Thursday, January 27, 2005

You’re too stupid!

At two different levels, addressed to two different audiences, the same message from two different commentators – you’re too stupid to understand.

The first is addressed to the Americans, and in particular George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, from that oh so superior Financial Times commentator, Quentin Peel.

His message is that the European Union is so complicated to outsiders that they will have difficulty understanding it. He feels that trying to explain it is like trying to describe an elephant to a man from Mars. You can describe what it looks like, but it is still well nigh impossible to demonstrate how it works, or quite what it is for.

Thus, poor little Americans like George W. and Condoleezza "do not know how much attention to pay the EU institutions, and how much the member states themselves". They blunder into bilateral relations, therefore, get accused of "divide and rule" and irritate the far superior and more sophisticated EU states.

So George W. and Condoleezza Rice, when they come to Brussels in February, are going to be terribly confused and will find everything very strange, so they will start talking to the "wrong people".

This is all because US administrations look at the EU through a "distorting prism". Translated roughly, this means they talk too much to those nasty Anglo-Saxons in Britain, instead of listening to those more sophisticated Continentals.

The cure is simple, of course. All George W. and Condoleezza need to do is realise that renegades like Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, plus a few of the new member states, are not representative of the mainstream of European thinking. Instead, they should listen to those great sages, Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac who are so keen to restore the relative harmony in transatlantic relations. Then absolutely everything will be all right.

At the same level of patronising condescension, addressing that different audience comes Labour peer Lord Haskins, who has told the Yorkshire Post that the EU Constitution it is too complicated an issue to be left to voters. Put another way, we’re too stupid to understand it. He fears that, mired by our own stupidity, we will vote at the referendum against Tony Blair rather than for his darling European Union.

He believes that Blair's decision last April to concede to a vote was the result of "panic" over mounting calls for a referendum from the Tories. TB, therefore, is stupid as well because he "just didn't think it through". Another reason, of course, why George W. and Condoleezza shouldn’t talk to him.

Haskin’s point is that referendums are notoriously difficult to use as an instrument of government. "You're always afraid people won't answer the question," he says. "We've got to remind people that the question is specific, it's not 'is Europe a good idea or a bad idea?'."

The unofficial question though is quite simple: "Do you want to give the unelected government of the European Union more powers?" And that is simple enough – perhaps that is what worries Haskins.

Anyhow, Tory MEP leader, Timothy Kirkhope, dismisses Haskins’s argument, saying that he represents all that is worst in New Labour. "He makes patronising assertions about how they know far better than the people".

But that, dear Kirkhope, is what they all do. We are all far too stupid for them and have to be told what to do. In that, it seems, the British people, George W. and Condoleezza have a great deal in common.

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