Sunday, June 19

... We have Humbug

At the limits of Europe

It happens, sooner or later, to all British prime ministers. They begin with hopeful talk about putting Britain at the heart of Europe; they end up isolated.
It happened to Margaret Thatcher in 1988 when she found herself ambushed over the Delors plans for closer union. It happened to John Major in 1996 over the beef ban. Now it has happened to Tony Blair.

For eight years, Mr Blair has made concession after concession to Brussels in the belief that this would win him influence. He joined the Social Chapter, throwing away Britain's competitive advantage. He reversed the UK's long-standing opposition to an EU military capacity outside Nato.

He ratified the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, discarding the national veto in dozens of areas. He even signed the European Constitution. None of it was enough. Faced with restive electorates, the leaders of Old Europe did what came most naturally: they bashed the Brits. Like Mr Major before him, Mr Blair has learned the hard way that Euro-diplomacy is conducted on the basis of future advantage, not past gratitude.

It may seem strange that Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder should have seized on the budget as the weapon with which to belabour the Prime Minister. Mr Blair, after all, had all the advantages. For one thing, Friday's deadline was wholly artificial, so Britain could afford to be relaxed about not reaching a deal.

For another, Mr Blair had the better case: given that the UK is already paying two-and-a-half times as much to Brussels as France, a country of comparable wealth, it was outrageous of Mr Chirac to demand that Britain pay even more, and France less. For a third, Mr Blair has a fresh electoral mandate, while the French and German leaders have the reek of political death on them.

Above all, Mr Blair could appeal over the heads of his counterparts to their electorates, who have plainly rejected the European policies of their own leaders.

Yet, from the point of view of Paris and Berlin, the summit has been a success. Instead of a painful analysis of the recent "No" votes, there has been a traditional Euro-row with Britain as the spoiler. We can expect more of this. Mr Blair's Euro-optimism has passed its peak.
This is not, as is sometimes argued, because the balance of power is tilting Brownwards (Douglas Alexander, the Brownite Europe Minister, has proved spectacularly ineffectual). It is, rather, because the Prime Minister has visibly reached the limits of Europeanism.

For all his exaggerated matiness towards Mr Chirac - he uses the familiar tu when speaking to him, a privilege not even Mrs Chirac allows herself - he remains outside the EU's magic circle.
Perhaps Mr Blair will now stop fretting about his communautaire credentials and concentrate on protecting the national interest. Since he is fond of showing off his French to Mr Chirac, he might usefully quote his predecessor, Lord Palmerston. Told once by his French counterpart that the English had no word equivalent to the French sensibilité, Pamerston replied: "Yes we have: humbug."
'The Limits of Europe' from extracrewd from The Sunday Telegraph 19 June 2005

1 comment:

Kelly said...

I read the first article "Humbug" and making concessions to the French and the Germans as part of the EU or alone, to myself has never been a good idea. They have shown contempt for everyone, while at the same time presenting a friendly face to us. If these leaders were people that we each worked with everyday we would not have a thing to do with them. They would be the one talked about in our breakrooms or employee lounges as the ones to watch out for. They would be called backstabbers or suckups. The only interests they have are their own. NOW, I do understand that everyone has their own political agenda and their own interests to protect, HOWEVER, these two are like little children who want things their own way. lol You have to compromise with them so that they will at least tell you they will be on your side later on down the road AND you have to give them what they want when they want it. It is their way of copying the 2 yo who says "mine, Mine, Mine" to everything they see and want whether they actually want it or not.

While it hasn't made the US any more popular than before and like the Brits we are the whipping boy for the world's ills, I am glad that President Bush has basically thumbed his nose at them. We still do the polite political thing to their face and they to ours but beyond that we have no use for them. I might not always agree with what my President does but I am fully supportive of his efforts.

And before you start thinking that I am on a typical American French/German bashing tirade, I have a sister in law who is French from La Rochelle and my brother, her and my nephew all live in France. I also have friends in Germany who we try to keep in touch with given our schedules. I have no more use for the French than I do the Germans but I do love their countrysides.

We have a saying here that it only takes a few apples to spoil the barrel and in this case it is the leaders spoiling this particular barrel.

Kelly van den Berg