Wednesday, February 02, 2005

What do they think they are up to?

There are times when I despair of our opponents. What do they think they are up to? Why cannot they come up with something better argued, better prepared, better presented?

Take the Centre for European Reform (CER), an organization I used to have a certain amount of wary respect for. Directed by journalist and author Charles Grant, this think-tank appeared to carve itself a reasonably credible niche as a perestroika Europhile organization, basically in favour of the project but full of suggestions on how it can be improved.

Recently, as I have noted before, they have changed from being in any way interested in improvement to another cheer-leading organization for the great Union or, as they prefer to refer to it rather hopefully, Europe.

CER has a new Director of Foreign Policy, one Mark Leonard, the former NuLab wunderkind and Director of Demos. Mark Leonard has, somewhat belatedly, since it has been written about in a number of American publications, caught on to the idea of “soft power”, the kind, apparently, that “Europe” extends throughout the world. (Especially, presumably, Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention other Arab states, who are watching Iraqi developments with interest, though they may not have noticed any sizeable EU presence there.)

Mr Leonard is about to have a book published, entitled in a somewhat jejeune fashion Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century. How anybody runs a century and why Mark Leonard thinks he should know the answer for the whole of it in the year 04 I leave to our readers to determine.

He had one jolly little wheeze. At the launch of the new eurosceptic party Veritas this morning, there was a tiny demonstration. Two people were holding a large banner, which announced the title Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century, two people were handing out flyers for the book and two other people, one of whom turned out to be Mark Leonard, were standing around chatting, hoping, presumably, to attract some of the attention that was going to Robert Kilroy-Silk. A little sad, I thought.

Then I asked Mark Leonard whether he meant Europe or the European Union. Errm, he said, well, I suppose I mean the European Union. I tut-tutted at the inaccuracy and asked with the greatest politeness whether he minded if I blogged it all. He looked a little uneasy. The CER, I may add, has no blog.

So what does the flyer tell us about the book? Well, it seems, those who think Europe will be weak and ineffectual are wrong. Europe will dominate the century, not America. How somebody who seems unable or unwilling to tell the difference between a continent with a complicated history and a political construct can predict anything is something of a mystery, until one realizes that the ideas have already been advanced by … well, as I said, Americans like Jeremy Rifkin and Andrew Moravchik (of whom more in another posting).

The first point Mark Leonard’s flyer, handed out outside the Veritas launch, made was that Europe only looks dead because America thinks so. Yes, gentle and perspicacious reader, this trenchant fighter for the idea of European superiority in world affairs starts off by looking rather fearfully at what America thinks about his idol. That, in a way, tells us all we need to know about what Mr Leonard probably feels deep down.

It seems America has had it because all it can do is launch the occasional military strike. Presumably Mr Leonard has paid not attention to the carefully enunciated policy of spreading liberty and democracy across the world.

These military strikes “fail to tackle the causes of global problems”, whatever these may be. One must always beware people who are incapable of defining precisely what they are talking about even in short flyers.

Of course, Europe is not like that. Oh dear me, no. Mr Leonard does not mention this, being modest on behalf of the project, but there is the small matter of sucking up to tyrants and authoritarian leaders, supporting terrorists, sending in troops when they feel like it (remember the Ivory Coast and DR Congo), breaking the UN embargo through the oil-for-food scam, and continuing with ruinous economic policies like the CAP and the CFP, which contribute to poverty in the Third World. So, perhaps, Mr Leonard is right – the EU does have a big influence on world affairs.

However, that is not what he means. Or so he says. What he means is that
“Europe works in a more diffuse way. It extends its influence through legislation, spreading its values across the world, from Russia to Rwanda.”
If I were him, I would have chosen different examples. Presumably the book was written before the latest political developments in Russia but it is now generally acknowledged that President Putin is moving extremely fast back into an era of political authoritarianism that does not even have the merit of providing a framework for free enterprise.

To be fair, nothing Putin has done is alien to Russian history, but Mr Leonard seems to think that he has been influenced by “Europe” through legislation. Either he cares little about what really goes on in the world or he tells tales of porcine aviation.

Then there is Rwanda. A bit of a mess. If it was caused by “Europe” or happened under the influence, “Europe” ought to be ashamed of herself. There is, of course, good evidence that some parts of “Europe”, namely France, were strongly supportive of the Hutu militias, and, thus can be said to have had an influence in Rwanda. Did Mr Leonard mean that? I think we should be told.
“Europe brings other countries into its orbit rather than defining itself against them, which is crucial at this volatile moment in our history. Its lack of a single leader allows it to expand to accommodate ever-greater numbers of countries without collapsing.”
As I said, I despair. The European Union is already feeling the strain at taking in ten new countries, eight of them former communist ones. Serious, grown-up people who look at the issues, are shaking their heads with worry and that is before the question of Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, let alone, Turkey comes up.

Besides, the EU has nobody in its orbit except countries that are hoping to become members for one reason or another. As we have pointed out before, the EU’s problem (well, one of them) is that it has no clear attitude to countries close to itself and has to escape into banal generalities when its aims are discussed.

Finally, Mr Leonard tells us that
“Although it is responsible for half our legislation and half our trade, and controls entire areas of policy from agriculture to environmental regulation, it is practically invisible. This subtle power is a tremendous source of strength.”
What he means by subtle power, presumably, is the fact that politicians will not admit how much is controlled by the unaccountable EU and how little by them. Well, Mr Leonard has just blown the gaffe, and he will not be thanked.

His figures are wrong, incidentally. Around eighty per cent of our legislation, according to the government comes from the EU and, if we take invisibles into account, less than half of our trade is with the EU. In fact only ten per cent or so of our economic activity, involved the Single Market.

Still, only a lad who has never had a day job in his life can think that the power that produces endless laws and regulations is invisible. It may have been hidden but it is becoming more and more visible, not least because the Commission wants it to be. On this, as on so many things Mr Leonard is a tad out of date.

The real question is who does he think will be impressed by these arguments? Who are these people who will say: whoppeee, I am so glad that the invisible hand of Europe runs my life. Is this what the yes camp going to use as an argument?

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