Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A hotch-potch of ignorance and wistfulness

Mr Jeremy Rifkin, the American author, whose rather peculiar views on the European Union have been analyzed on this blog before, has been writing for the Guardian about the growth of global consciousness. Well, perhaps not its growth but the beginnings of such a concept, rooted in the many hundreds pages long, detailed and over-regulatory EU Constitution.

Mr Rifkin, as our readers will recall, thinks that American power is on the wane and the EU’s is on the rise in that the latter exercises influence in a completely new, multilateral, non-violent and understanding fashion. Getting away from some of the touchy-feelie aspect of it all, what Mr Rifkin seems to admire is the EU’s propensity for being run by the educated and civilized elite or, to be quite precise, its lack of democratic accountability as a young Czech politician pointed out to him in September.

Actually, to be fair to Mr Rifkin, he does think that
“Global consciousness is compelling but, I admit, seems somewhat utopian and out of reach. It's hard to imagine hundreds of millions of people coalescing around such a grand vision.”
Especially, as the grand vision seems a little blurry in the outline, just like that famous European dream that he is so fond of. Curiously, he also adds:

“But, then, the idea that people might come together around democratic values and nation-state ideology would probably have seemed equally fanciful and far-fetched in the late medieval era.”
A lot of things seem fanciful until they happen and, even, sometimes after that. It does not mean that everything fanciful will necessarily happen. Whatever Mr Rifkin may have studied in his many quiet hours, logic was clearly not it.

As it happens, neither was the history and structure of the European Union. Consider some of his comments about the “European dream”:

“Just two weeks ago, the heads of state and foreign ministers of the 25 nations of the European Union formally signed a constitution to bind all of Europe together in a single governing body, signalling a momentous event in European and world history. The constitution is now being sent to the member states for review and ratification.”
Well, no. There will be no review. The Constitution has to be ratified as it was agreed in a series of meetings behind closed doors by politicians who were not actually empowered to agree to anything by their electorates.

“If we Americans thought that the recent presidential contest was contentious, consider the passions that are likely to be unleashed as 455 million Europeans debate whether to commit themselves to a constitution that binds them together, for the first time, as a European people.”
Wrong again, Mr Rifkin. The American people elected their President and elections are frequently contentious. Nothing wrong with that. But there will be no debate unleashed for the 455 million Europeans. Many countries will ratify this extraordinarily important document by a nod through their parliament, as the Lithuania has done already. Others will have a somewhat misleading referendum campaign run with as little information as possible.

He then talks a great deal of rather woolly and outdated nonsense about how different the EU is from anything else ever created in history (except maybe the Holy Roman Empire) but, at least, for the first time in the columns of the Guardian he enumerates all the many aspects and powers of a state the EU possesses already. Some of his readers might be rather shocked, though not as shocked as I was when I saw that this self-appointed expert on the EU thinks that the European Parliament is the legislative body of that organization.

There is a great deal of nonsense about the challenges of globalization that cannot be met by individual states (except Norway, Switzerland, South Korea, Thailand and many others), the need for peace after two devastating wars and, even, (oh dear!) another misleading reference to Winston Churchill’s dream for Europe.

For an American he seems to have a weird idea what a constitution is for. How else can one interpret his admiring tone:
“If I were to sum up the gist of the new European constitution, it would be a commitment to respect human diversity, promote inclusivity, foster quality of life, pursue sustainable development, and build a perpetual peace. Together, these values and goals, embedded in the EU constitution's charter of fundamental rights, represent the woof and warp of a fledgling European Dream and the beginnings of a global consciousness.”
Is a constitution really there to provide dreams for those aware of global consciousness? For many Europeans, the Dream defined by that constricting constitutions is fast turning into a nightmare.

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