Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The EU’s mid-life crisis

Everyone’s focussing on the collapse of the talks about Turkish entry (Guardian, Independent, Times, Financial Times, Le Monde (in French), Le Figaro (in French), EU Observer, Deutsche Welle (German press review – in English), EurActiv) – but, let’s face it, this was pretty inevitable. Turkey is still a long way from even the lax entry conditions the EU allowed for some of the 2004 accession countries – and as long as the Cyprus situation continues (not to mention the refusal of Turkey to formally acknowledge the Armenian genocide), there is blatantly going to be little progress. It will be some years yet before Turkey will be in any position to join the union.

Still, thanks to a combination of the sheer tedium of covering the EU and the fact that the potential for Turkish entry allows lazy leader writers yet more excuses to trot out the same old editorials about the potential problems/benefits/dangers of an islamic country joining the EU (hoards of dusky-skinned Mohammedans and the collapse of western European society vs. a long-overdue acknowledgement of the importance of Ottoman, Arabic and wider Islamic cultures on the development of the European identity, take your pick), this Turkey spat means that much of the other EU news of the last couple of days is going to be ignored.

Potentially most importantly, the ongoing extraordinary rendition investigations are about to finish, and everyone’s doing their best to ignore them, as 11 EU states will come in for criticism in the final report:

Italy, the UK, Germany, Sweden and Austria saw terrorism suspects snatched on their territory the report by Italian socialist MEP Claudio Fava will say, while the UK, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Romania and Poland hosted hundreds of secret CIA flights.

The density of the flights – suspected of being used for ‘extraordinary renditions’ or transfer of prisoners without trial or legal redress to sites such as Guantanamo Bay or Uzbekistan – was the greatest in Germany (336), the UK (170) and Ireland (147).”

So, 170 rendition flights from UK airports. Despite the government having denied knowledge of any of them? The UK is also going to be branded “uncooperative” by the report. And, it is worth noting – if unlikely that it will come to this,

EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini has in the past clarified that any EU member states caught violating ‘fundamental human rights’ could face suspension of EU voting privileges under articles six and seven of the EU Treaty.”

Meanwhile, while the current EU members are busy obfuscating in an attempt to hide their close collaboration with the US in the war on terror (the EU? Working closely with the US? Surely not!), the problems of enlargement and what to do next continue to hang around in the background, largely unaddressed.

Even so, we have news that the current Finnish EU presidency has been conducting research to try to work out ways of reviving that damn constitution, which “could be a useful step in keeping the constitutional process alive”. They’re going to present the findings of their research at a summit in a fortnight’s time, prior to handing over the presidency to Germany, (where Chancellor Merkel looks to be facing all kinds of domestic political disputes that will most likely result in the German EU presidency achieving even less than did Blair’s).

So, a year and a half after the rejection of the constitution by French and Dutch voters, the message still hasn’t been fully received. Reform is necessary – even vital – but not THAT reform. But as long as the dithering continues, the more screwed the EU is going to get.

As it is, the failure to work out how to split the budget between 25 member states rather than 15 – something, one would have thought, that it would have been sensible to work out BEFORE enlagement – means that the EU is now having to rely on its neighbours for charitable donations. Yup, the Swiss people have just voted to contribute one billion Swiss francs (c.£440,000) to help out the 10 accession countries, who are all still waiting for the promised cash that was supposed to help them bolster their economies enough to actually be worthwhile partners (just as the likes of Britain, Spain, Portugal , Ireland and Greece have all been helped out in the past). Instead, the EU seems to be more concerned with developing its core – again something that should, surely, have been done before expansion?

The EU, it would seem, is in sore need of some fresh blood and some fresh ideas if all its political leaders can do is continue to attempt to recycle the failed d’Estaing constitution and strive after further expansion. I’m not sure if George Soros is quite the right person to look to, but we must be able to learn SOMETHING from the United States (other than how to cooperate with the CIA in whisking terror suspects off to be tortured, of course). The US, after all, is surely the federation whose success Europe should try to emulate, even if not its precise form?

The original aims of the EU’s founders have in part come to pass – after all, France and Germany are unlikely to go to war any time soon – and in part failed utterly – for there is little sign of complete political union ever happening. The current aims of the EU are, however, at best unclear.

Having expanded its territory to cover most of the continent, the union is having a major mid-life crisis in the run-up to its 50th birthday. As so many 50-year-olds seem to discover on reaching their half century, it’s sort of done what it set out to do, but just not quite as well as it would have liked.

So – is it going to buy a fast car, dye its hair, and go cruising for fresh excitement and challenges; simply accept what it is, buy a cozy cardigan and pair of slippers, and get on with the few things it can actually do well; or get so stressed out by its decades of little failures that the mid-life crisis turns into a full-scale breakdown?

Something is going to have to happen soon. Although, with Merkel’s current precarious position in Germany and the French presidential elections not happening for another few months, it is unlikely to kick off until at least the latter half of next year. In the meantime, every little scrap could be important.