Tuesday, May 31, 2005

L’Ancien Règime

Back in my student days I used to read about the pre-revolutionary regimes in France and Russia in the 1780s and the 1910s respectively, I used to wonder how it is that people in a position of authority or, at least, some knowledge, could be so blind as to what is happening.

Well, autres temps, autres moeurs. But here we are faced with the Ancien Règime again. The world is shaking around them and they still cannot understand what is going on.

It could be President Chirac rearranging the chairs on the Titanic, Lord Patten (formerly Commissioner Chris Patten) telling us that we must not gloat over the French (who is gloating – we are all congratulating them) or Bob Geldof bringing out his superannuated rock singers for a reprise of the Live Aid Concert of twenty years ago, that, even on his own account helped not one single starving Ethiopian.

But yes, there he is again, telling us in soulful tones that we must have make one more effort, double the aid, not let people starve. It is all wrong, he sobs.

What is all wrong? Trade apparently is all wrong, because it undermines people’s income.

Why are we listening to these people? They know nothing and understand nothing. They know no history, no economics, no sociology. Who in their right mind considers Bob Geldof or Kate Moss an authority on anything whatsoever?

Well, the Ancien Règime does. They do not hear the people telling them that they have had enough. They have had enough of the drive towards transnational organizations and ridiculous self-important international trashy celebs.

The people of Europe are beginning to say no to further integration.

More and more people in Africa and other developing countries are saying that they do not want “trade justice”, which leaves them in poverty but provides well-off westerners with a self-satisfied glow; they do not want their debts written off because that does not help the countries, merely the governments who have created the problems; they want trade, they want investment, they want real money not aid that is stolen, embezzled, spent on guns, prisons, terrorism and endless palaces for the leaders.

But hey, that’s only the people talking. The Ancien Règime knows better. “C’est une révolte? Non, Sire, c’est une revolution.”

Man of the people

So the people have spoken and, as we predicted, Raffarin is toast. And what does L'Escroc do? He appoints Dominique de Villepin, former diplomat, intellectual, poet and member of the élite, who has never had to face the electorate.

Nice one Jacques.

Out on a limb

Not for the first time, this Blog is swimming against the tide. But, to make sure there is no misunderstanding, we are saying unequivocally that there will be a British referendum.

Be under no misunderstanding, the decision to carry on with the ratification process is not one that can be made by any member state. Even Chirac knew that. It is "owned" by the European Council, which will meet on 16/17 June and then make its formal announcement.

As it stands, 24 of the 25 member states – the one exception being the UK – has already committed to continuing with ratification. And, as Thatcher found to her cost at Milan in 1985, a Council vote is carried by a simple majority.

On that basis, Blair will not submit himself to the humiliation of being outvoted and being instructed by the "colleagues" to continue with his referendum plans. He will therefore declare that it is his decision to carry on, in the "interests of democracy".

That, in effect, will give him the moral high ground, because he will have decided to "listen to the people". It will give him "ownership" of the referendum, backfooting the Tories who have been calling for it to be abandoned.

Furthermore, as we have argued in our previous posting, a referendum on these terms could be winnable. Blair would simply say that, with the French out of the way, Britain could take the leadership of Europe. "Vote 'yes' for reform", would be the strong, and persuasive message.

Perversely, that could also bring the French back on-side. Under a new president in 2007, the message could be that the "Anglo Saxons are capturing Europe – we must get back in to rescue it".

For the moment, though, the colleagues are looking to buy time, and the only option available to them, short of conceding defeat – which they cannot and will not do - is to continue with the ratification. That is why, even despite the expected Dutch "no" – which has already been discounted - they will take this course of action. And that is why, on 16 or 17 June, if not before, Blair will announce that the referendum will go ahead.

Then the injunction given by Blair on 20 April 2004 to the House of Commons - as he announced his intention to hold a referendum - will really come alive: "Let the issue be put and let the battle be joined".

We are ready.

The final betrayal

From a purely domestic standpoint, the most interesting piece in the torrent of media coverage today on matters EU is the inside page-piece in The Daily Telegraph headed: Clarke urged to stand as leader.

Although this headline does not suggest that the story is about "Europe", that is indeed what it is about. The text tells us that Kenneth Clarke is being urged by "Tory moderates" to stand for the party leadership "as the Government prepares to abandon plans for a referendum on the European Union constitution."

The word is, according to The Telegraph that the Europhile Clarke was now in a strong position to lead a "grand coalition" of moderates against the favourite, David Davis, who is from the centre-Right, with the way opened up for the Europhile Mr Clarke because the French "no" vote meant Europe would not be such a divisive issue in the leadership campaign later this year.

This story swept Westminster yesterday and is undoubtedly true. It reflects the "don’t mention Europe" paranoia of the Tory "modernisers, which drove the environment and farming shadow minister to do a whole interview about farming without mentioning the EU once.

This also explains Liam Fox's barely concealed delight that the French referendum result might mean the cancellation of the British referendum, and his insistence that it should be called off. He is cited in today's Telegraph as saying that it was time to pronounce the treaty dead: "It does not do what the people of Europe want and I think it should be put to rest."

The real message, of course, is that, with no referendum, the Tory "modernisers" can kick the whole embarrassing subject of the EU into the long grass and concentrate on their "schools 'n' hospitals" agenda – even if that current stance is a major U-turn. In the general election, Howard promised that, if a Conservative government were elected, he would name the day for a referendum the moment he walked into Downing Street.

Thus, at a time when the EU is, at last, at the centre of debate and people want leadership on one of the most important political issue of our time, it seems the certain Tories are pushing hard to remove it from the agenda altogether.

Given that the Party took us into the EEC in the first place – and give us the Single European Act and Maastricht – this would represent the final betrayal.

The voice of bitter experience

In the letters column of The Daily Telegraph today, Mr Jonathan Wilson of Dublin writes:

Your editorial (30 May) is correct: the French Non will not stop the EU or even make it think again. The hallmark of the EU is its contempt for democracy and the will of the people, which are viewed as inconvenient. The EU will push ahead regardless.

When we in Ireland previously voted No, we were, in effect, sent to bed without any supper and told to vote the correct way the next time, which, to our shame, we did.
Despite all the whiffle in today's press, I suspect Mr Wilson may be right. As we have observed, the fat lady hasn't sung yet.

Life goes on

Well, it does in Germany anyway. The Christian Democrats, fresh from their various triumphs in länder elections, particularly that of North Rhine-Westphalia, are preparing for battle.

They, together with the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (their sister party), have elected Angela Merkel to be their leader in the forthcoming election that Chancellor Schröder has called for September.

The Social-Democrats are especially weak at the moment and this could be the Christian-Democrats’ chance to regain power and, perhaps, to introduce some genuine reforms in the German social and economic system.

There is no particular sign that the party has changed its attitude to the European project, as each German leader so far, no matter of what political allegiance, has been associated with European integration.

However, the times they are a’changin’. As the Second World War and its immediate aftermath slips further and further into history (this year’s anniversary is the last one at which any sizeable number of people who can remember what happened will be present) fewer and fewer Germans will accept that they are for ever to be branded as the evildoers of Europe.

With the East Europeans demanding more and more loudly that Communism should be seen in its proper light as an evil totalitarian tyranny, attention on the Nazism will be diluted.

The Germans will be able to say, as many of them do, that twelve years of horror do not invalidate the rest of history; that youngsters whose parents were not born till afterwards should not be punished for the sins of their grand and great-grand fathers; that life and history must go on.

The “beautiful moment” of post-war corporatism and French supremacy ought to have been abandoned with Chancellor Schröder, the first leader of the post-war generation. Unfortunately, his weak internal position meant that he continued to trail in the wake of President Chirac.

If Angela Merkel becomes the next Chancellor, she may well find herself in a position to assert German policy instead of feebly repeating the need for a European (for which read French) point of view. And that will be all to the good.

And here's one I lost earlier

This blog is by no means alone in predicting dire consequences for referendums, the pollsters currently having a field day on the Dutch referendum.

A poll conducted by Maurice de Hond for Dutch TV on Saturday showed 57 percent of voters were against the constitution and the latest shows a clear majority for the "nee" camp of 59 percent.

Trailing along in the wake of Chirac, it is now Jan-Peter Balkenende's turn, as prime minister of the next lamb to the slaughter to issue "an urgent appeal to voters", this time imploring them to ignore the French result and make up their own minds.

However, Balkenende has perhaps left it a bit late to make his appeals, which seem to be having very little, if any, effect. He might have been better advised to have read a report published ten months ago, which we featured in this Blog.

Headed: "Why European citizens will reject the EU constitution", it was written by a Dutch academic, Claes H. de Vreese, who attempted to impose a rigid scientific discipline on referendum predictions.

