Thursday, March 24, 2005

Not the "E" Word!

Yes, I'm returning to the case of Europe again. Jacques Chirac has been at his trustworthy statesmanlike best this last week, negotiating a deal with Tony Blair that will allow him to present a much stronger "yes" case ahead of the forthcoming referendum on the EU constitution. Of course, opinion polls in France have leaped alarmingly to the "no" side in recent weeks, so something needed to be done. Just negotiating deals with an ally evidently wasn't enough, however.

Instead, Chirac has gone on an all-out offensive against the rebate that Britain gets. Quite apart from the rank hypocrisy (that word again!) of the president of a country which refuses to reform the Common Agricultural Policy purely to avoid revolt from its farming community, it betrays the entire problem with the EU, and underlies the whole reason why it is viewed with such scepticism. Each country is far too obsessed with their own gain, and France is one of the worst culprits.

It will demand increasing centralisation of powers, but is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to actually implementing central directives - the refusal to remove a ban on British beef imports being perhaps the strongest case in point. Similarly, they have (with the Germans) demanded a rewriting of the growth and stability pact, caused due to their complete inability to stay within its terms. And yet when Britain seems to be getting a benefit (and it shouldn't be forgotten Britain's contribution to the EU is still massively greater than France, of not much smaller economic size), then France is clearly and intractably opposed to it.

Chirac, of course, is doing this for political gain. It's a non-too-subtle reminder to his people that the British will reject the EU Constitution anyway, and so they should support it. After all, France is the historic supporter of the EU, because it binds Germany to it in a way that will prevent it from ever becoming the aggressor. To abandon the project now would be a highly damaging move to Chirac's ego.

When will people like Chirac realise the only way the EU can ever work is if people are prepared to make rhetoric and reality meet? I know that I am a supporter of the EU, but that my support is based on a certain amount of idealism. When the leading figures of Old Europe claim to suport more integration but refuse to accept responsibility for it themselves, then something is badly wrong. To create a sort of United States of Europe cannot happen by France and Germany remaining as an all-controlling symbiotic pair at the heart of the whole deal. Instead there must be a heavy amount of devolved power. Whilst Chirac goes off on his rants, Britain will react against him and derail what could be, if used wisely, a tremendous power for good. Then again, what else should we expect from the slimy toad?