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They doth protest too much

Posted by Richard Monday, August 06, 2007 ,

Joining in the chorus of disapproval directed at the Booker column is the Economist blog which rejoices under the title, "Certain ideas of Europe".

In typical Europhile form, it cannot take a straight thesis and argue it through, but has to dismiss it as "hysteria", resorting to a combination of sneering, hyperbole, ridicule in order to get its point over.

"It is tempting to turn away from his arguments in exhaustion," says the blog, "but no, this stuff matters, because not everyone in Britain is aware of the in-joke that they are not supposed to take seriously what they read in Sunday newspapers."

And so does the Economist take very seriously Booker's (and this blog's) view on Article 9 of the draft treaty which proposes to turn the European Council into a Union institution. But what is so very interesting its counter relies on exactly the same points that were made by Robert Jackson. One also wonders if there is a "duty Europhile" hidden away in some secret garret who writes up "the line to take" when anything dangerous is written about the "project".

Anyhow, the "line" is the Mr Booker "falls into the wood-for-trees trap of so many Eurosceptics, of seizing on some arcane detail of wording, and assuming that it has legal force of a nature to trump the political realities of Europe."

So, as does Jackson dismiss the draft treaty as mere "words on paper", The Economist wants to tell us that these self same words are merely "arcane detail" which cannot "trump the political realities of Europe".

Then comes the (attempt at) ridicule. To believe that the treaty text means what it says,

…you have to believe seriously that the likes of Mr Sarkozy, Mrs Merkel, the new British PM, Gordon Brown, the Polish twins, the Czechs and the Dutch are all going to abandon their national interests at the first summit governed by the new treaty.
Since various heads of government – and especially British prime ministers – have been abandoning their national interests for decades, this hardly seems remarkable, but the Economist tries to cement in the argument with a dose of "straw dog". Instead, it says,

… they will shrug their shoulders helplessly, and tell their officials: "what can I do, I may be the head of my government, but the new treaty says I have to advance the objectives of the EU, so I no longer have any mandate to represent our nation."
In fact, it is more likely to be the other way round – as it so often is – with the officials telling their ministers, "you can't do this," or "you must do that" - it is in the treaty. Furthermore, there is the moral or psychological pressure in the European Council itself.

We have had endless accounts of the hothouse atmosphere of these affairs, where enormous pressures are imposed on the members to conform or, in Eurospeak, to achieve "consensus". And this is an additional pressure: "You have signed the treaty, M'sieur – you have agreed to put the interests of the Union first". How, under those circumstances, can a prime minister turn round and say, "no, I must put my national interest first"?

And, if that fails, there is always the "get out of jail free" card, in Article 4, which states: "The Member States shall facilitate the achievement of the Union's tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union's objectives."

Nevertheless, the "straw dog" ploy is enough for The Economist to feel confident enough to put the boot in. "There are serious things to say about the new treaty," it says. "This is not one of them." It then concludes:

Feeding British voters unserious nonsense about coups d'état only serves to whip people up into a hysteria - and that makes other Europeans look at British voters and call them hysterical. It is hard to see how that is in Britain's national interests.
Ho! The final ploy – the great Economist appeals to the "national interest".

But there is one issue it does not address – and neither does Jackson. If turning the European Council into a Union institution is so meaningless and will have no practical effect, why are they so keen to have this provision in the treaty? Why not just strike it out?

Of course, we know the answer. The treaty is more than mere words. It is, as the "colleagues" love to remind us, a "binding obligation". The words mean what they say, and they say what they mean. And this is why the "colleagues" doth protest too much – it looks like we've actually laid a glove on them.

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