In so doing, he carried out a complex statistical analysis of existing data, in order to isolate the most important issues that determine a result. He came up with three key variables which influence voting behaviour. These were: attitudes on immigration; economic outlook; and sentiments towards the national government.

Basically, those who express negative views on immigration; who are pessimistic about economic prospects; and/or do not support their current government, are more likely to vote "no" in a referendum. Of the three issues, it seems that "immigration" is the most important.

Putting these factors together, de Vreese wrote that the constitutional referendums "will result in a 'no' outcome under conditions of high levels of anti-immigration sentiments, pessimistic economic outlooks, and/or unpopularity of a government" - exactly the conditions which prevail in The Netherlands.

He thus concluded that any government calling for a referendum "must be very popular to compensate for the negative impact of economic pessimism and anti-immigration sentiments" in order to win the vote.

At the time the paper was published, I wrote that it was "essential reading for referendum campaigners". From all the current indications, however, it does not look as if Balkenende read it – otherwise, without even looking at the polls, he would have known he was going to lose.

In this context, I suppose, the prime minister can mark down his referendum on Wednesday – in the matter of a television chef – as "one I lost earlier".

Monday, May 30, 2005

How Britain could lose the referendum

It may or may not have percolated the brains of those still celebrating the French "victory" on the EU constitution that the leaders of all but one of the members states which have planned referendums have decided to continue with their plans. The only exception is Tony Blair who has neither confirmed nor denied that the referendum will go ahead.

As time passes, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the reaction of the "colleagues" is to continue with the ratification process and it becomes more and more likely that Blair will be forced to continue with the British referendum – that is, if he does not decide to go voluntarily.

In the latter context, there is every reason why he should wish to proceed. Not only will this be necessary to keep "on-side" with the colleagues, but there is every reason for him to believe that the French referendum has changed the situation so much that he could actually win the contest.

These issues have been rehearsed in a previous post and, used imaginatively, could prove powerful weapons in a "yes" campaign.

Firstly, there is the argument that the very fact of a French rejection itself proves that the constitution is "good for Britain", as both the prime minister and his foreign secretary have been asserting. Secondly, the fact that France – albeit temporarily – is out of the running in the ratification stakes – means that a case can be made for Britain assuming the leadership of "Europe", alongside perhaps Germany.

By employing these arguments, the referendum could be positioned as both an opportunity to "kick the French in the teeth" and to "get one over them", either or both having considerable appeal to large sections of the British population.

Alongside these issues, there is another powerful weapon at the disposal of the "yes" campaign which, perversely, exploits the unpopularity of Blair. As we have seen with France, at least an element of the “no” vote was a vote against the deadly duo of Chirac and Raffarin, and conventional wisdom suggests that a segment of the British "no" vote could similarly be an anti-Blair vote.

However, if Blair let it be known that he intends to step down from the premiership in the event of a successful "yes" vote – and only in that event – the potential anti-Blair sentiment could be converted into a "yes" vote, as a means of getting rid of him. It would also have the beneficial side-effect of tying in the Brownites into the "yes" alliance, as the most assured way of getting their leader into power.

Another factor that could assist Blair is the ineptitude of the established no campaign which, on current form, can be virtually guaranteed to do and say the wrong things.

In this, Blair has been offered another unexpected gift – the Conservative leadership contest. While the prime minister will be using the EU presidency to "make the case for Europe", the Conservatives will be navel-gazing, their key players looking for personal advantage rather than focusing on the the forthcoming referendum campaign.

Tied in with that is the "Clarke effect", the disproportionate grip the former Tory chancellor has over the Tory hierarchy, and his ability to keep "Europe" off the agenda. Already, on the World at One today, he opined that the French "no" vote should mean that Europe will not be a major issue in the leadership contest.

Even without Clarke, it is almost certain that the "moderniser" faction in the Party will readily conspire to keep the issue low key. This means that any contribution that the Conservative Party makes to the "no" campaign when the referendum goes into high gear will be late, low key and minimalist. There is a risk, therefore, that - as with the NE regional assembly referendum – the Conservatives will only make a token effort.

Putting all this together, the great "victory" of the French referendum may in fact turn out to be a "poison pill" presenting the Eurosceptics with a major challenge and the best opportunity Blair is ever likely to get to win the referendum - a referendum that we could actually lose.

The things they say

It would be a serious error to suspend the process of ratification, now it is necessary to raise the question with the other countries. France decides only for France, even if it is an important country.

Josep Borrell, president of the EU parliament

The battle continues. We respect the result of this democratic vote… But in voting "no", French voters voted against the opportunity to create better Europe.

Socialist Group leader Martin Schulz

The EU is composed of 450 million citizens and its future cannot be decided by voters in one EU member state.

Graham Watson, leader of the ALDE

The rejection of the Constitution is not the end of the world, the EU will continue under the aegis of the Treaty of Nice. The true tragedy is that the French lost exactly that to which they aspired: a true democracy and European solidarity - the creation of a European Republic.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Co-president of Greens/EFA

He stresses the importance of continuing the process of ratification in the remainder of the Member States.

Elmar Brok, MEP

...a refusal of the European Constitution by one country does not mean the Constitution's end. The ratification process continues until all 25 member states have spoken out on this historic project.

Josef Leinen, chairman of the EP constitution committee

29 May is a very, very sad day for France and also for Europe but the rumours of the death of the European Constitution are highly exaggerated.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the European Socialist Party

Nine countries have said "Yes" and one has said "No". We must take account of the democratic will of the majority as well as the minority in finding a solution. Every EU country has a right to have a say. France alone cannot decide for the whole of Europe.

Richard Corbett, MEP

With one bound, they will be free

The morning after, it looks like the end of a Dick Tracy episode. The hero is bound and gagged, facing a certain, horribly violent death - and the credits start rolling. The next episode, you just know something will happen – however implausible – and, with one bound, our hero will be free.

So it is with the EU constitution. It may look as if it faces certain death but, as we indicated in our earlier post, the game is very far from over.

The reason it isn't over is because, when push comes to shove, there really isn't a "plan B". The European Union only has one policy and one objective – political integration. It does not know anything else and cannot do anything else, so it will continue with the only thing it knows how to do.

In this, the Daily Telegraph leader comes closest to divining the reality, declaring that: "Mere democracy won't stop the EU machine." The project was never meant to be democratic, it says.

From the first, the EU's founding fathers understood that it needed to be immune to public opinion. The genius of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman was to design a system in which supreme power was wielded by unelected officials, and in which the peoples were presented with a series of faits accomplis. When, in 1992, they got their first No vote in Denmark's referendum on Maastricht, our masters were too set in their ways to consider respecting the result, and so pushed on regardless. They will do the same thing today.
And, if you listen to the voices above the blather of mindless hacks and ill-informed commentators, the strategy of the "colleagues" is already clear. Sticking firmly to the script, Blair has responded with the same words uttered by his foreign secretary, saying it was "too early to decide whether or not Britain will hold a referendum on the EU constitution." What we need, he said, is "time for reflection".

It is too late to affect the result of the Netherlands vote, and that has already been discounted, but the action will then move to Brussels and the European Council on 16/17 June. There, you can predict with certainty the arguments that will be raised. It would be "unfair" to allow just a few countries to dictate the future of Europe – every country must have a chance to express its opinion on the constitution.

The view of Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, currently holding the EU presidency, will then prevail. "The process of ratification must continue in the other countries," he has said. The "colleagues" will therefore agree that, "in the interests of democracy", the process of ratification should continue, with a review of the situation once it is completed.

That buys time until late 2006, and might even get them through into 2007, when the French presidency election will be held. Interestingly, it gets Blair off the hook for the British EU presidency, as the issue is sidelined until the following year.

In the meantime, Denmark will become the new battlefield, and you will see the "colleagues" pull out all the stops in an attempt to stem the tide of noes. Perversely, they will look to the Eurosceptic Danes to save le projet.

Then it will be on to the British referendum. And already you can see the new line emerging. The very fact that France has rejected the constitution reinforces the idea that it is "good for Britain", with the secondary line that the French "no" gives Britain an opportunity to take the lead in Europe. With the full weight of the establishment behind that message, there is no guarantee that the country would not deliver a "yes".

In their dreams, the "colleagues" could then envisage resubmitting the question to the French, under a new president, perhaps with the addition of an "explanatory declaration" appended to the constitution, emphasising the "social values" of the treaty.

All that is for the future, but there is no question that the "colleagues" will not let their treasured project die - they cannot. All too soon, we will see the next episode and, with one bound, they will be free.

The fat lady hasn't sung yet

It may have been a delicious evening. No, correction. It was a delicious evening, watching all those Euro-luvvies squirm.

Apparently, according to the Financial Times, a tattered European Union flag had been lowered to half mast in the heart of the Brussels' EU quarter even before the French polls closed at 10pm last night. That says something: flags should be struck before dusk, so it should not have been flying anyway.

