Mixed Metaphors Spell out Post-Maastricht Doubts

By Marshall, Andrew | The Independent (London, England), September 11, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Mixed Metaphors Spell out Post-Maastricht Doubts

Marshall, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)


The Options a la carte: Europe as lunch is one way of accommodating diversity. Pick the courses - or policies - you fancy and dodge the boring ones. But could you leave your greens and still have pudding?

Variable Geometry: Europe as Meccano (or Lego, for Danish sensibilities). Not everybody wants to, or can, do the same things (eg, join Nato or form a single currency). So a way of organising the EU has to be found that permits different permutations - which has been happening since Maastricht anyway.

The Hard Core: Europe as a fruit or vegetable, with a solid centre (northern apple or southern olive). This group of countries proceeds with rapid integration. The others catch up when they can. This is regarded as a Bad Thing by True Europeans ("everyone must go forward together") and by some Eurosceptics ("they will lock us out").

Concentric Circles: Europe as a target or an onion. The Eastern Europeans are in the outer ring, the Good Europeans in the centre, while the middle ring contains the uncertain, the unwilling and the incapable - somewhat like Dante's vision of hell.

Multi-track, Multi-speed: Europe is a giant motorway system. This is John Major's version, the British being fond of road metaphors. Everyone must share the traffic rules (free trade, open markets, fair competition) but beyond that, anything goes. Critics say: it would end progress towards a Union, dangerously weaken the European institutions and mean a return to the Europe of power politics and nation states. Supporters say: oh, good.

MULTI-TRACKS, hard cores, temples, trees, pillars, convoys and hearts: it is a strange vision that politicians conjure up when they debate the future of Europe. The metaphors of Maastricht form a dream-like, surrealist landscape like those depicted by the painters Paul Delvaux or Giorgio De Chirico.

Yet the terms chosen by John Major in his speech last week in Leiden, and by German Christian Democrats in their new plan for Europe, tell us a great deal. They show the growing gap between Britain and its continental partners, but also the extraordinary uncertainty over the future of Europe.

One British metaphor, at least, has ceased to beat. John Major said in Bonn in March 1991 that he wanted to put Britain "where we belong, at the very heart of Europe". He was signalling more than just a change of policy from the government of Margaret Thatcher. He was saying, in words that he knew could not be mistaken by his hosts, that he spoke their language, metaphorically if not literally. The heart is the symbol of the CDU, the party of Helmut Kohl, and the main force behind integration.

Like many pro-Europeans, Mr Major was using an organic metaphor, one that compared Europe to a living thing, rather than the mechanical images Mrs Thatcher so often used. She spoke of the "conveyor belt to federalism", summoning up images of James Bond strapped down in the path of a buzzsaw that would rip him apart, starting with the crotch.

Neither Mr Major nor, increasingly, others in Europe, have been speaking in quite this way for the past three years. For a start, problems with the Eurosceptics have pushed him in a more Thatcherite direction. An editorial in the Independent earlier this year suggested that if Mr Major wanted to be at the heart of Europe, it was, presumably, as a blood clot.

But there is another reason why the language has changed. The spirit of the organic metaphors drew its strength from the idea of Europe as a single whole.

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Mixed Metaphors Spell out Post-Maastricht Doubts


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