Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

France and the pro-EU attitude problem

Alternative headline: Contentious issue on which no presidential candidate has any answers is largely ignored in presidential election debates shocker!

Yep, it’s not just me who’s noticed the lack of any concrete EU policies from any of the French presidential candidates so far. Now France’s EU Commissioner, Jacques Barrot (who just so happens to have a book to sell on the future of France’s EU relations), has got all upset, apparently because:

“he claims the candidates – principally Nicolas Sarkozy from the right and Ségolène Royal on the left – have either played down European issues or used the EU as a scapegoat for France’s problems.

“He has been dismayed by criticisms of the European Central Bank and of the euro – whose strong exchange rate has been blamed for French industrial problems – and portrayal of EU competition policies as bad for ordinary people…

“He says French citizens’ alienation with the EU stems from fear about the modern world. ‘It’s a problem with globalisation and with themselves,'”

And here we once again see the problem that us pro-EU lot have: the people we’ve got to make the case for the Union are idiots – because what Barrot’s effectively saying here is

“Stop saying nasty things! They’re all lies! (Even though I won’t present you with any evidence to prove this.) And in case I forget, the electorate are STUPIDHEADS!”

Of course, the real reason EU apparatchiks are getting a bit tetchy about the French elections is because it’s currently looking very, very tight and unpredictable (even if Royal has fallen behind again, the second round could see everything change) – and when they’re finally over, there will only be a month of the German EU presidency left in which to gain an agreement on the way forward with the constitution / EU institutional reform. Fools that they are, having prevaricated for the last 18 months they’ve all placed far, far too much hope on Germany being able to sort out the constitutional crisis before handing over the presidency to Portugal on 1st July. And they’ve only just, in the last couple of weeks, begun to realise that this is never going to happen.

If only they’d been reading this blog and accepting my pessimistic predictions for the accurate and dispassionate assessment that they were, perhaps they could have come up with a more realistic timetable.

Sadly, however, realism seems to be playing an ever-decreasing role in high-level discussions of EU reform. Rather than the sort of pro-EU types who blindly support “the European project” without bothering to analyse or criticise it in any way, we need a new generation of people at the top who are cautiously, critically pro-EU. Because how the hell can you possibly hope to reform anything if you’re blind to its faults?

Yes, Royal and Sarkozy COULD kick off that kind of debate during the presidential elections, as they both seem to be aware that the EU isn’t perfect – but the inevitable superficiality of such debates within the context of an electoral news cycle would only ensure that the negative assessments of the EU, and not the positive proposals for change, would be the only things to get reported. Bad news sells far better than positive visions. This is why, in any member state where there’s even the slightest doubt about the EU amongst the electorate, politicians are increasingly desperate to avoid talking about the EU in the context of an election campaign.

The EU’s not going to be an issue in the UK, and it’s not going to be an issue in France either – and, let’s face it, why should it? Until the people – those “citizens of the European Union” that keep being referred to as some kind of abstract mass of loyally pro-EU faceless drones – are actively involved, through greater democratisation, through greater input into the broad vision (rather than merely being allowed a rough choice in the selection of an MEP whose names they’ll never know and who are largely powerless in any case), and through the top dogs at the EU acknowledging that maybe – just maybe – the views of French and Dutch voters should be respected, until that happens there is no hope of the EU either being reformed effectively or of really prompting the active enthusiasm of the average person on the street. And although it is possible to rule without support from below, surely we don’t want to give the eurosceptics yet more ammunition by wilfully ignoring the people and further underscoring their impression that it’s some kind of bureaucratic dictatorship?

Gah… Why can’t we – just for once – have a spokesman for the EU cause who isn’t a patronising idiot? “It’s a problem with globalisation and with themselves”? No, mate, it’s a problem with you and your mates not being able to understand that one of the joys and frustrations of democracy is that not everyone agrees with you all the time. Get used to it, because without greater democratic participation, resentment of the EU is only going to increase – especially when fools like you come along and insult the electorate for not being clever enough to understand.