But, if the Euro-luvvies get their way, the flag won't be at half-mast for long. Already, they have crafted their response, and it seems to be very much along the lines suggested by the Instituto Affari Internazionali.

Both Juncker and Barroso at the press conference after the result was declared, made reference to Declaration 30, stating that the ratification process should continue. Nothing, at least in the immediate future, must undermine the Dutch referendum.

Over the coming days, reports The Financial Times, Juncker will then meet 24 fellow European leaders, including Blair, some of whom will express severe doubts about whether they can ratify a treaty so decisively rejected by France.

Some "prominent 'yes' campaigners" in Britain, including Lib-dim Sir Menzies Campbell, are being more forthright. This one says it was "frankly silly" for Britain to proceed with its referendum. Even Nigel Farage, on Sky TV, declared the treaty "dead" and called for a broader referendum on Britain's relationship with Europe.

Liam Fox, Conservative shadow foreign minister, also piled in, calling for Blair to state whether Britain would now abandon attempts to ratify, in which case, said Fox, there would be no need to call a referendum – barely concealing his relief at the prospect of avoiding a contest that can only split the Tories.

But what all these erudite spokespersons failed to take into account is that member states cannot call a halt to the ratification process. Collectively, all 25 have committed themselves to seek ratification in their own countries. A decision to suspend or abandon the process can only be done collegially, in the European Council.

Thus, it was Chirac who got it right. Having avoided the temptation to throw his toys out of the pram, he referred in his guarded statement to the European Council meeting of 16 June. "There," he said, "I shall defend the positions of our country, while keeping in mind the message given by French men and women. But let us make no mistake, France's decision inevitably creates a difficult context for the defence of our interests in Europe."

It is at the European Council that the decision is going to be made and, on current evidence, the indications are that the "colleagues" will decide - by majority vote if need be - to continue the ratification process. Even now, some are also talking about asking France to conduct another vote, but that is for the future. At the moment, the imperative is to buy time, and continuing as before will do just that.

Straw, our own foreign secretary, gives the game away, sticking to the crafted line, that the French rejection of the treaty should be followed by "a period of reflection". What then will happen remains anybody’s guess, but the best minds of the Commission and the foreign ministries of the member states will be working on the problem.

But it was Jacques "Wheel" Barrot, the French transport commissioner, who, quoted by The Times, gives a clue. "It (the French rejection)", he said, "reminds me of the rejection of the European defence policy (by France in 1954)." And, as we reminded you recently on this Blog, from the wreckage of that rejection, three years later emerged the Treaty of Rome.

Throughout its history, the "project" has shown a remarkable ability to recover from what at the time seemed terminal disasters. So, as always, it is worth remembering that it ain't over until the fat lady sings – and she hasn't sung yet.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

This was their finest hour

I was only going to use this if the "oui" camp had won the referendum, but hey! I couldn't resist the temptation, so here it is anyway:

The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'
W S Churchill, 18 June 1940, in a speech to the House of Commons.

Actually, we won

"Many of those who voted 'no' were voting for more Europe. If some of their votes are added to the ‘yes’ vote, we have won."

Jean-Claude Juncker, president-of-Europe-for-not-very-much-longer, explaining to a press conference how the "yes" camp actually won the referendum.

83 percent of votes counted

Corrected score now stands at 57 percent NO - 42 percent YES, with 83 percent of the votes counted. Chirac, says Caroline Wyatt of BBC Radio 4, "has been dealt a humiliating blow".

Banality rampant

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest the fragrant Margot has reduced her blog to a banality that is almost stupendous. As several of the comments said, the only interesting part of the whole exercise is reading other people’s comments.

I particularly like to read the objections to her fluffy bunny silliness raised by various more or less angry people across Europe. There is for instance the reader who has been trying to get an answer to a perfectly ordinary question: how does she square her boo-hooing about the Holocaust with the fact that the Commission authorizes payment to Palestinian broadcasting groups that spread vicious anti-Semitic propaganda?

There is no answer to this, partly because the fragrant Commissar together with her colleagues is unable to connect two separate concepts: Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The Holocaust is something bad that happened in vacuum in the strange world that these people live in.

What is there in the posting? Well, the fragrant Commissar rejoices because it is summer, just as she rejoiced because it was spring, though she also thought of buying a shotgun.

She rejoices that Kuwaiti women now have the vote though seems entirely unfazed by the fact that Swedish women, or German women or various other women and men are not allowed to vote on the European Constitution.

In fact, she is still unhappy about the referendums as these show that it is difficult to put complex points into simple questions. And, of course, if you ask the people, you might not get the answer you want. As by now, the fragrant one must have realized.

And she worries about the Amazon rainforest. Several rather caustic comments were made on the blog about the fact that it is not her highly paid job to worry about the rain forest, particularly as she seems to know next to nothing about it, beyond the fact that some tribes still live there. Wow!

She will keep us posted, she says. More freebies for the fragrant Commissar, methinks. Should she not sit around trying to rescue the situation with the European Constitution? After all, she was supposed to “sell” it to the people.

As France votes and Netherlands watches

It is no longer the “peripheral” countries like Britain or the Scandinavians, let alone the new East European members that cause or are likely to cause problems. The rot is there at the heart of the project in a way that has astonished the euro-elite.

A couple of days ago I took part in a short discussion on Sky News about the French referendum with Baroness Ludford MEP. (I have maintained for some time that the broadcasters do no favours to the yes side by inviting MEPs and other official beneficiaries of the system. Perhaps, nobody else will agree to take part. But who is going to listen to someone who spends her life dashing from the European Parliament to the House of Lords, travelling 1st class on the Eurostar at the taxpayers’ expense?)

Baroness Ludford was not too happy. She tried all the usual arguments about streamlining the rules, defining roles and giving various rights to parliaments. But she could not get round the fact that a 400-plus page document is not precisely streamlining or, my final argument, that the project has trundled on for years, as one of the political elite. Now the people are finally speaking up and they do not like it.

The good baroness flounced out of the studio, muttering about the many thousands of pages that the British constitution consists of but not waiting for any replies.

It has always been clear in the minds of the founding fathers, like Monnet, that the European project must be pushed forward without any inconvenient intervention by the people of Europe. And how right they were. If only Giscard d’Estaing had not come up with his grandiose plans for a Constitution, this treaty, too, might have slipped in with nothing much more than a bit of grumbling on the periphery.

Indeed, that was expected with some disdain. In January at a conference in Vienna, I debated with Aurore Wanlin, a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform. Her arguments, pronounced with a charming French accent were that the Constitution was making the EU more democratic because it was introducing more layers in the structure.

Mine were much simpler: if there is no accountability there is no democracy. But the funniest discussion, in retrospect was about the possibility of Britain voting no. Well, she said primly, France will be quite happy if Britain simply leaves the EU. I asked whether France would be quite so happy to lose Britain’s financial contributions and answer came there none.

A couple of months later I noticed that Ms Wanlin published an article in which she explained that the success of the French no campaign showed that the EU had lost touch with the people of Europe. Amazing what one can find out in two or three months.

The Centre for European Reform, an erstwhile perestroika europhile think-tank, now a flag-waving, cheer-leading supporter of the project (with young Mark Leonard as its foreign affairs director), seems to be brooding on the possibility of no votes in France and the Netherlands.

They are a wonderful institution and their papers appear to be solid, well researched and carefully argued in a balanced sort of way. Except for the fact that there is no possibility envisaged of the project not being the best thing since sliced bread.

The two recent papers on the possibility of a French no and the probability of a Dutch one are carefully given to a discussion of what to do, how to salvage the treaty in that dire situation.

One solution would be to save parts of the treaty and effectively introduce them in a more surreptitious fashion.
“Of course, such attempts to save parts of the constitutional treaty – either through informal application or a mini-IGC – would be highly controversial.Eurosceptics in Britain, France and elsewhere would complain that once again political elites were arrogantly strenghtening the EU behind the backs of the people. If a single EU government felt weak-kneed at the prospect of incurring eurosceptic wrath, such attempt could not work. Both the informal application of parts of the treaty and a mini-IGC would require the unanimous support of every member-state.”
Note, please, the reference to that inconvenient aspect of the whole process, the people, now known as the source of “eurosceptic wrath” to be overcome by the wise and strong-minded governments.

And what if the Dutch vote nee? Well, surely, says the Centre for European Reform, we have been here before. After all, the Danish and Irish governments managed to persuade their countries to vote yes the second time round.

It seems quite extraordinary, but these people actually do not understand what it is they are saying.

In the meantime, let me remind our readers of one of the most glorious if seriously ridiculous scenes in cinema history. The film: Casablanca, the place: Rick’s Bar. German officers start singing the Horst Wessel Song when Viktor László, the leader of the Czech resistance, for some reason bearing a Hungarian name, takes over and instructs the band to play the Marseillaise.

