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Are they listening to themselves? - Part III

Posted by Helen Thursday, June 17, 2004

It would be difficult to imagine a clearer message than that sent by the electorate of the EU to its leaders, both national and European. Surely even these grand individuals must realize that at least part of the disaffection is caused by that appalling Constitution - too long, too complex, too intrusive - that they are discussing in Brussels today and tomorrow.

That being so, you would think they might draw back and think again, especially as the original purpose of that Convention for the Future of Europe (remember Giscard d’Estaing and his merry men and women?) was set up to deal with the growing democracy deficit in the European Union.

Alas, there seems to be no indication of a chastened attitude. Anne Anderson, Ireland ambassador to the EU interpreted the message from voters last week somewhat eccentrically. To her all those abstainers and people who voted for eurosceptic parties were saying that a swift agreement was needed on who is to be President of the Commission.

“Europe cannot afford a failure because of the depressing message that such a failure would send,” she asserted. To whom would that message go? The same people who received the message from the voters?

Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, was not much more coherent. He thought it was vital to obtain agreement on a constitution this week(on Waterloo Day, to be precise, though he did not say so) in order to “demonstrate to ourselves and the world that our enlarged union can … achieve the objectives it sets itself”. Which objectives would that be? Democracy, perchance?

But, as usual, the most magnificent disregard for reality was demonstrated by the outgoing President of the Commission and putative Italian Prime Minister wannabe, Romano Prodi. To him the message was clear. The response to voter apathy must be to increase the EU’s intrusiveness into ordinarly people’s lives, on the basis that if you keep annoying everybody they might notice you eventually. Of course, he may not like the form that notice will take.

“[T]he main political point is that if Europe does not become the arena where decisions that have a direct impact on the life of Europeans are taken, one can hardly expect to involve people convincingly.” The assembled leaders in Brussels should take note of this and “draw institutional consequences”. One shudders to think what those might be.