four books I’ve read this year
- Peter Ackroyd - First Light (restrained, mournful, less complex than his usual stuff, different)
- Christopher Booker - The Seven Basic Plots (long-winded in places, and a fair few inaccuracies scattered about, but the basic case is well made and the book as a whole intriguing)
- Boris Johnson - The Dream of Rome (typically readable and entertaining - not so sure about his arguments though)
- John Stuart Mill - On Liberty and other essays (good collection, that)
(I'm assuming since 1st January, or there'd be a more interesting range)Four bloggers I’m going to tag with this
I'm not that cruel