Magazine article The Spectator

Nice Idea

Magazine article The Spectator

Nice Idea

Article excerpt

'Ere, have you heard the latest? Have you heard about them Euro-johnnies and their plans for a federal superstate? It's that Joschka Fischer, the Kraut chap. He's really lost it this time. He's let the cat out of the bag all right. He wants to have a president of Europe. And he wants us all to elect the fellow.'

`Gain, I don't believe you. Next thing you know they'll be abolishing the prawn-cocktail-flavour crisp.'

`They already tried to. And the doubledecker bus, the pound, the yard, the great British sausage, Cadbury's chocolate.... Bloody cheek.... Who won the war anyway?' etc., etc.

Such, one imagines, are the conversations being heard in the pubs of Middle Britain this weekend, three days after Herr Fischer, the German foreign minister, ventilated his idea. The Tory front bench has denounced it in a suitably foam-flecked way. In the breasts of right-thinking folk there will be nothing but indignation, and disbelief, at the effrontery of these federalists. A European president? It is nothing but a sham, a perversion of democracy. Even the government has tried to ridicule the idea, pointing out to the BBC that Herr Fischer is a marginal and relatively unpopular figure in Germany, never mind that he holds what sounds like an important job. Downing Street has said that `the time is not right' for this proposal, which is about as crushing as Alastair Campbell is allowed to be, under the new programme of sounding positive about all things emanating from Brussels.

In a way, of course, the idea is indeed barmy, even if it is not exactly new. The American electorate found it difficult to summon up much interest, before the recent stand-off, in the contest between George Bush and Al Gore. One can hardly imagine a zinger of an election campaign between the former Portuguese finance minister and the former prime minister of Sweden, such being the kind of person normally considered eligible for Commission president. On the other hand, if anyone is allowed to present himself or herself as the candidate, then the post will almost certainly go to a German from now until doomsday, because Germany is the most populous state in the European Union. That might be the outcome preferred by Herr Fischer, but would not go down well everywhere. And what would he do, this president? Would he or she have all the potency and trappings that go with a Continent-wide mandate? A European Air Force One, motorcycle outriders, a man trailing after him with the briefcase containing the codes for the Euro force de frappe handcuffed to his wrist, and bands playing salut le chef wherever he arrived? …

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