Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Europe and Europe's games

David Seaton's News Links
In the last few days we have been able to observe two visions of Europe, both of them real, yet vastly different one from the other.

One was the European Union’s post Irish referendum debate and the other was the European National Football Championships.

In one of these versions of Europe, there was endless bickering, insults and cries of foul play, while in the other all was civilized dialog, harmony and respect, truly fit to be set to the tune of Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy”.

The civilized version was, of course, the football championships.

Who knows, perhaps having previously eliminated the English may have contributed to the peaceful, constructive atmosphere.

Certainly the beginning of the French presidency was quite another matter, it opened with French President Nicholas Sarkozy and European Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson trading insults.

The EU is gasping like a beached fish.

Poland’s president refuses to sign the Lisbon Treaty’s ratification after the Irish “no”and Vaclav Klaus, the conservative Czech president, says “the treaty is finished. There is no possibility of going on with it.”, while Roberto Calderoli, vice president of Italy’s Northern League and a minister in the Berlusconi government, said: “Every time the people have been consulted they have torpedoed to spectacular effect a model of Europe that seems far from what they want.”

But have Europe’s leaders ever really asked the Europeans what they actually “want,” beyond demanding their “yeses” and rejecting their “noes”?

The Economist quotes a Eurobarometer poll this week which finds that only 52% of EU citizens consider membership to be a good thing for their country; in France, the figure is just 48%.

Perhaps, in this context, the commission’s proposal of a 60 hour work week was a bit ill timed.

Among all the hand wringing over the consequences of the Irish “no” to the Lisbon treaty, the always sagacious William Pfaff thinks that Europe seems to be heading toward “the existing and enlarged Europe continuing as an integrated economy and trade zone, loosely associated with the United States in a subordinate role, but with no foreign policy or international personality of its own because of the conflicting interests and conceptions of its numerous members.”

Many feel that such a Europe would be “irrelevant”.

However, Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times wrote, “Irrelevance is not particularly dignified or noble. But it could still be the logical choice for Europe. Arguably, the EU has achieved a sort of nirvana. It is too strong to be attacked; and too weak to be asked to sort out the rest of the world’s problems. Europe has become a giant Switzerland.”

One could do a lot worse than being a "giant Switzerland".

If only the European Union could capture the spirit of European football, where, for example, Russia, Turkey and Croatia already form part of Europe and played beautifully. DS

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