One of the reasons we need the European Constitution, runs the mantra, is that then Europe “will speak with one voice” and will be stronger in the world. What we have never quite worked out is what it is Europe might want to say with one voice, as there seems to be no evidence of a single interest.
The only reply one ever gets to this eminently reasonable question is that Europe needs to stand up to America. Right, so the single European interest is to oppose the United States? Well, errm, not precisely, but we need to stand up to it and create a multipolar world, not to be confused with multilateralism, which is a way of using up large amounts of money to bleat with great self-satisfaction, achieving little.
So, there we are, standing up to America (and possibly it is about time Secretary of State Rice appreciated that) but how do we do this? One obvious way is opposing everything America does. The trouble is that the United States has proclaimed the aim of its foreign policy to be the spread of democracy.
It is possible to point out various hypocritical actions, all the times the United States decides to support a less than democratic state, like Pakistan because President Musharraf is preferable to the alternative; or the rather nebulous support for the leaders of the various “stans” in Central Asia (not precisely opposed by Russia or the European Union either).
Or we can go the whole hog and actually support all those who oppose the United States. And that, I fear, is what the EU does all too often, pleading a greater sophistication and understanding of world politics.
One spectacular example has been the old and, alas, not too decrepit Communist dictator and murderer, Fidel Castro.
In 2003 the Cuban government imprisoned 75 dissidents and executed three “hijackers” who wanted to escape from the Communist paradise. The EU suspended high level contacts and began to invite those dissidents who are temporarily free to ambassadorial functions.
All that has changed and the engine of change was the new Socialist Spanish government of Zapatero. Urged by him the EU has announced that it has discerned certain changes in the Cuban regime (it must have been using a very powerful microscope) and, therefore, was ready to lift sanctions.
Counter-urged by the new East European member states, who knew all about Communist dictatorships at first hand, and whose representatives would have grown up with pictures of the bearded wonder all over their newspapers and magazines, the EU decided merely to suspend sanctions. Never mind, still a kick in the general direction of Uncle Sam.
Well, it seems Fidel is not all that grateful. Several EU parliamentarians and European journalists went to Cuba last week to attend and monitor a congress of Cuban dissidents. One of them was, in fact, a Spaniard; some others came from the former Communist states.
This was of no importance. One and all, they were frogmarched to the nearest airport, put on a plane and sent packing.
The Czech MEP Karel Schwarrzenberg did not mince his words:0
“This is the typical behaviour of a totalitarian state. I did nothing against the law. They just didn’t like the people I was visiting.”
No doubt he could recall the time when Western visitors were treated in the same way if they tried to make contact with Czech dissidents.
The German Christian Democrat, Arnold Vaatz, who had been sentenced to forced labour under the East German regime, said that he was appalled by the European “romanticism of Cuba”, adding that the dissidents had told him of increased terror and arbitrariness.
The Congress of dissidents did go ahead, despite the inevitable squabbles between the various groups and under the watchful eyes of Castro’s police.
200 people turned up on the first day but only 100 on the second. That may have been fear or a certain feeling that one day is quite sufficient.
The United States made its position clear. A senior diplomat, James Cason, attended, equipped with a videotaped message of support from President Bush.
“We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedom in Havana that they have in America.”
Alas, the “we” does not include the European Union or that many European governments. Not displaying too much worry about the fate of the Cuban people, the spokesman for the Commission, Amadeu Tardio, did make a comment about the expulsion of MEPs and journalists.
He described the incident as “not acceptable”, adding:
“As such incidents occur even the best friends of Cuba would find it difficult to maintain their position.”
What on earth is Mr Tardio talking about? It is not difficult to maintain one’s position as a friend of Cuba or the Cuban people. You just have to oppose the evil government that oppresses them.