Thursday, September 22, 2005

A parallel universe

The experience of writing a blog on the machinations of the European Union, and the more general political environment in which it operates tends to engender a perspective different from that conveyed by an increasingly superficial and trivia-obsessed mainstream media.

It is, for instance, our firm contention that one of the most central issues that defines our very existence as an independent nation is its ability to pursue a foreign policy that reflects the national interest, rather than the promoting the objectives of supranational entities such as the European Union. And, at the heart of any truly independent policy is our capability to wield the "big stick", the maintenance of effective and independent armed forces.

For that very reason, we have taken a special interest in what we perceive to be the growing Europeanisation of the armed forces, an interest defined not purely by a fascination for an important subject but because the outcome of current changes will determine whether we survive as an independent nation, able to take our own decisions on the global stage.

In this context, we read with interest that charges relayed by The Times this morning that "Blair is a bad president" – temporary president of the European Union, that is, just in case someone thinks they have suddenly missed a major consitutional change in the way our own nation is run.

The essence of the story relayed by The Times is that Britian's "much-trumpeted presidency of the European Union" has failed to address the Continent's most urgent problems and that the British government has displayed "sheer logistical incompetence".

Blair is accused of losing interest in Europe and raising false expectations about what he can achieve, with Le Figaro in particular accusing our revered prime minister of leading a British presidency that was "invisible and inaudible".

"We do not see or feel the British presidency. It's very strange," one official has told the paper, The Times adding that this comment reflects irritation in the French Foreign Ministry over Britain's failure to tackle the sense of drift in the EU after the collapse of the European constitution. Le Figaro says: "The relaunch of political Europe is not on London's agenda".

Be that as is may – and the full charge sheet can be read in the article (linked above), this blog has altogether different "take" on the dereliction of the British presidency. This is sparked by an apparently unrelated article in this week's edition of DefenceNews, on the objectives of the Finnish presidency, which takes over once the British effort has sunk into oblivion with the expiry of this year.

Finland, it seems, as one of its main presidency objectives, is to push for greater ties with the United States, and is going to use the presidency to lobby against the creation of a purely European military alliance within the EU zone. We are told that government officials will "lobby very hard" for a solution that promotes continued American defence interest and trans-Atlantic collaboration in Europe

Finland, along with its Nordic neighbours Sweden and Denmark, is against a European alliance that would overlap or impede the role of NATO and the issue of a pan-EU military alliance, and Finland's growing relationship with NATO, has become so hugely important that it has emerged as a central theme for the presidential election in 2006.

Finnish Premier Matti Vanhanen is taking a personal interest in the issue, telling his Center Party colleagues at a parliamentary conference in the city of Seinäjoki on 31 August that: "I feel there is little to gain from establishing a purely European military alliance that would overlap with NATO, or compete with it." He added, "Finland must use its EU presidency to maintain the interest of the United States in Europe and also build political and defence bridges between Europe and the United States."

The very fact that the Finnish premier sees a potential conflict between the development of an EU military alliance and relations with the United States does suggest that there is an important issue at stake here. Furthermore, since the UK is supposed to be at the centre of the NATO alliance, and prides itself on its "special relationship" with the United States, the potential for conflict cannot have escaped the attention of the British government. Rather than leave the running to one of the smaller member states, this should have been taken up by Britain.

But, on this issue, the British presidency has been silent, and all we here are anodyne statement that NATO forms the core of British defence strategy, when all the evidence suggests otherwise. Thus, while we would agree with the critics given voice in today's edition of The Times, we would suggest that the failings of the British presidency go much deeper than has been suggested, and touch on issues which have not even been aired.

What is stunning, however, is that these issues are not being aired. As we have pointed out, there cannot be many subjects more important than our defence strategy yet, week after week, month after month, the media remain silent – as indeed does the official opposition. In our concerns for what we do believe to be important, we are beginning to feel that we live in a parallel universe.


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