Monday, September 27, 2004

Angels on the head of a pin

Of all the issues in all the world, and it comes to this. Jealous of Germany's voting power in the Council of Europe – which under the proposed constitution, rests on its population base – Italy is now trying to cut its rival down to size - by more than 7m people.

This is Berlusconi's latest idea for giving his country a bigger say. Instead of measuring – for the purpose of reckoning voting strength – the actual number of people who live in a member state, our Silvio wants the measurement to be based on citizenship.

Because Germany has probably the toughest citizenship laws in Europe, with notoriously tough standards to be met for acquiring a German passport, its 82m nominal population includes 7.3m "foreigners" who do not hold citizenship and therefore would not count in the reckoning of EU Council votes.

Even in the ranks of EU member states, however, this was regarded as a particularly stupid idea, and it was quickly slapped down during a private meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels last week, not least because it was strongly opposed by Germany and EU lawyers.

But the fact that it could even be suggested, and then earnestly discussed by the seried ranks of the ambassadors of Europe (the EU, actually, but it sounds better that way) shows just how low supposed statesmen have sunk in their bids to get one over their rivals.

And to think we deride the college of cardinals for once debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

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