Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

A polite message to Valery 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He then expands this assumption of what “the people of Europe” (his phrase) actually want into an insanely outdated teleology that could have been plucked straight from the mouth of one of the EU’s overly idealisitic post-war founders: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 Valery’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.