They do so and one by one all the staff and customers join in, till the entire bar resounds to the words:

Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos battaillons!
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impure
Abbreuve nos sillons!

Un petit grand "non"!

Yeeehaaaaaaaaaaaa! FIFTY-FIVE PERCENT Noooooooooooooooon!!!!

That is the poll prediction, based on a balanced sample of early votes counted. Looks good to me. Raffarin is toast, with Chirac to follow!

Joy, joy and double joy!


According to a, French site, rumours are circulating that the “non” vote may be 54-55 percent, with a turnout at 70.5 percent.

Too close to call?

According to a Brussels source, private exit polling is suggesting that the result is too close to call, with a number or regions giving a small "yes" and others a more substantial "no" – up to ten percent.

From our Swedish correspondent, it appears that Swedish TV news, in the least hour, broadcast details of three exit polls which gave show 52, 50.8 and 49.6 for the "no" campaign – i.e., one poll showed a slim win for "yes".

That, however, was from one of the overseas Departement: Guyana. Some of the Wayampi must have read the constitution before they used it for wrapping tapir meat and lighting fires – or perhaps not.

The final turnout looks to be large - somewhere between 70 and 80 percent - with the interior ministry reporting 66.24 percent by 7 pm (Paris time). Nevertheless, at this stage, the result is still anybody's guess. Chirac's vote factories must be working overtime.

No means: "full steam ahead"

Pending announcement of the French result, this Blog has received an intriguing document produced by the Instituto Affari Internazionali, entitled "The European Constitution: How to proceed if France or the Netherlands votes 'no'".

In short, the authors conclude that, in the event of one or both countries voting "no", the ratification process should be neither suspended nor abandoned. They assert that all member states have expressed a commitment to proceed with ratification by virtue of Declaration 30, appended to the Constitutional Treaty. Member states cannot unilaterally or collectively decide to change the ratification process.

Thus, member states which have not already ratified should continue with the process whence, once 20 members have done so, the matter should be referred to the European Council.

In the meantime, the authors caution that "the European Union must not remain paralysed". Rather, they say, "it must continue and intensify its efforts to relaunch its policies, even by implementing in advance, where possible, the provisions of the Treaty that do not meet with open opposition".

Thus, the considered response in the event of a rejection of the constitution should be "full steam ahead". Member states should implement it even faster than they are doing already.

So what, precisely, do we have to do to stop this thing?

French referendum update

Courtesy of Le Monde - brought to our attention by a vigilant reader – some details on the French referendum are trickling in.

The turnout has been reported to be 25.08 percent at midday – with the turnout in Paris at 18.2 percent - compared with 20.39 percent at the same time during the Maastricht referendum on 20 September 1992.

By contrast, there have been reported "massive abstentions" in the overseas Departements. These reached 77.79 percent in Guadeloupe, 71.63 percent in Martinique, the French West Indies, and 76.85 percent in Guyana. However, even this low turnout was higher than that recorded in the Maastricht referendum, by about five points.

As to mainland France, in the Euro-elections on 13 June last, only 13.56 percent of registered voters had gone to the ballot boxes by midday. In many Departements, the turnout has been reported as exceeding 30 percent although, in some, a small decline has been noted.

The weather is reckoned to have a crucial effect on the overall turnout, with good weather tending to increase the abstentions, and while the weather is currently good, rain and storms are predicted in Atlantic northern France later today.

Political analysts remained cautious about the implications of a strong turnout, with both sides claiming it will favour them.

In total, nearly 42 million are eligible to vote and the polling stations will stay open until 8 pm in the provinces (7 pm our time) with an extension to 10 pm (9 pm our time) in Paris and Lyon. By law, the first estimates of results cannot be announced before 10pm.

Stop it!

One must not laugh… it is totally puerile. But I would really have difficulty standing on a platform alongside this man, and keeping a straight face.

Perhaps this is the reason for Europe's demographic problem…?

Let the voters speak

Amid the welter of news, comment and opinion on the French referendum today, The Scotsman is one of several newspapers demanding that the British referendum should go ahead, irrespective of what the French say.

In an opinion piece headed: "Europe must heed voice of democracy", it confronts the possibility of a French "no" vote giving Blair to excuse to abandon the British referendum. Articulating the views of many, it declares:

The Prime Minister must not be allowed to shelve, for his political convenience, the crucial consultation he has promised the public - the first vote on Europe in this country for 30 years. Let the voters speak.
That really must be the central message delivered by the British people, whatever the outcome of the French and the Dutch polls, and we may need to be quick off the mark if The Sunday Times has got it right. Its front-page story on the EU referendum announces that "Britain [is] ready to kill EU referendum", claiming that Foreign Office sources are saying that Britain is ready to drop its plans to hold a referendum if there is a no vote in France today.

Helpfully, the paper sets out all the possible outcomes – five in all – ranging from "big no votes in France and the Netherlands" and "France votes yes and the Netherlands votes no", to "both France and the Netherlands say yes". In only two of the five scenarios does Britain then definitely get a vote, which makes the leader all the more welcome, couched as it is in these terms:

For years Mr Blair has attended EU summits with a note of apology never far below the surface. He would love to play a fuller part but has been held back by his own electorate's reluctance. And he has been unable to campaign to turn round such opinions. Why not give him the chance? In the absence of a referendum on the constitution, let us have a vote - properly argued on all sides - on whether the British want more or less EU integration. We don't want the constitution and we certainly don't want ever closer union. We should be given a chance to say so.
However, it appears that we may have little to worry about if the news in The Sunday Telegraph can be taken at face value.

This paper reports that French supporters of the constitution were taking fresh heart last night after an opinion poll appeared to show a last-minute surge in their favour. This poll, produced by TNS Sofres and published on Friday night, put the "no" vote only narrowly ahead, on 51 percent, with "yes" voters on 49 per cent. An earlier survey had given the "no" campaign a more comfortable 54 per cent polling.

That is possibily the only small crumb of comfort as the BVA polling institute also issued a poll. It showed that 53 percent of decided voters will cast their ballots to reject the treaty, against 47 percent who support it. But the key may still be in the "undecideds" in this poll registering nineteen percent of those asked.

Either way, it will be late tonight or early in the morning before we know the results and, unlike the French, we will then be able to study the results in our newspapers. In France, it appears that the newsagents are going on strike. Quelle surprise.


In the column this morning, Booker takes apart Malcolm Wicks, our new energy minister, who last week launched his crusade to build "2000 more wind turbines" across the UK.

Writes Booker, "he was guilty of such a stunning act of disinformation we can only believe he did so from ignorance." The story is accompanied by a stunning photgraph, which really brings home the impact of the renewables policy. Unfortunately, it has not been reproduced online so, to see it, you will have to go out and buy a copy of The Sunday Telegraph.

For his second story, Booker reminds us that, according to President Chirac, speaking to journalists in Paris on 28 April 2004, any country voting "no" to the constitution must leave the EU. He may not wish to be reminded of it today, but this was what just after Tony Blair announced that he was to hold a British referendum. Chirac, already under pressure to follow suit, was angry with Blair and said, as the Financial Times reported two days later, it was a matter of "ratify or quit". Booker continues:

As the unthinkable possibility now looms that it might be the people of France who face the "European project" with its most embarrassing setback in 50 years, the one thing certain is that every kind of pressure will be mounted to ensure that the "project" and its constitution remain on course. So single-minded are those behind it that they have long since jumped the gun by implementing various provisions of the constitution even before it is ratified.

These range from setting up the EU’s own worldwide diplomatic service and its police college in Hampshire, to co-ordinate EU-wide police training and procedures, to launching the EU's Galileo space programme and the European Defence Agency, to co-ordinate the ‘Union’s’ defence forces. At present all these are being pushed forward on an "intergovernmental" basis, because it is only when the constitution is ratified that they can become fully-fledged "Union’ institutions", paid for from the "Union" budget.

The project Brussels is particularly keen to see brought under its wing is the European Space Agency. This is because its Galileo satellite programme, unlike its US equivalent, will charge for its services, including a "tax" on all aircraft entering the "single European sky" and an EU-wide system of congestion charging and road tolls.

There is much the EU can get on with without the constitution. But without the ability to raise cash through Galileo, the ‘Union’ stands to lose billions of euros a year. Meanwhile we look forward to hearing President Chirac announce that France, which itself stands to earn billions from Galileo, largely a French project, is now obeying his own injunction to "ratify or quit".
The third story is yet another account of the baleful effect of the implementation (and lack) of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. The story needs no elaboration:

Two items in Fishing News bring home the ongoing tragedy of Britain’s fisheries. In Yorkshire, two Bridlington fishermen, Peter and Bob Ibbotson, announced they are giving up fishing, after a lifetime in the industry, after Whitby magistrates imposed on them more than £5,000 in fines and costs for breaching EC fisheries regulations. Their crime, after 36 hours at sea with only two hours sleep, had been to enter Scarborough harbour without giving advance warning to ministry inspectors.

