Thursday, February 09, 2012

"Europe is domestic policy"

Bruno Waterfield writes an interesting piece for Spiked Online, telling us that the European Union is "currently straining every sinew in a campaign to stifle outbreaks of politics across Europe". It was ever thus, though, as Bruno readily admits, reminding us of the behaviour of the "colleagues" on the constitution referendums, and will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of the EU and in particular the views of Spinelli.

Thus, despite its focus on this issue, the main utility of the piece is in reminding us of the Merkel interview of 25 January, which was carried by six different European newspapers under the Europa banner, including our own Guardian.

What Bruno tells of that interview is that Merkel described the "new order" as having "obliterated all boundaries between national sovereignty and external intervention", allowing all aspects of politics to be settled by the EU. "In this crisis we have reached a whole new level of co-operation; we have arrived at a sort of European home affairs. Europe is domestic policy", she said.

Now this is extremely interesting, confirming our view that, since we are part of the European Union, which is also our supreme government, EU politics is domestic politics – despite our affairs being handled by the FCO and the insistence of most newspapers in relegating the EU to their foreign desks.

But what is even more interesting – and revealing – is that while Bruno uses the Merkel quote in the Spiked article, he did not refer to it in his own newspaper, The Failygraph. But then, and here the plot really thickens, neither did The Guardian in its report of the interview.

To get the exact words of the quote, therefore, one has to go elsewhere, and we find that it was quoted verbatim by le Monde and la Stampa, and then repeated by van Rompuy in an extraordinary speech on 6 February, from where Bruno picked it up.

In the 25 January interview (translated from the Italian), la Stampa has Merkel saying, "In this crisis we have reached a new level of cooperation in Europe: this corresponds, as it were, to a European domestic policy", while le Monde has "Europe is domestic policy" in its headline, which comes out in the text in a response to a question about a United States of Europe (below).

Both papers then go carry a question put to Merkel, that: "The British are not at all agree to define European policy as a domestic policy" (sic), to which she responds, cryptically: "I am convinced that Britain should remain a member of the European Union".

When we come to van Rompuy, we then see how he builds on that quote, where he tells us that:
I am convinced that this [crisis] experience will have an impact on the way the Union operates beyond the crisis, on the way we shape the Europe of tomorrow. Sixty years of integration has taught us that Europe is not built by dissolving Member States, but by infusing them ever more deeply. A slow process which sometimes gets a sudden push. As Chancellor Merkel said in an interview two weeks ago: "In this crisis we have reached a whole new level of cooperation; we have arrived at a sort of European home affairs. Europe is domestic policy".
I would dispute that this is a matter of recent arrival, but the point remains that, whether recently or since the start, the "colleagues" now believe EU policies to be integral to member states' own domestic policies.

Van Rompuy, as Bruno reminds us, sees member state politicians implementing EU (i.e., domestic) policy, at the risk of electoral defeat, as displaying "political courage", but Bruno demurs. It is not courage to defy voters - it is actually cowardice, he writes.

Leadership, he says, is about taking people with you, about cultivating a public interest; it is not about ignoring people in favour of loyalty to the bureaucratic interests expressed by the EU. European history does not teach us that politics is better ordered without the risk of electoral defeat.

Seductive though that sentiment is, I don't quite see it completely that way. Bruno refers to the "bureaucratic interests" and the Eurocrats, whereas I tend to refer to the "colleagues", which includes the ministers, and especially the prime ministers and presidents of the member states. They are all in it together - the national has been absorbed into the maw of the supranational and the interests have become confused, if not actually fused.

What I think is actually happening is that our political leaders have aligned themselves so closely with the EU and its aspirations, through ministerial and council meetings, that they have a greater affinity with EU policies than they have with those of domestic origin, regarding the former as their own.

It has got to the state where the couloirs of Brussels represent the comfort zone of our masters – so for them, Brussels policy has become domestic policy, while those whom they supposedly represent back home have become the aliens. We the people are the aliens - "Europe" is home turf.