Our dear national leaders are meeting today in the Belgian capital to discuss the little problem of the EU no longer having tedious little things like “a purpose”, “a direction”, or “a viable way of continuing to function for more than the immediate future”. As the BBC’s Mark Mardell rightly points out, the chance of anything genuinely constructive happening at this summit is somewhat akin to my chances being appointed editor of the Daily Mail.
Yep, it’s all yet more fall-out from that bloody constitution, which in some quarters is being treated like the beloved pet you lug down the taxidermist’s so you can stuff him full of straw in a “life-like” pose and leave him lying round the sitting room in a really rather sad act of self-denial. Meanwhile, sensible types dug a shallow hole out in the garden and shoved the poor bugger in long ago, saying a quick prayer and hoping that the local foxes don’t dig up the bones.
In other words, this summit is all about one group asking “where next?” and the others asking “where next for the constitution?” The fact that they can STILL deny that the thing was well and truly put down by the French and Dutch a year ago ensures that the latter group will well and truly stop any progress being made in allowing the EU to get on with coming up with processes to tackle the many problems it faces – despite them maintaining that they’re the most enthusiastic “Europeans” of the lot.
Here’s a tip, chaps. It you love someone who’s ill, the way to help them get better is to try and find them a cure that will work. The constitution has already been rejected. That particular medicine has failed. It’s time to try something new. Because if you leave the lurgy for too long, some parts will become so sickened that the only option left will be amputation.
But enough with these tediously overwraught analogies.
The prime reason that this summit is going to fail is because it’s being conducted between the 25 Europeans not only least capable of understanding the people of Europe, but also least capable of forming a sensible, mutually-beneficial solution to a trans-continental problem: the political heads of the 25 member states.
The major problem, of course, is that none of these 25 national leaders can risk seeming weak. Remember Blair (entirely sensibly) offering a compromise on the British rebate last year? BLAM. He’s portrayed as weak, caving in to the French, and betraying the national interest. Remember Chirac offering a compromise on anything, ever? Of course not – his eye is firmly on the French electorate and the desperate struggle to maintain power. The same is more or less true for all the other politicos in Brussels for today’s summit.
But an added problem – especially for a summit one of whose aims is to discuss how to increase “transparency” – is that these national leaders are precisely the same people who make up the Council of Ministers*, the single worst offender in terms of accountability and openness of any EU institution. The Council has repeatedly insisted on a secrecy and almost total lack of accountability that would make many dictators envious – yet it is the Council of Ministers’ members who are going to come up with solutions to the EU’s “transparency” problems? Yeah, right…
The only way – as I’ve argued before – to come up with a workable plan for the future of the EU is really rather simple. We need to find out what everyone wants from the thing. Currently the only opinions that get heard on a regular basis are the extremes – abolitionists at one end, political unionists at the other. The opinions of the people of the EU are not that simple or extreme.
But if the people are not consulted – as they weren’t in the drafting of the failed constitution – then the politicians who are consistently failing to come up with a plan will have no guidance on what might work. They’re desperately stabbing around in the dark with a rubber sword, hoping to skewer a passing solution while all the solutions are happily putting their feet up in a different room. But even if a solution was to be had, few of the other politicians could agree to it lest they appear weak, and unable to find one of their own.
And so it continues. Another pointless summit at which nothing will be decided. The decision will be deferred again. And again. Until, one day, the last-minute compromises on which the EU has been so reliant for the last few years will fail to materialise any more. The already present cracks will widen, and the whole edifice will start to collapse.
For people who profess to be trying to find the best solution to help the EU continue to grow and strengthen itself, the lot in charge are doing a great job of destroying it. For those of us who can acknowledge the EU’s many and major problems, yet want to see it do well, this whole charade is getting increasingly depressing.
* The Council of Ministers is properly known as the Council of the European Union – not to be confused with the Council of Europe (which is very different and not an EU body), but also not to be confused with the European Council, which IS an EU body and has pretty much exactly the same rules and members as the Council of the European Union, yet is subtly different for some obscure reason best known to its members – the political heads of the EU member states. It is as the European Council, not as the Council of the European Union, that the heads of the EU member states are meeting in Brussels today. Clear?