Under EU rules, if a boat is carrying a ton of cod, a phone warning must be given, so it can be inspected. In fact the inspectors were already waiting when the Wayfarer arrived. They also found that, although the catch itself was wholly legal, the two men had not yet completed their extensive ministry paperwork. Peter Ibbotson, leaving court, said that "unworkable bureaucracy" now made it impossible for small fishermen to earn a living.

Elsewhere was reported the recent devastating onslaught of 10 large Russian trawlers on haddock stocks around Rockall. When Scottish fisheries inspectors boarded the Russian boats, they found each was carrying between 200 and 400 tons of haddock, whereas Brussels allows Scottish boats to catch only 562 tons in a year. The Russians were also using minute 50 millimetre mesh nets, allowing nothing to escape, whereas the Scottish boats use much larger mesh nets, allowing small fish to go free. It is good to know that European Commission officials later spent a "full day discussing the problem" with their Russian counterparts.
Booker's fourth story has a go at that great doyen of science, Sir David King, appointed by Mr Blair as the government's chief scientist during the foot-and-mouth crisis. As it is not directly related to the EU, I will leave you to read it online, via the link provided.

"Verweile doch / Du bist so schön"

A long article by Mark Steyn (almost the only journalist in the British media who writes with any accuracy about the European Union) in the week's Spectator leads one to ruminate yet again about the strange phenomenon of the europhile politicians and political commentators.

The quotation, as most of our readers, no doubt, recognized is from Goethe's Faust, one of the greatest creations of what is the true European culture.

The two lines are from the Faustian bargain that the benighted scholar strikes with Mephistopheles. He is allowed to do anything he wants, travel round the world and even in and out of historical moments; he is allowed to demand anything he likes from Mephistopheles; but as soon as he decides that one particular moment is so beautiful that he wants it to last for ever, his soul goes to perdition. Eternity is not man's to command.

Goethe had a fairly low opinion of politicians and it is possible that he had them in mind when he wrote those lines, though more probably he was meditating about grander human designs. However, an inability to see that the present is only one moment in the long march of history and, indeed, a refusal to acknowledge this obvious fact is a failing that is peculiarly strong among politicians.

In particular they, and their lackeys in the media, feel that way when events appear to be pleasant and acceptable. What is going on now must be right, since it is so much better than what was going on sixty years ago. Yes, but that, too, happened and other things will happen.

It would appear that the entire europhile elite has ignored the warnings of the Faustian pact. They do think that if they simply dissolve historical understanding into a completely vacuous prattle – the Holocaust, the war, lack of freedom – of meaningless abstractions, then they can carry on imposing their views on the rest of us and, indeed, on history.

Well, it ain't necessarily so. The truth is that European integration, partial, as envisaged in the early fifties (though as my colleague has explained it on numerous occasions, not invented then) of the countries that definitely won, that is western Europe, was already the wrong answer to the problems of the world.

War between France and Germany, the problem the project was supposed to solve was unthinkable and the enemy was larger, stronger and looming in the east. This was an enemy western Europe, integrated or not, could not even think of taking on.

So the myth and the reality parted company until the enemy was vanquished (and no thanks to the EEC/EC/EU) and new problems arose. New problems need new solutions but acknowledging that would mean acknowledging that this moment is no fairer than the last one or the next one. And that can never be – the euro-elite cannot be wrong.

Mark Steyn points to a more specific example of this curious attitude – Will Hutton, the erstwhile guru of Tony Blair and still one of the more articulate exponents of the supposedly superior Third Way, sometimes transmogrified into the European as opposed to American way. (The rest of the world matters little to these people.)

Indeed, just as the early nineties saw an obsessive discussion of the Maastricht Treaty as the Communist world in Europe fell apart, countries became independent and started on the road towards liberal democracy and Yugoslavia slid into a bloody war with the EU’s help, so we are now obsessively discussing our own superiority while big things are happening in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

This is all part of the need to stay with this particular moment, this beautiful moment in history. Whether perdition will come to these people or not, I cannot tell. But history will certainly pass them and, if we are not careful, us, by.

I do not entirely agree with Mark Steyn's assessment of Will Hutton. Certainly, I have no argument with the following analysis:

He's the master of the dead langauge of statism that distinguishes the complacent Europhile from a good percentage of Americans, not all of them Republicans.
Nevertheless, Hutton is more cogent and articulate than most of the complacent Europhiles one encounters (all of them seem to be in a blue funk at the moment) and in itself that does us a service. He outlines the differences of what he sees the American way of politics (and what some political writers call the Anglospheric way) and the European one.

Needless to say, the European one, with its emphasis on the public good, defined, undoubtedly, by the great and the good like Will Hutton, is superior to that vulgar glorification of individual freedom and, as he clearly does not see it, individual responsibility.

Mr Hutton, it seems, still prefers the French Revolution to the American one and, presumably, the English one, because the first of these "promoted a social contract" and the supremacy of the "public good".

Some of us, who have looked a little more closely at recent history in Europe would argue that the supremacy of the "public good" and "the primacy of society" have produced some of those horrors of the twentieth century that are blithely referred to by the europhiles in abstraction as evils that can be swept away by the the supranational structure of the EU.

This sounds extremely unlikely as the EU is promulgating the very same ideas of “public good”, “primacy of society” and “subordination of individual freedom for the good of all”, not to mention the need to obey the wise and caring elite.

Will Hutton, it seems dislikes the idea of freedom of speech and feels that the government should regulate the media in order to ensure “that television and radio conform to public interest criteria”.

And who defines the public interest criteria? Well, I leave it to our readers to work that out. No wonder these people dislike the anarchy of the internet and the blogosphere. Individualism, rampant individualism, which apparently does not want to stay within the political parameters designed by the guardians of the public good.

It is inevitable with this sort of writing that completely asinine statements are made and Steyn gleefully picks them up, particularly Hutton’s pompous crocodile tears about the faults of the Founding Fathers (all that emphasis on individualism and the need to control the various institutions, not like our own beloved European Constitution):

Well, you never know. It may be the defects of America's Founders that help explain why the US has lagged so far behind France in technological innovation,economic growth, military performance, standard of living, etc. Entranced by his Euro-moment, Hutton insists that "all Western democracies subscribe to a broad family of ideas that are liberal or leftist". Given that New Hampshire has been a continuous democracy for two centuries longer than Germany, this seems a doubtful proposition. It would be more accurate to say that almost all European nations subscribe to a broad family of ideas that are statist. Or, as Hutton has it, "the European tradition is much more mindful that men and women are social animals and that individual liberty is only one of a spectrum of values that generate a good society."
So there we have it, dear readers. The moment that is so beautiful, that must not be allowed to come to an end. The moment of perfect statism, that will overcome the fractious individualism of the no-longer existent past and will never develop into another future.

Or so the europhiles hope. How Mephistopheles must be laughing.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The two faces of propaganda

This photograph from the New York Times rather illustrates the divide.

Cartoon physics

One of the more humourous features of the the Warner Brothers Road Runner cartoon series is the sight of the wily coyote forever running off the edge of a cliff, but only plunging to the ground when he notices that he has gone too far.

So stylised is this feature that it is known as Cartoon physics (and here), the principle elucidated being that: "When someone runs off a cliff, gravity has no effect until the character notices the error."

It appears, however, that this peculiar brand of physics applies not only to cartoons but also the fantasy world of the single currency – aka the euro – which has long departed from terra firma yet has still to plunge earthwards to destruction.

Part of the reason why this should be so is explained today in a long feature by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, published in the business section of The Daily Telegraph.

Headed "How long can the euro live as an orphan", in it Ambrose points out that the euro is a stateless currency, which will have difficulty surviving without the constitution which is intended to create a state to support it.

But the singular point he makes is in citing a "veteran" Eurocrat who complains that: "The trouble with the single currency is that it jams the warning signals when countries do stupid things, and then it seals the exit hatch. That's how you get an explosion."

The only trouble is that, unlike in cartoons, after the "explosion" the characters do not instantly reform themselves – they stay shattered. But, with the warning signals jammed, this shows why the first law of "cartoon physics" is having its effect and the euro has not yet crashed to earth.

A minor hiccup

How typical of the BBC in its Radio 4 programme "Any Questions" to front Bob Marshall Andrews, Timothy Garton Trash and Michael Gove as a representative line-up to deal with questions from the audience.

Thus, when it came to a question on the French referendum – the first as it happens – the Euro-luvvie tendency was to the fore, with only "moderniser" and soft-Europhile Gove there to put the "anti" side.

