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Are they listening to themselves? - Part II

Posted by Helen Monday, June 14, 2004

It seems that the media cannot cope with the fact that the peoples of Europe have, one way or another, administered their governments a kicking any more than the politicians can. Perhaps, they should all start reading this blog.

Here are a few examples of the way the European elections of the last week and the results are being reported:

AOL News this morning insisted that both Blair and Berlusconi were being punished for their stand on Iraq while Zapatero in Spain was being rewarded for pulling Spanish troops out. As the turn-out in Spain was considerably lower than ever before and as the margin between the two parties was 2 per cent, this was a questionable proposition. Unfortunately, this theory could not explain the shattering defeat inflicted on the two leaders of the opposition to the war: Chancellor Schröder and President Chirac.

To explain the rise of the eurosceptic vote, AOL, copying certain newspapers, such as the Guardian, rather disdainfully attributed the vote to fears of enlargement and the consequent immigration, fomented by the eurosceptic parties. Unfortunately, that did not explain why eurosceptic parties did well (on a very low turn-out) in the Czech Republic and Poland.

That story has now been replaced by the equally preposterous one of Charles Kennedy’ call for a euro-debate (see Are they listening to themselves? – Part I click here).

The New York Times, usually fairly accurate in its analysis, this morning went into a tailspin:

"The voting in Britain, which took place on Thursday, was read by many as a protest against Prime Minister Tony Blair's support for the United States-led war in Iraq. A similar sentiment was expected from the polls in Italy, while Spanish voters were expected to reward the new government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats were on their way to their worst defeat in a quarter-century of direct European elections as voters cast ballots for the opposition to protest against the country's stalled economy and slashes in social benefits."

The two juxtaposed paragraphs may have made sense to the journalist but not really to anyone else.

Reuter's UK disgracefully departed from its usual high standards of objective reporting of facts and insisted over and over again that Mr Blair’s government was being punished for its stand over Iraq. In the course of its reporting, the journalist, Paul Taylor, managed not to mention that it was, in fact, the Conservatives who gained most in the local elections, as that would have undermined his central thesis.

In the light of the European results, with UKIP making its fantastic break-through and the Liberal-Democrats, the one completely anti-war and europhile major party, being humiliated, the reporting has been toned down and has almost reverted to the usual standards. One would like to think that someone at Reuter's noticed what was going on and issued a reprimand. However, even the most recent story carries the following completely illogical and factually not entirely accurate paragraph:

"Voters punished Blair for his role in the U.S.-led Iraq war and governing parties in France, Germany and Poland for economic stagnation, unemployment and painful social reforms."

The European Commission has announced that the reason for voter apathy and the surge in the eurosceptic vote is that the European Parliament does not have enough power. This ignores the well-known fact that its powers have been increasing steadily, while the turn-out for the elections has been plummeting. Can’t have everything.

There is also the alternative theory, much loved by the eurocracy of the new member states, such as the Estonian Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, that people do not understand the European Parliament’s importance. She will have to learn not to use that particular excuse. It has been used by various other eurocrats and politicos in the past and has never been very successful.

The whole extraordinary saga was summed up best by the BBC Russian Service. It headed its main story this morning: "Politicians are calling the election results a catastrophe". As well they might. This is a democratic protest that outeclipses the rather pathetic rent-a-mob anti-globalization demonstrations.

The same story raises another issue, not to be ignored. For years we were told that clearly the EU is a good thing as so many of the post-Communist countries want to get into it. Of course, that ignored the fact that the EU in its ineffable generosity gave them no options by refusing any free trade or other agreements except on the basis of future membership.

Now we see another problem. The referendums in the many East European countries had fairly low turn-outs, sometimes skimming the half-mark, sometimes not even that. And in the first triumphant pan-European elections, the East Europeans contemptuously stayed at home.