Thursday, June 16, 2005

Reinventing the wheelbarrow

Having invested an enormous amount of money in their coverage, the media is necessarily going to have to go into overdrive in Brussels today and tomorrow. A stage has been built outside the Justus Lipsus building, where the European Council is to meet, and millions of pounds in camera gear and satellite vans is all set to capture the golden words of the politicos as they emerge from their travails.

And while the "no campaign" kiddies are back in London, morosely studying their fizzy pops and wondering who will be the first to be made redundant, the people's no campaign is driving round the European quarter in Brussels in an "AdVan", to the huge amusement of the local police, telling Blair to call a referendum. At one point, they managed to doorstep Barroso, who seemed more interested in talking about Africa, saying that the question of the British referendum was "for another day".

That perhaps gives a clue as to what might be happening. Another such clue is that, on the draft agenda for the Council, the constitution is not even listed as an item for discussion.

Meanwhile, this morning's newspapers are already looking as stale as… er… this morning's newspapers, with very little to add to the confusion of voices that have plagued this post-referendum scenario.

We cannot resist commenting on the Telegraph leader, however, which is a priceless example of utter naïvity, combined with wishful thinking.

Headed, "The chance for a dynamic new start in Europe," it eulogises over the speech given by shadow foreign minister Liam Fox in parliament yesterday, arguing that "today's meeting of European leaders is potentially the most momentous summit in the history of the European Union, if not of its predecessors, the EC and the EEC."

To say that this is somewhat OTT does not even get close, as is the Telegraph's thesis that: "We are witnessing the natural demise of the process of 'ever closer union' that began in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome."

The "summiteers", argues the paper, have two courses open to them. The first is to ignore the will of their peoples but the second is "thrilling" – cue Liam Fox. Yesterday in the House of Commons the great man "effectively repudiated the Treaty of Rome."

He stated that "it is not possible to support a more flexible Europe and 'ever closer union' simultaneously". He argued that Britain must "cross the Rubicon", ditch the offending phrase and lead the campaign for "a completely different dynamic" in Europe. Then the let-down: "Dr Fox did not spell out exactly how this 'different dynamic' would work." Nuff said, but The Telegraph tries to fill in the gaps.

The EU should be a free trade area in goods, services and capital (but not labour, except by bilateral agreement). It should have no pretensions to statehood, but be a forum for co-operation on those few matters (such as environmental protection) where multilateral institutions can play a useful monitoring role. European regulators of the single market should strive not to "harmonise" taxes and social policy across the continent, but to foster growth on the principle of comparative advantage among differentiated economies. Domestic industry should not be protected: the EU should be dedicated to boosting capitalism abroad, not socialism at home.
There they go again, trying to bolt wings on the wheelbarrow, the ultimate triumph of hope over experience. In the meantime would someone like to tell me that this is not true? And could someone give me a list of those directives, regulations and decisions that the commission has now decided to repeal? I suspect we are not going to see one. More like, we are going to see an awful lot of wheelbarrows.

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