In London yesterday morning an eerie calm fell over Whitehall. No traffic, not even pedestrians. George Bush, leader of the free world, was in town. So, ordinary people, get out of the way.
Returning to Brussels yesterday evening I find razor wire barricades already set up at Rue Joseph II close to the main EU institution buildings, still with some tape on the windows broken by irate fishermen a few weeks back. Apparently the Walloon federation of farmers and some transport workers are coming to Brussels to have a rant / have a protest / have a riot (delete as appropriate) about high fuel prices.
Then on Thursday all the high and mighty, the Heads of State and Government are going to rock up in Brussels and try to solve the ‘crisis’ into which the EU has been plunged as a result of the No vote in Ireland on the Treaty of Lisbon. Only the Heads of State and Government can solve the issue says Margot WallstrÃ¶m on her blog. The black Mercedes with the police escorts will shuttle the high and mighty to and from the Justus Lipsius building at Schuman.
In the meantime people like Hugo Brady, Will Hutton and Jackie Ashley make blithe statements such as “the era of the grand treaty is over”, “Pro-Europeans everywhere must engage” and “it is time for those who want Britain to stay at the heart of Europe to stand up and make their voices heard”.
Just think about this for a moment.
The essential problem is that the EU is stuck half way between an international organisation and some proper form of democratic institution. The assumption is that everything gets tied up in secret negotiations in smoke filled rooms but then, oh, hang on, maybe this impacts people, so we can’t completely keep them away from voting on some of it – be that representative or direct democracy. These are not grand treaties that get agreed; they are messy compromises between the interests of 27 national governments. Then once these damned things are agreed somehow those people that believe in don’t disbelieve in the EU project are supposed to rise up and stand up for what’s going on. Get real. If anyone is ready to stand by and do something I should be one of those people – but I’m not doing it now and I don’t know how I should.
One way or another I’ve been working in favour of European integration for most of my adult life – 6 years as a volunteer for JEF-Europe is a heavy responsibility. But I cannot possibly defend a bunch of Heads of State coming up with a measly compromise in Brussels, muppet MEPs writing silly reports about blogging, giving â‚¬4 million to an internet project that is unlikely to work, or MEPs schmoozing on the rubber chicken circuit. How the hell can anyone seriously defend that?
In short there is an elite taking decisions on behalf of the EU – officials in the European Commission far distant from reality, and officials advising politicians from Member States about what to do when the careers of those national politicians are not made or broken by whatever is done at EU level. Muddle through, make a messy compromise, take advice from within the Brussels circles, and hope that no-one really notices. Who actually has an incentive to be open, straightforward, radical, respectful of the will of the people? Where is the politician ready to stand up and say OK, I make my own political future out of this Union?