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In the country of the blind

Posted by Helen Friday, April 04, 2008 , , , , ,

An article in today’s International Herald Tribune once again quotes Henry Kissinger’s fatuous comment about wanting one number to phone Europe and shows that neither the journalist in question nor numerous other people on both sides of the Atlantic have understood the EU any more than the former Secretary of State did in the 1970s.

A poll conducted online from January 10 to January 21 by Harris Interactive, in partnership with France 24 and the Trib itself asked 6,676 adults in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the United States asked a number of questions, not least who they thought was the person whose phone number every American Secretary of State should have.

When asked what country is the leader of Europe today, a majority of Germans, perhaps unsurprisingly, picked Germany: 57 percent, the same figure as among Spaniards. Among the French, that figure rose to an astonishing 68 percent. The Italians and British were divided on the question between Germany and Britain.

On the other side of the Atlantic, 63 percent of Americans saw Britain as Europe's leading nation.

Looking to the future, the breakdown was roughly the same across the board when people from the six nations were asked about which country will have the most influence in Europe over the next decade.

When asked about political personalities, Europeans chose Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, as No. 1, with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France as a distant second choice. Americans, by contrast, named Brown, the prime minister of Britain, as most influential.
The basis of that assertion is a clear misunderstanding of what is happening in Europe. The aim of the ongoing process is to create a completely new political structure – this has already happened to some extent – in which individual member states and their leaders are not actually going to have any great influence at all.

Any discussion as to what Europe’s future might be has to start with that and to ask whether it is what the people of Europe and its countries want. It is reasonably clear even from the poll that whenever there is a clear proposal for political integration, such as the creation of a European president, there is opposition.

For all of that, the article and the two experts it quotes, two European (whatever that may mean) political bloggers, Jan Seifert and Jon Worth, whose site “whodoicall.eu, has a petition calling for a merger of the two presidencies”, the two being the envisaged European president and the remaining Commission president.

Mind you, that petition is considerably more logical than the endless supposedly eurosceptic ones that call for the abolition of European Parliament’s sittings in Strasbourg. Messrs Seifert and Worth do not exactly hide their sympathies, though the article does not mention that the former is the president of JEF-Europe (Young European Federalists and the latter was that in the past, as well as being a member of the Labour Party and having experience in various NGOs, but you can’t have everything.

It is, therefore, unfortunate that their views are seen as an objective analysis by a newspaper that claims some objectivity in the matter, even if that objectivity extends only to a discussion of what the best way is of overcoming or circumventing doubts about the way the European Union is developing.

The full results are supposedly here but I am finding it hard to open the pdf.