Monday, March 05, 2007

Where have we heard this before?

Jacques "Wheel" Barrot, the EU transport commissioner has intervened in the French presidential race, to complain that EU issues are not being given enough attention. He is warning that the candidates risk missing the chance to shake their country out of its "arrogant" and isolated position in Europe, by failing to map out "a positive French future" in the European Union.

Europe, he says (meaning the European Union) is in danger of becoming the "big forgotten issue" in the campaign, at a time when the country needs to get out of its "whingeing, pessimistic and defensive" mindset.

All this comes from the Financial Times which also records our Jacques wanting France to resume its leadership role in Europe, promoting policies that citizens care about such as giving the EU a greater role in police co-operation, immigration, protecting human rights and peacekeeping missions.

Instead, he claims the candidates – especially Sarkozy and Royal – have either played down European issues or used the EU as a scapegoat for France's problems. And, although they have set out some fairly detailed European policies, Barrot says they are not being discussed during the campaign.

This we heard of the Swedish election and know it to be true of the British general elections, where candidates rush to bury any EU issues and keep the campaign focused on domestic issues. Even the EU parliament elections can be "EU-free zones" where, famously in the 1999 elections, the Lib-Dems campaigned exclusively on those domestic issues.

Not, of course, that this is confined to election times. As Booker points out in his column yesterday, "hidden Europe" is alive and well, thriving, in fact, in government circles – to say nothing of the media in general.

And this is the week Blair toddles off to Berlin for the informal European Council at which he is expected to agree the text of the Berlin declaration that will form the centrepiece of the 50th anniversary "celebrations" of the Treaty of Rome.

At least the BBC has agreed to broadcast live coverage of the "celebrations", which is more than it did for the fleet review celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Tragalgar.

But even despite the BBC's best efforts to become a propaganda outlet for the EU, giving it advice on how to "sex up" the image of the EU parliament elections, the fact is that to the average person, European integration and all that goes with it is about as exciting as watching dried paint get even drier.

The odd thing is that this worries the "colleagues". But considering that their greatest advances have occurred while the populations of the European countries have been looking the other way, surely the fact that people find the EU so tedious is one of the greatest assets of the "project".

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