Don’t panic, the EU superstate is dead. That is the message journalist Jasper Gerard, offers, based on an interview of Mr Prodi, conveyed by the Sunday Times today.
But the grounds on which Gerard bases his soothing nostrum is somewhat slender: "Those who fear the new European empire is growing too powerful should visit the palace of its king", he writes. "…if rival monarchs quaked before the magnificence of Versailles, the emperor of the European Union’s drab Brussels office block is more likely to elicit sniggers. It would not look out of place on a Slough trading estate."
Prodi, it appears, "is not mimicking Oval Office grandeur: his study is piled with inevitable EU reports; only a daubing of a giant cherub, borrowed from a real palazzo, suggests the user of this work station is more than a small-town functionary." And, according to Gerard, his pronouncements "will be strangely comforting to even the most Europhobic."
"Iraq has set off a war of words in European chancelleries between Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac et al that is deeply ‘personal’, souring all EU business; further integration is off the agenda, with a common foreign or defence policy unlikely for half a century; while Europe’s much trumpeted ambition to become the world’s most dynamic economy within a decade is a pipe dream unless we liberalise and invest".
Yes folks, the EU superstate is dead, and there is no prospect of the Franco-German engine chugging us inexorably to "federal Europe": it has long since conked out. "With the EU growing larger, the weight of the two countries decreases. But even with a union of 15 (before its recent expansion to 25 states) it became hard to say there was a dominating Franco-German engine," Prodi says. "It heaved hardest for its ‘national interests rather than integration’".
Er… so that’s all right then. The "superstate" and "federal Europe" is dead. We were dreaming about the constitution, due to be signed at the end of this month; we were having nightmares when we read the green paper on defence procurement; we imagined the establishment of the agencies – not least the Fisheries Control Agency; the developments in the field of justice and home affairs, and the European police college, are all fantasy.
The insidious creep of tax harmonisation hasn’t happened; the European space programme, the Single European Sky and the European Research Area, to say nothing of the commission’s encroachments into road safety policy, dictating the traffic laws for the whole of the EU, are simply figments of our imagination.
But Prodi mentions nothing of these, and I detect a trend here. With the constitution looming over us, the rush is on for reassurance… nothing to fear, people – the EU might have had ambitions for a superstate once, but that’s all over now… that’s in the past. It’s all sweetness and light, economic liberalisation and all that.
Does Prodi foresee Europe becoming a superpower rivalling the US? "In 50 years you can dream of anything, but you need decades for a united foreign policy and even longer for military policy… Only fear of a common European danger will change that." Writes Gerard, "Osama is perhaps Europe’s best hope for union: yikes".
Yikes indeed. In 1957, after the Suez crisis had proved to be the catalyst that drove the parties together to agree the Treaty of Rome, a colleague of Monnet remarked to him, only half in jest, that a statue should be erected to Nasser, as "the federator of Europe". Osama is fulfilling exactly the same role, and Prodi knows it. He and his successors will continue to exploit and expand the "fear of a common European danger". If you have a common danger, that justifies a common policy.
That was the most interesting part of the article, and Gerard uses it as a throw-away line. What it does show though is that, while the headline says one thing, the reality is wholly different. The integration ethos is still as powerful as ever it was. The great deception continues - and that truly is the "common European danger".