But what was particularly revealing was Garton-Trash saying that, if the French voted no, "we'll lose three of four years". Not a hint, then, of rethinking the "project", or listening to the people. Simply, a rejection by the people is minor hiccup, an irritation to be overcome.

Damage limitation

A French "non", followed by a Dutch "nee", would certainly be a shock to the system, but the indications are that EU leaders will respond by calling for the ratification process to continue – insisting that the outstanding referendums go ahead.

Certainly, if the Financial Times is any guide – and the paper usually has a good inside track record - the emphasis will be on downplaying any sense of crisis, with calls for a "cooling-off period".

Already scheduled is the June European Council, to be held on 16-17 June, and the likelihood is that there will be no formal decisions until then. Member state leaders, it appears, have been schooled to avoid alarmist rhetoric, and will reserve their comments for the Council.

By then, it is hoped that the "colleagues" will have been able to craft a common position, reflecting the line being offered by Juncker and Barroso that all other member states should have their say on the constitution.

The Commission's line is that: "The procedures have been completed in nine countries representing over 220m citizens - that is almost 49 per cent of the EU population," on which basis the ratification procedures should go forward.

That means the referendums in Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland and Poland should go ahead as planned. The next poll will be the Danes, scheduled for 27 September, with the whole ratification process continuing until November 2006. Only then would there be a special summit to discuss what to do with the refuseniks.

However, this carefully crafted exercise in damage limitation could be blown apart if there is a "Grand non" and Chirac throws his toys out of the pram, declaring the treaty dead in the water.

That apart, EU officials are still hoping that if most countries ratify the treaty, the refuseniks could be told to hold second referendums.

In France, presumably, this would be after Chirac had ditched Raffarin and put in a new prime minister, having blamed the "non" on the unpopularity of the previous government rather than with dissatisfaction over the treaty. It could even be held after the 2007 presidential elections, in which case L'escroc would be history as well, leaving his successor a clean slate.

All this, of course, is highly speculative. Although polls in Denmark currently favour the constitution, sentiment could – and is likely to - change as the referendum date approaches. The Danes could deliver a "no". Britain, on current form, will almost certainly say "no", and it would be a wise man (or even person) who made any predictions about Poland, Ireland and the Czech Republic.

By the end of 2006, the situation could be inestimably worse for the "colleagues". Not least, the "yes" campaigners in the remaining referendums may have been deprived for their most potent argument – that their countries will be "isolated in Europe" if they say "no". Thus, instead of two, the colleagues could be facing six "noes".

That said, the EU has in the past shown an extraordinary capacity for survival, weathering seemingly terminal crises. Therefore – Chirac apart – the chances are that the damage limitation exercise currently being constructed will buy time for the project, while the colleagues work out a more creative rescue plan.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A bodyguard of lies

"…truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."

Winston Churchill

That, clearly is driving force behind the putative "yes" campaign, another example of which comes from the egregious Robin Cook, former foreign minister - the man who waxed so indignant about government "lies" on WMD..

Interviewed by Jon Snow on this evening’s Channel 4 News on the outcome of a possble British referendum on the EU constitution, he exuded confidence. As soon as people realised that three million jobs and three-quarters of a million businesses depended on our membership of the EU, said Cook, they would come round.

The claim of "three milion jobs" is, of course, so transparently false that it is barely worth rebutting, but the second is less obvious.

This stems from a claim made by Gordon Brown in February 2000 on the relaunch of Britain in Europe, in support of the euro when, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Brown made the startling assertion that "750,000 companies export from Britain to Europe". It took until lunchtime for the figure to be corrected, with the government's own figures showing that the true number was 18,000.

Yet still Cook and his fellow travellers trot out the same lies. That is the shape of the campaign to come. They will lie, lie and lie again, hoping that if they repeat the lies often enough, sufficient people will believe them to make the difference – either that or they will bore people to death.

As we have observed on this Blog before, just to make the campaign a little bit more interesting, it would be nice if they could change the bodyguard occasionally.

The things they say

"Chirac, his name in France is 'superliar'… we know that when he speaks, it is of course not true".

José Bové (anti-globalisation campaigner) on being told by Caroline Wyatt, BBC Paris correspondent, that Chirac had said there could be no renegotiation of the EU constitution in the event of a French "non".

And from an anonymous Dutch "nee" voter, contributing to a vox pop on the Dutch referendum:

"They screwed us with the euro, so they will screw us with other things...".

Inevitable really

Germany has done it - ratified the constitution.

Thus, following on from our recent posting, it seems the obedient Herrenvolk of the Bundesrat have knuckled under and given the "project" their support.

According to the AP report, posted on the Guardian website, the upper house overwhelmingly approved the treaty, with all but one of the 16 länder endorsing it - giving the constitution 66 of 69 possible votes, far more than the necessary two-thirds majority.

Apparently, the only dissenter was the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. It abstained because the junior partner in its governing coalition, the ex-communist Party of Democratic Socialism, opposed the constitution.

Giscard d'Estaing was allowed to address the chamber before the vote, telling the Bundesrats: "The day after tomorrow, the French will - I hope with all my heart - ratify the constitution by means of a referendum," adding, "The double ratification in Germany and France would mark a historic passage for the future of the constitution and for Europe."

It looks like little Giscard may be disappointed, but who knows? What is certain from this result, though, is that we have already seen something historic – the Rat joining the sinking ship.

The creation of the European Republic

"If the French reject the constitution on Sunday, and there is a high probability that they will, the skies will not fall and the world will not stop turning. The EU will continue its business as usual, governed by the flawed Nice treaty. But the tragedy is that the French will lose the things that they really want: real European solidarity, a true European democracy; in short, the creation of the European Republic."

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the Greens/EFA Group in the EU Parliament, writing in The International Herald Tribune.

And the name of this European Republic is?

We've been there before

Suddenly, everyone's an expert, not least Claire Balderdash on last night's BBC Radio 4 World Tonight who could not believe that the French might be about to reject the constitution. After all, she spluttered, the French have always been in favour of "Europe".

Actually, they haven't and this is not the first time that the French have put a spoke in the wheel of European integration.

The last time it happened was in the early 50s, shortly after the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community when its president, none other than Jean Monnet, was quick to describe his "High Authority" as the first "government of Europe". And so confident was he that the "project" was on its way that he told the Assembly:

We can never sufficiently emphasise that the six Community countries are the fore-runners of a broader, united Europe, whose bounds are set only by those who have not yet joined. Our Community is not a coal and steel producers' association: it is the beginning of Europe.
For all his sense of triumphalism, however, events were catching up with M. Monnet. Having so far unfolded his plan so deftly, he now made a near-fatal mistake.

The cause of his near-nemesis was the Korean War, which had broken out on the Sunday after negotiations on the ECSC had opened. Monnet immediately feared that the pressure of this major new Cold War crisis, threatening possible Soviet aggression in Europe itself, might lead the Americans to strengthen their demands for German re-armament. This might reduce the attraction to Adenauer of the Schuman plan, as he might now be able to achieve this key objectives without having to place Germany's coal and steel under the control of the High Authority.

To regain the initiative, Monnet had decided that the original Schuman plan should be widened to include defence, and set about planning what was to emerge as a proposal for a European Defence Community (EDC). This provided for a European Army, run by a European minister of defence and a council of ministers, with a common budget and arms procurement. While all other members would be able to maintain separate forces, for colonial and other purposes, Germany would only be allowed to participate in the European Army.

For his advocate this time, Monnet by-passed Schuman, who was strongly opposed to German rearmament. Instead, he sought out a man who had been his assistant during his somewhat murky days as a merchant banker - Rene Pleven. He had also been with him in London in 1940 during that exciting time when he had put to Churchill the plan for Anglo-French union. Fortunately for Monnet, his old subordinate was now in a position of some authority: he had become France’s prime minister.

Thus, although the proposal was entirely Monnet's, he kept in the background and his idea became the "Pleven Plan". Pleven outlined it to the French Assembly on 24 October 1950, where it won approval by 343 votes to 220. Nevertheless, during the debates, Pleven made clear that negotiations would not start until the Coal and Steel Treaty had been concluded, thus safeguarding Monnet's original scheme.

Unlike the Schuman Plan, this plan was not well received abroad. The Germans, in particular, were highly suspicious, preferring their forces to be part of Nato. They had good reason for their suspicion. Monnet intended his EDC to be "a government capable of taking the supreme decisions in the name of all Europeans". Yet, for that very reason, the Italian premier, de Gasperi, supported the new plan, proclaiming that, "The European Army is not an end in itself; it is the instrument of a patriotic foreign policy. But European patriotism can develop only in a federal Europe".

Again, the Americans intervened, this time in the form of General Eisenhower, now the first supreme commander of Nato land forces. Meeting with Monnet on 21 June 1951, he agreed that Franco-German reconciliation could only be achieved through a European Army. The Korean War, following the intervention of Communist China, had entered a critical phase.

