2003 was a vintage year for the Cassandras of Brussels: Eurostat, Stability Pact, Alsthom, New Europe and Old Europe, Swedish Referendum, Constitution and finally the threat to cut the budget from the rich nations. None of these issues have been resolved, and few predict that next year will get any easier.
One of the delegates to the European Constitutional Convention famously described its attempt to involve society at large through its Futurum and Forum aspects as “Brussels talking to Brussels”. By this he was pointing out that the vast majority of ‘civil society actors’ that were involved in the process were organisations which received much of their primary funding from the EU itself. This closed circle of influence in the decision making processes in the EU threatens the project far more than any external pressure.
The next year has the prospect of leaving the peoples of Europe even further behind as Brussels goes through the disturbances and ructions of a new Commission, a parliamentary election, a new boss at the central bank, enlargement with the associated asymmetric shocks and not least the ongoing farce of the new Constitution itself. In each of these we already know about major difficulties, but politics being politics there may well be more to come. All this will leave Brussels itself and its parasitical press corps again concentrating more and more upon the bubble, divining the runes, rather than on connecting with the peoples of Europe their hopes, fears and desires .
But the people deserve better, they deserve to have the machinations explained to them. They deserve to be told precisely how much enlargement is expected to cost and what its benefits are. Not in merely grandiose sound bites, but practically, in their pockets. The enlargement countries themselves need to be able to tell their own people what the benefits of their new membership are. Rather than relying on the word of European leaders who seem to change the rules whenever it suits them. The smaller countries need to know whether the Stability Pact is to be overthrown, rather than being differentially applied depending on economic weight. America needs to know if Europe is committed to ridding the world of the threats of international terrorism or would prefer to sell arms to dictators.
As a project the European Union is in danger of losing what trust it has from the people of Europe. The figures in the Commission’s own December Eurobarometer survey tell their own story, a story that must be listened to by our political leaders. The jury is out, the battle has not been won and the heresy of Euro-apathy or worse Euro-Sceptisism stalks the land. Brussels is seen as aloof, distant, incorrigibly corrupt and self –serving. If it wants to retain any affection from the populous it must go back to first principles and talk to them.
Strange rumblings from the Convention collapse. The media has swallowed the line almost entire that the collapse of talks was all down to the perfidious Poles and their temporarily crippled Prime Minister Lezek Miller in the role of a stage villain. However as the hangover fades after Berlusconi’s farewell party (complete with the sort of bad jokes that your father might tell following half a bottle of port) the real culprit remains in the shadows. Enter Mr Chirac.
According to authoritative diplomatic reports Poland, Spain and Germany, were ready to talk about a deal but France refused to take part in the negotiations. The French have long been the most openly sceptical of Enlargement with surveys showing a significant majority against, here it seems was its chance. Evidence now suggests that France, supported by Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg were interested in a Euro-core that could drive integration forward. By the Saturday morning of the conference Chirac had gathered Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Greece. Though his statement suggesting this core was later pooh-poohed by others The Sprout would like to point out the normal Brussels process. It is not going to happen. It is not a serious idea. That is not what we mean. It was passed in Council two years ago and it is too late to complain now.