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A distorting lens

Posted by Richard Saturday, September 04, 2004

An extraordinary exchange of letters has just taken place in the pages of the Financial Times, between Bernard Bot, Dutch minister of foreign affairs and currently president of the EU council of ministers, and Stanley Crossick, founding chairman of the European Policy Centre in Brussels.

Bot, whose letter was published in the FT on 26 August, was arguing for Brussels to "show a little restraint", meaning that "we should consider reserving certain policy areas for national governments - or in some cases handing back responsibility for them". He was thinking of cultural policy, certain parts of the Common Agricultural Policy and structural policy, and areas of healthcare and social policy.

Despite actually going further than Conservative Leader Michael Howard has gone on the repatriation states, Bot’s plea was based on the belief that "most European citizens wholeheartedly support the integration process and the creation of a European federation in which the unique qualities and powers of nation states are respected".

Where he gets the idea from that "most European citizens wholeheartedly support the integration process…", Bot does not reveal, but one has to query whether it is possible to have a true European federation "in which the unique qualities and powers of nation states are respected". The man is in serious danger of hankering after a barking cat.

Nevertheless, Bot continued to express his concern that European integration could be jeopardised by the "arrogance of power" of Europe's political leaders not giving their citizens a say in the political process – and thereby ensuring that "the rights and freedoms of member states and citizens are given effective protection".

What he was referring to here was the constitutional referendum, leaving the reader with two remedies to what he described as "popular disenchantment" with the EU: clawing back powers from Brussels and giving "citizens" a say in the running of the EU.

But such sentiments, mild – and somewhat confused – through they were, brought down the wrath of that great Europhile Stanley Crossick, whom the FT published yesterday. He took up Bot's sentiment that European integration could be jeopardised by the "arrogance of power" but disputed that the remedy was "repatriation of powers".

Here is all its glory was Crossick's recipe for success:

There is widespread recognition among our citizens that the EU must develop a common foreign and security policy and that the fight against terrorism and indeed unemployment requires closer co-operation between the member states. The arrogance of power to which he refers is that of national leaders in preventing such closer co-operation.
It takes an enormous feat of imagination to see where this man is coming from. From where does he get the idea that "our citizens" want "closer co-operation" - particularly on foreign and security policy - and how on earth can he argue that national politicians, in protecting national interests is a matter of “arrogance of power”?

But that is the dyed-in-the-wool Europhile for you. Everything is seen through a distorting lens, so that nothing seems straight. Someone one said to me, you can't argue with these people – you have to shoot them. I can see his point.