As anticipated, American pressure for German rearmament had intensified, giving Adenauer a powerful negotiating hand. He chose to exploit it, offering in return for his support of the EDC a "general treaty". This would recognise West German sovereignty, accept German contingents into the EDC on equal footing, allow West Germany into Nato, end the remnants of allied occupation of his country, and conclude a peace treaty. Ambitious though this proposal was, it was quickly agreed by the Allies and by the end of November 1951 a draft treaty was ready.

In the final stages of the treaty negotiations, the British government had changed. On 25 October 1951, after a general election, Labour had lost to the Conservatives. Churchill was again prime minister, with Anthony Eden as foreign secretary. But the new government was immediately plunged into a balance of payments crisis and economic disaster loomed.

Despite some initial hopes that the "pro-European" Churchill might reverse the Labour's view of the Six’s moves to integration, his view that Britain should remain aloof from direct European involvement remained intact. Britain, in Churchill's view, was still one of the international "Big Three", with her special relationship with America. Although anxious to co-operate with his European neighbours, his policy rested on "overlapping circles", whereby Britain remained between Europe and the USA.

In opposition Churchill had claimed to favour the idea of a "European Army", without ever spelling out what this might mean in practice. Back in power, however, orthodoxy re-asserted itself. Now the supranational element of the plan had become clear, he brushed aside any idea of a European army, calling it a "sludgy amalgam", adding, "What soldiers want to sing are their own marching songs". De Gaulle took a similar view.

On 28 November 1951, Eden told a press conference in Rome that no British formations would be available to the new army, but the new Conservative government nevertheless did its best to be constructive. At a meeting with Schuman in February 1952, Eden assured the French of a close association with the Defence Community. British forces on the continent would co-operate very closely with "European forces".

In a further effort to be helpful, Eden proposed in March 1952 that the two Communities of the Six should come under the aegis of the Council of Europe. Monnet, predictably, saw this as a challenge to his supranationalism.

Although nothing further came of Eden's initiative, the French themselves had considerable reservations about the idea of a European army. What most concerned them was the possibility of Germany seceding from the Defence Community, allowing the German units raised to be reconstituted as a national army. Paris therefore pressed for an Anglo-American guarantee against any member's secession. London’s response was obliging.

Under the 1948 Brussels treaty, Britain was already pledged to give assistance to France and the Benelux countries in the event of war. The Six now asked, on 14 March 1952, that she should extend that guarantee to West Germany and Italy. Responding in a broadcast on 5 April, Eden said it was the duty and intention of the British government to help the people of Europe towards the idea of a united Europe. Great Britain could not join an exclusive European federation, but she could give support and encouragement to both the Coal and Steel and the Defence Communities.

Ten days later, he followed this up with a firm proposal. In the event of an armed attack on any member of the European Defence Community, Britain would give full military and other aid in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This offer was well received by the Six. In Germany it was hailed as "one of the most important political developments of recent times".

However, this was not an Anglo-American guarantee. The Americans were still putting their faith in the EDC and refused to co-operate. As a result, on 19 May, it was announced that Washington and London were unable to provide a joint guarantee and would instead make a "declaration of intent". Talks then became bogged down in arguments about the German contribution to the European defence budget, until the French Cabinet, still dissatisfied by the lack of commitment from the British and Americans, against German withdrawal from the EDC, decided it would not sign the agreements.

Efforts were made to satisfy the French by re-wording the declaration of intent. The USA and Britain finally agreed to regard any action which threatened the integrity of the European Defence Community as a threat to their own security. It was enough. The European Defence Treaty was signed on 27 May 1952, along with a general treaty which effectively restored German sovereignty. This was far from what Monnet had envisaged, with the budget subject still to national veto. Even so, there was still so much opposition in France that her prime minister Antoine Pinay signed the treaty without intending to seek immediate ratification.

It was over ratification that Monnet's scheming began to unravel. Opposition in the French Assembly, far from diminishing, had been hardening. The Socialist group wanted a "more democratic" EDC, with a European Assembly elected by universal suffrage. This was to prompt Monnet's most daring initiative so far, in concert with the man who over the next few years would be his closest ally, Paul-Henri Spaak.

Spaak proposed setting up a European Political Community (EPC), as a "common political roof" over the Coal and Steel and the Defence Communities, creating "an indissoluble supranational political community based on the union of peoples". Schuman and Adenauer welcomed this, as did Italy's prime minister de Gasperi, who went even further, proposing that a future EDC assembly should prepare a draft European constitution.

In September 1952, Spaak's proposal was jointly endorsed by the foreign ministers of the Six, along with the assemblies of the ECSC and the Council of Europe, and the ECSC Assembly was asked to study the question of creating a "European Political Authority". The result, from an ad hoc committee under Spaak, was a "Draft Treaty Embodying the Statute of the European Community". This was nothing less than the first formal attempt to give Europe a constitution.

It was submitted by Spaak to the foreign ministers of the Six on 9 March 1953 and to the ECSC Assembly the following day, which approved it by 50 votes, with five abstentions. Introducing his draft "constitution" to the ECSC Council, Spaak began with the opening words of George Washington's address in presenting the American Constitution to Congress in 1787, going on to express his conviction that, "with the same audacity", Europe could hope for the same success.

This latest Monnet-Spaak initiative could go no further, however, while the EDC itself was still attracting opposition. Part of the plan was to apply supranational controls on any production of nuclear weapons, which caused the French Atomic Energy Commission, Gaullist in sympathy, to wake up to the implications, should France wish become a nuclear power. By October, deputies in the National Assembly were expressing concern that the treaty gave too many advantages to Germany, which would come to dominate the Community. Objections were also raised that the Treaty was presented as a fait accompli, to be accepted or rejected without alteration.

Thus, while the rest of the Six went on to ratify the Defence Treaty, French politics were to prevail. So great did opposition become among both Socialists and Gaullists that the Pinay government was brought down. A new government was formed under Rene Mayer, with Gaullist support, and the "Europe of Jean Monnet" became almost a term of political abuse. Then, after four months, Mayer was replaced by Joseph Laniel. In the despairing words of Monnet, he "did nothing". Despite intense pressure from the United States, with President Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles threatening to cut US aid, France's ratification process had come to a halt.

Outside Parliament, opposition was at least as strong. Army leaders were against it, intellectual groups detested it and de Gaulle, in November 1953, declared himself implacably hostile to it, referring to "this monstrous treaty" which would rob the French Army of its sovereignty and separate the defence of France from the defence of the French Union. It would go against all her traditions and institutions, and deliver her soldiers to an organism over which France had no control. He blamed this "and other supra-national monstrosities" on "the Inspirer", M. Jean Monnet. In a bitter parody of Monnet, he declared, "Since victorious France has an army and defeated Germany has none, let us suppress the French Army". He went on:

After that we shall make a stateless army of Frenchmen and Germans, and since there must be a government above this army, we shall make a stateless government, a technocracy. As this may not please everyone, we'll paint a new shop sign and call it "community"; it won't matter, anyway, because the "European Army" will be placed at the entire disposal of the American Commander-in-Chief.
What finally brought matters to a head was a quite separate event, the fall to the Communist Viet Minh on 7 May 1954 of the enclave in Dien Bien Phu, in French Indochina. This disaster brought down the government. By 17 June, Laniel had been replaced by Mendès-France, a radical nationalist. He was ambivalent towards the EDC and sought to dilute its supranational element, proposing this to the Six in Brussels on 3 August. Adenauer rejected this out of hand. Spaak, who chaired the conference, made an almost hysterical plea to Mendès-France to support the treaty, clasping him by the arm while telling him that:

France will be completely isolated… You will be alone. Is that what you want?.. We must, must make Europe. The military side isn't everything. What matters is the integration of Europe. EDC is only the first step in that direction, but if there is no EDC, then everything falls to the ground.
Brushing aside Spaak's accusations that he was not being "a good European", Mendès-France also ignored entreaties from the Americans and even Churchill, from whom he sought, unsuccessfully, guarantees of British involvement in the EDC. He thus brought the treaty before a hostile Assembly on 30 August 1954 without endorsement. After a stormy debate, in which the supranational issue predominated, it was rejected by 319 votes to 264. Mendès-France's government abstained. The triumphant majority burst into the Marseillaise. The EDC was dead. The idea of a Political Community soon faded into obscurity. Monnet and his supranationism had suffered a resounding defeat.

Thus did the French see off the first main attempt to foist a constitution for Europe on its unwilling peoples and now history seems about to repeat itself. However, it is also worth remembering that, three years later, the Six were signing the 1957 Treaty of Rome. That is the other thing history tells us – the "colleagues" never take no for an answer.

Too many questions?

