Monday, September 27, 2004

They are a little confused

My colleague and I have been accused by some readers of not being unbiased on the subject of the European Union. There is, of course, no such thing as unbiased journalism. If nothing else, bias shows in the choice of stories and the importance allotted to them.

We also find it hard to understand how one can be unbiased on something like the European Union or the planned Constitution. Either you are in favour of that heavy-handed (in every sense of the word) document that seeks to control minutely every aspect of our existence or you are not. It is not as if this colossal text resembled the American Constitution that tried simply to define the relationship between the people and the state or between the various parts of government. You can argue about the merits and demerits of certain structures and be reasonably unbiased about it all, even though none of thecontemproary publications or journals were that.

In the spirit of our electronic media, though, we proudly proclaim ourselves to be unbiased or balanced in our coverage. Whenever, say, the BBC used to be reproached for giving a one-sided view on the EU, they would reply indignantly that they had representatives of all the major parties taking part in the dicussion. The fact that they were all europhile representatives, did not abash the great and the good of the Beeb at all. (They have, recently, changed somewhat.)

Well, we, too, shall have representatives of all the parties on our blog. We are happy to attack all of them, irrespective of their allegiance. And this is the season to do it in – the party conference season, when under pretence of good will and love for all their political brethren a good deal of stupid viciousness brews. With too much food eaten, too much drink consumed, too many people who do not see each other and have no opinion of each other having to spend several days constantly in each other’s company, it is a wonder that more crimes are not committed in those seaside resorts during the second half of September and early October.

My colleague has already dealt with the Lib-Dims and their shenanigans. I shall fire the first salvoes at the Labour Party. At today’s fringe meetings we have had two luminaries, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and former Foreign Secretary, former Leader of the House and present nothing very much Robin Cook, assuring their audience that the EU Constitution was a very good thing and, with a little bit of effort, could be imposed on the British people … woops … I mean, the referendum could be won with a little effort.

Sadly, there they stop agreeing with each other. For they favour the Constitution for different reasons. Robin Cook, as behoves the voice of the Left, is calling for a strong “Europe” to counterbalance America. This is what he told the Observer, in preparation to addressing Britain in Europe:

“The Bush administration is showing a missionary zeal to remake the world in the mould of Texas: if Europe wants to avoid that fate, it's got to be strong. The lesson of the last four years is that when Europe is divided its views can be ignored and when Europe is weak its values can be undermined. The world needs a strong Europe arguing with one clear voice for respect for international law.”
Setting aside the questionable assumption of Bush and his administration of rather varied background wanting to remake anything in the mould of Texas, or even what that might be (Lots of space? High standard of living? People saying what they think?), his assumption that “Europe” can or should provide a counterbalance is distinctly odd.

What is that counterbalance, precisely? What is Europe’s opinion? There is a reason why it is divided on issues and the reason is that the different countries have different interests and different attitudes to the world. The one thing we have not been able to discern through the various crises of the last few years: the Balkans, the war against terror, Afghanistan, Iraq and so on, is a specifically European point of view, despite those many attempts to describe a rather vague European attitude.

And if it does not have a point of view, it cannot counterbalance America. But this sort of ill-digested gobbledygook plays well with the left of the Labour Party, which is notoriously sceptical about the European project. Whether it is the left that will attend the fringe meeting of Britain in Europe is questionable.

Jack Straw, on the other hand, takes a different line. He is not worried about the Constitution. Come the day, the people of Britain will see sense and ratify this amazing document that will give them all the political advantage they can think of and many they cannot.

“I am comfortable as to where the battle lines on this issue have been drawn and, if we can remain united and resolute I am confident that we will win.”
Why is he so comfortable with the battle lines, that no one else has discerned yet? Because the constitutional treaty will reaffirm the British people’s support for the EU. The British people, according to Mr Straw, want the EU

“…to be more responsive to their needs, to be more accountable to them and to their representatives and, crucially to be more effective at delivering on the real issues that they care about such as jobs, the environment and crime”.
Really? We have been told repeatedly that “Europe” was a non-issue with most voters, who were more interested in matters such as jobs and crime, possibly the environment. Now we are told that those are precisely the issues that are part of “Europe”. But wait a minute. Was criminal justice not one of those famous red lines? The EU is now going to deal with the problems of law and order in this country? Has the police been told? Has David Blunkett?

When it comes to jobs, Mr Straw is not exactly onto a winner. It is true that various articles in the Constitution hand economic policy over to the EU, or define what sort of economic decisions can be taken (hardly what a constitution should be about) but all these do is to entrench the old social-democratic model that the EU is so desperate to promote as the new European way of thinking. So far, it has caused chronic economic stagnation and equally chronic unemployment in numerous Continental countries. Is that what the EU will deliver on the real issue of employment?

Most of all, however, one needs to ask again and with increased urgency the following: if the reason for voting in the EU Constitution is that it will deliver on all these purely domestic issues, what exactly is the purpose of, well, Mr Straw, for instance? What are our ministers and MPs supposed to deal with if all the issues that they argued on the doorstep and in their manifestos in the last election, will be the same issues that we shall be voting on in the referendum next year? Has Mr Straw thought this through any more carefully than Mr Cook has?