Friday, May 21, 2004

Is this the most stupid woman in Britain?

That was the title of an e-mail circulating a copy of Poly Toynbee’s latest column in The Guardian. Headed, "The yob of Europe", her thesis is that "The yobs of Europe are wrecking the new constitution, British hooligans breaking up the EU negotiating table again".

According to Toynbee, who of course writes from the comfort of her office many miles from Belgium, "after two days of talks this week, Jack Straw left a trail of fury. The Germans accused him of reopening resolved issues and ‘salami-slicing’ the whole document. The French were so angry they called for the process to be halted with a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. Perfidious Albion looked pretty pleased. Jack Straw hurried back to speak at a CBI banquet smirking with satisfaction…".

Yet, one does not have to be there to know this is wholly wrong. A review of the copious agency and media reports from the scene, with the help of a little insider information, would tell any dispassionate observer that Toynbee’s "take" on the situation was a crude invention.

But this is not another rant at journalists who, as has been pointed out to me, are a far too easy target (not that Toynbee is a journalist). Toynbee represents a strand of thinking in the Europhile establishment – typified by Stephen George’s book, "The Awkward Partner" - that always wants to present Britain in the worst possible light. She, like the others of her ilk, then projects her prejudices whenever the opportunity affords – this being a case in point.

The point at issue is that Mz Toynbee’s approach – as has been pointed out in previous blogs - is determinedly Ango-centric. The great Europhile is in fact a "little Englander" at heart, trapped in her tiny little world, unable, unwilling or – as the e-mail would have it – too stupid to see the bigger picture. That is what we are dealing with.

Nevertheless, a glimpse of that bigger picture comes with the latest communication from the Irish presidency, which in its own way, EU Observer is also determined to get wrong. Its headline is: "Tentative solutions on controversial voting system proposed", yet scrutiny of the Irish document reveals otherwise. Far from offering "solutions" the Irish presidency specifically states, yet again, that it "is not making a proposal at this time". It merely intends that "Ministers will have a general political discussion on the overall state of the negotiations".

And as to the detail, far from clarifying the situation, the document refers to yet more options for dealing with the vexed issue of voting rights, including the status of abstentions, and intriguingly, "the definition and operation of a blocking majority". These issues, as our readers will need no reminding, lie at the heart of the current round of negotiations – in which Britain is not a central player. And it is on their resolution that the constitution will survive or fall.

But it is worth re-emphasising that this current round of foreign ministers’ talks is the penultimate stage in the IGC process, when the issues should have been clarified, with the agenda being set for the final round of talks at the summit. If, at this stage, all the presidency is proposing are "general political discussions", then it is very clear that agreement on the crucial issues is a long way away.

There may be more huffing and puffing at the ministers’ meeting on Monday, and Toynbee or one of her Europhile clones may have another rant about "British hooligans", but the evidence is there in black and white. The summit is headed for the rocks, and it is nothing to do with the "Yobs of Europe".

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