Magazine article The Spectator

Stop the Superstate

Magazine article The Spectator

Stop the Superstate

Article excerpt

WHENEVER I meet Valery Giscard d'Estaing, I am reminded of a line of Mallarme `Si extraordinairement distingue, quand je lui dis "bonjour", je me fais toujours l'effet de lui dire "merde".'

This is precisely how I felt when I was rash enough to question the former president's expense account. Giscard, you see, has been chosen to chair the `Future of Europe Convention', the body charged with drawing up a written constitution for the EU. Since the notional purpose of the exercise is to make Brussels less remote, I wondered whether it was appropriate for the chairman to be staying in a 600 hotel suite, with commensurate entertainment expenses.

The Frenchman's response - `one must be comfortable' - made me look suitably small. Somehow, the dignity of the Elysee still hangs around Giscard's shoulders, and any criticism of him comes across as lese-- majesty. But not everyone on the Convention reacted with such splendid indifference. `People who attack him in this way are not merely Eurosceptics, they are Europhobics,' complained a senior Spanish MEP. Note the novel definition of Europhobia. You are now expected to celebrate every aspect of European integration: the slightest dissent, even on grounds of excessive spending, is taken as evidence that you secretly hate foreigners.

It was a trivial incident, but a telling one. Here, in microcosm, is what is wrong with the EU. Even when they are meant to be concentrating on how to reconnect with their electorates, Eurocrats seem unable to shake off the way of thinking that has made them so out of touch in the first place. To them, the goal of a united Europe is a selfevident good, and anyone who opposes it is either foolish or wicked. If the ordinary voters are insufficiently enthusiastic, they must be better educated. If they persist in voting the wrong way, they must be made to change their minds.

The Convention is meant to be all about `the people'. Its supporters like to compare it to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which drafted the US Constitution. The trouble is that, while it is theoretically democratic, the Convention is not representative. As well as commissioners and MEPs, it comprises three representatives from each EU member and applicant state. Two are appointed by the national parliaments, the third by the governments (the Italians, deliciously, are called Signor Dini, Signor Fini and Signor Spini).

Few of these delegates share any of their voters' concerns about the direction of the EU. The 16 MEPs on the Convention, as you would expect, reflect the overwhelming federalism of the European Parliament. But, even in the national parliaments, deputies tend to be rather more pro-integration than their constituents. On top of this, a kind of informal self-selection seems to have been at work, so that the MPs sent to the Convention are those with a particular interest in European integration - often the chairmen of their respective European committees.

Thus, despite the fact that Ireland voted against the Nice Treaty last year, not one of its Convention delegates opposes it. The only time that France was allowed a direct vote on closer integration was the Maastricht referendum of 1992, when half the country voted 'no'; but not one French MP on the Convention is anti-federalist. Opinion polls across the EU as a whole have consistently shown that between 35 and 40 per cent of people would like to scrap the euro; yet only some 10 per cent of delegates to the Convention could be classed as eurosceptics.

Even among those applicant states whose politicians have not yet cast off the guy-- ropes that anchor them to public opinion, there is a reluctance to challenge the consensus. …

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