Thursday, December 30, 2004

The official line

Now is the time of year when, in the absence of any real news – tsunami disaster apart - we have to suffer endless retrospectives and any number of articles forecasting trends and events for the coming year.

Inevitably, the EU will be subject to this treatment but, oddly, the Washington Times is one of the first newspapers off the mark, courtesy of UPI, which supplied the copy.

Consolidation, according to this source, is likely to be the key word in Brussels in 2005 as Barroso's commission gets down to work after a bumpy start in late 2004. The first task of "the EU's powerful executive body", writes UPI, will be to boost economic growth and create more jobs. Yea, right.

But the "second major challenge of the commission", and the EU's 25 member states, will be "to win approval for the club's constitution". Interesting how they rely on this cuddly term "club" - it doesn’t have the same ring as "evil empire".

In countries like Spain and Ireland, where the EU is hugely popular – or so we are told - there are likely to be large majorities in favour of the "blueprint", but the referendums in France and the Netherlands, due to be held during 2005, "are likely to be close-run affairs."

In both countries there is growing public hostility to the EU, and there is a real possibility that the constitution will be narrowly rejected in one of the two founding members of the club. This would make life easier for eurosceptic Britain and Denmark, which plan to hold referendums in 2006, but would plunge the union into a deep institutional crisis.

Here now, we get to the interesting bit. "In order to prevent this happening," says UPI, "EU leaders are likely to reach out to their 450 million citizens more in 2005."

For the first time, the commission has a vice-president in charge of communications – "the telegenic Swede 'Mad' Margot Wallstrom" - and is expected to show it is not the monster bureaucracy of popular mythology by slowing down its legislative output and focusing on everyday concerns like jobs and crime.

For their part, heads of state will attempt to portray the EU as a success story that has guaranteed peace and prosperity in Europe for half a century as they try to win over wary voters to sign up to the constitution.

Well, if that is all they are planning to do, we have very little to worry about – not least since the "peace myth" is so easily debunked.

Nevertheless, I suspect there will be more to the UK referendum campaign than just these issues. However, it is interesting to see what the official line is.

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