Having watched the hour-long Question Time extravaganza on the EU constitution, broadcast live from Paris, courtesy of BBC 1 television and David Dimbleby, there is only conclusion to be drawn – that the BBC has ruled itself out of the game.

With six panellists, including two Frenchmen, plus notables like Caroline Lucas, Denis MacShane, Eddie Izzard, Liam Fox, with frequent interjections from the audience, all you got was a cacophony of sound. How anyone, with the best will in the word, could drawn any conclusions from the programme, how it could in any way help anyone make up their mind, is simply beyond imagining. "Entertainment", I suppose it was – passionate, it certainly was. Theatre, maybe. Informative? Definitely not.

We did however, have MacShane, without a hint of a blush, assert that politicians must "stop swapping insults" and "tell the truth". This is the man who felt quite happy, not a little while ago, to brand Eurosceptics as "Xenophobes" and who, whenever he was presented with an opportunity on this programme, claimed that the constitution made the EU "more democratic" and that it "returns power to the nation states" – both complete lies.

Not content with that, the man also asserted that the EU had been built on the "dream" of preventing war in Europe, then declaring: "If we tear that up, the clock of history can go backwards". This is the Margot "Holocaust argument" all over again. Funny how all the "colleagues" seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Then, to add further insult to injury, MacShane, in virtually the same breath, accused the "no" campaign of resorting to fear tactics.

If Question Time had been a grown-up programme, it could have taken just those assertions, and based the whole programme around it. Instead, by cramming so much in, the impact is lost and the points are never argued through to any conclusion. Furthermore, this is not the first time, by any means, the BBC has crammed its programmes, turning them into a miasma of incoherence. It seems very much part of a trend.

In short, there were too many questions, and not enough answers. Anyone who wants to be informed about the EU constitution is going to have to look elsewhere. The BBC is no longer in the business of supplying answers – if indeed it ever was.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Blinking in the sunlight

Whoever said bloggers were "pyjama journalists" is half right, as we do work all sorts of peculiar hours keeping up the postings, whence sartorial elegance is rarely an issue.

Yesterday's launch of the People's No Campaign, however, saw me blinking in the sunlight, as I emerged from the backroom to join the "Herron gang". I am obliged to the internetters – precise source unknown - for this report:

The first floor conference room in Abingdon House at 2pm yesterday witnessed the first high profile "Gathering of the Clans."

Many groups, organisations and individuals were represented. The meeting commenced at 2pm precisely and the room was bursting beyond capacity with many forced to stand outside in the hallway. Late arrivals were refused entry by security because the event was over capacity and had to wait outside.

The meeting opened up with room sponsor, Independent Labour Peer Lord Stoddart, delivering a passionate introduction. This was followed with a rousing address by Maastricht rebel and Chairman of the Freedom Association, Christopher Gill.

Sky TV and German Television were present and the room was littered with copies of the European Constitution, kindly provided free of charge by the European Parliament building in London that very morning. The media made the most of the shot of a pile of them sticking out of a House of Lords 'Recycle Your Rubbish' bin.

Neil Herron in his usual style delivered the background to what the campaign was about, where it had come from and where the fight was to be taken. Rousing applause again... and a few laughs.

Colin Moran, former Strategy Director of the North East No Campaign then detailed "What If?" in relation to the French situation.

Dr Richard North, the backroom research specialist for the campaign, "blinked as he was allowed out in daylight." He detailed the electronic networks and how they would work in what was to be the first internet driven referendum.

Questions came from the press and the media and from the floor. The atmosphere was absolutely electric... people knew this was "the happening."

Sky News had been running the launch since the breakfast programme where Neil Herron was interviewed live from the studio. Clips from the London office were also run in the preamble and played throughout the day. The meeting was a huge success and people went away enthused. We are busy collating the offers of support and preparing to link the various groups that wish to work with us.

Over 500 individuals have already registered as campaign supporters in the space of 24 hours.
Anyhow, I am now back in the more accustomed darkness, hunched over the keboard. Normal blogging will resume shortly.

Even the Italians are falling out of love with the EU

According to a story on Reuter’s website, the Italians are falling out of the EU. No, they are not becoming eurosceptic, various political scientists proclaim but they are rather fed up with what they see as the EU’s demands making the Italian recession worse.

Needless to say, Silvio Berlusconi has been making noises.
“We're pretty tired of all this bureaucracy. We are really determined to do battle over this because Europe's job should not be to create difficulties for member states, but precisely the opposite.”
True enough, though it has taken them a little time to realize the problem. In any case, the statement is not unconnected with Berlusconi’s domestic political problems.

Berlusconi is blaming the euro or, at least, the way it was put into place (the method is always the problem, not the substance) for Italy’s economic difficulties. Popular support for the euro, according to the last Eurobarometer poll, is down to 62 per cent.

Anyone who has visited Italy recently and talked to Italians would know that that is an overestimate. The euro was never all that popular, though the idea of Europe may have been.

It seems to be a given that most Italians are pro EU and Prodi may reap the benefits there. But Berlusconi, who has made great play of standing up for Italy’s interests, may yet surprise us all. Again. After all, opinion appears to be moving in his direction.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Of course they are pleased

The Guardian writes today:
“European Union ministers last night surprised and delighted aid agencies around the world when they agreed a dramatic increase in help to countries in Africa and the rest of the developing world that will see the EU's richest states reach the United Nations' historic goal of giving 0.7% of national income in aid by 2015.”
I’ll just bet they are pleased and delighted. Just for a few moments it looked like some of those cushy jobs will disappear (not for long – NGOs are the biggest growth industry in the world) and the unfortunate people of Africa might start freeing themselves from those kleptocratic bloodthirsty tyrants with their socialist policies, whom aid has supported all these decades.

But hooray, hooray, the EU has promised to go on squandering money on projects that have been proved to be corrupt, inefficient and completely pointless time and time again.

One cannot help wondering how it is that suddenly an agreement was pulled out of a hat and Tony Blair’s “international reputation” was saved. Could this be another move in the EU’s endless attempts to position itself against the United States? Certainly, the Guardian’s story does not exactly deny that:
“The unexpected success in Brussels will intensify pressure on other rich countries, notably the United States, to increase their own efforts to "make poverty history". It will also raise hopes that the pro-development partnership between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will end on a high note, not with the damp squib many critics have feared.”
The notion that more money flung at the people who have created and increased poverty in Africa is somehow “pro-development” exists only in the fevered imagination of the NGOs and their supporters in the left-leaning media, such as the Guardian or the BBC. It is, of course, a completely anti-development policy. But it does have a tremendous advantage for the EU: there will be no need to change all those protectionist trade regulations that largely keep Third World produce out of the European countries.

Mind you, promises are not the same as achievements, despite the whoops of joy emitted by Christian Aid, Oxfam and all the other usual suspects.
“The Treasury said last night that if all 25 EU member states meet yesterday's series of parallel pledges and some go beyond them, as they plan to do, EU collective aid to developing countries, including Africa, will rise from $40bn (£22bn) this year to $80bn in 2010.”
If, indeed. And if they don’t? Well, who cares? Posaturing is what matters. After all, there is no particular reference to achievement, merely to meeting pledges. What happens to the money afterwards, whether it gets stolen by EU agencies or local officials, whether it is squandered by NGOs on endless conferences and comfortable quarters for their staff, whether it goes into Swiss bank account, arms for terrorists or great big useless constructions that glorify the current tyrant, it matters not.

In fact, Oxfam gives the game away.
“But the deal's potential significance lies in its impact on other countries. "It's really fantastic, it could have been better, but it's a very generous deal that lays down the gauntlet to the United States and Japan. We were desperate for such an injection of cash into the poker game they are all playing," said a spokesman for Oxfam.”
Not that desperate, surely. What happened to the last lot of squillions of pounds they collected?

But, of course, it is all about international politics and squaring up to other countries, like the United States. Never mind, that America pours untold amounts into the Third World through government help and private charity. Never mind, that it is America, Japan and Australia that provided the fastest, most effective, most efficient aid after the Tsunami. What matters is the pledge.

And just to show how good the whole idea is, the squabbling has already begun. Having made the pledge,
“Italy, Germany and Portugal issued statements in Brussels warning that their budget problems may hit EU borrowing limits and stop them meeting the target. EU officials made light of the problem.”
Christian Aid is pouring scorn on Gordon Brown, particularly on the idea that donor nations should somehow insist on “good governance”. Just hand over the money and ask no questions. How can you doubt that Christian Aid and others of that ilk will spend it beneficially.

Other aid experts (who dem?) say that reform of governance is essential, without explaining how that is to be achieved.

Let us hope that America, Japan and Russia (Blair is flying there as well, but one cannot quite see Puttin going along with this nonsense) will demand some evidence of achivement before they start trying to match the pledges.