Saturday, January 19, 2008

Our Common European Home

(Please note that the author of this post is not 'The Devil's Kitchen', for whose forbearance I am again thankful).
As an amateur European history buff, it's quite sad to note that libertarianism is a philosophy which only seems to have taken root in those societies where it has been least needed.

Today, one reads the comments of both Martin Kettle and Charles Moore that Tony Blair may yet attain the 'Presidency of Europe' with some dismay. Being a church-going Catholic like both Mr. Moore and Mr. Blair, it is particularly disappointing to see Mr. Moore's suggestion that Mr. Blair's conversion "though perfectly sincere, comes at the right moment." If Mr. Moore is not the keeper of his brother's conscience, then he had best keep quiet about its timing.

There are, of course, many political sticks with which Mr. Blair can be beaten, not the least of which is the rather scabby way he scrabbled out of the House of Commons. For all his faults, at least Heath continued to give decades of service before retirement, and both Thatcher and Major served out the balance of a parliamentary term before going onto the lecture circuit. For a man to spend years gagging to gain a career opportunity, work his way through the ranks and then become desperate to leave is nothing unusual; but few prime ministers have been as blatant as Blair in their desire to distance themselves from their original electorate once the removal vans have left Downing Street and the motorcade's finally passed by. Tony Blair is neither so capable nor accomplished that he couldn't have gone through the motions on behalf of the people of Sedgefield for a couple more years; and one has to think that the folks at the Trimdon Labour Club, never mind the British people, shown that their former prime minister only considered their democracy to be a tool for his own advancement, deserved rather better than they got. To take the Hundreds the day after you resign as Prime Minister is to give a Promethean "Up Yours!" to British parliamentary tradition.

But it would be entirely in keeping with the way in which the construct named 'Europe' has developed in the last 60 years for a man so out of touch with proprieties to become its 'president'. It would be entirely in keeping with the history of much of continental Europe.

At various times, Brezhnev, De Gaulle and Gorbachev all used the expression 'our common European home', usually when they were trying to appeal to others' better natures. The one thing that European history teaches us is that its people are too different from each other ever to be able to successfully live together as a single political unit. No matter how many Treaties of Versailles get written (I've counted three so far, and am always on the lookout for more), sooner or later a Louis XIV, Bonaparte, Wilhelm II or Hitler has always crawled out the woodwork and upset the schnitzel or onion cart. As well as giving the anti-nuclear brigade a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, all those American divisions in Germany did a very good job of keeping the multiple occupancy bedsit that is the 'common European home' from becoming a blighted property once again.

Attempting to integrate 'Europe' only seems to serve to isolate the peoples of Europe from each other. The French will be French, Germans German and Poles Polish long after the fairytale crown that is the 'European flag' gets rolled up and burned. Before the shouts of 'xenophobe!' go up and the tumbril gets rolling, I'd like to mention that my wife is Irish; and if anyone thinks the Irish, those most avid recipients of 'European' funds, will ever give up being Irish to become 'Europeans' they are up a gum tree.

Indeed, one consequence of the aggressive Europeanism which has surfaced since the end of the Cold War seems to have been the resurgence of nationalism. It's almost like Heineken; philosophies aimed at the suppression of national identity touch those parts of the national psyche that other philosophies cannot reach. If anyone thinks that some sense of 'common European identity' will make us all live in peace, I would suggest they tell the Serbs and the Croats. Scotland now has the dubious privilege of having a minority Scottish Executive which believes itself to be some kind of soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government', led by a First Minister with the perpetual look of a potato waiting to be peeled. Recently I read somewhere, and I cannot for the life of me find where, that Germans of Prussian extraction are becoming more keen to rediscover their Prussian roots.

Of course it is far better if we don't fight each other; the shared memories of the horribly destructive nature of all European war, the end of totalitarianism, a few strategically placed peace treaties and a healthy military budget would all be far better at keeping the peace than trying to fit the quarts which are the European peoples' into the pint pot which is 'Europe' itself. Indeed the Second World War might just have been the last war, amongst the peoples of Western Europe anyway; it was so destructive that to all intents and purposes we fought each other to the point of exhaustion. After that, further wars between France and Germany, or Britain and France, would have been impossible, even without 100,000 guys named Dwight and Clayton Lee on the spot to ensure that we all played nice. Having them around was very nice, of course, given the very close proximity of the Red Army.

Which sort of brings me back to my first point.
Marx never believed that Communism would take off in Russia, specifically because he thought the country too under-developed to sustain its tenets. In the same way, it is perhaps surprising that England, the only European country with any kind of historic tradition of individual liberty, seems to be the only European country where libertarian ideas sometime get an airing - I'm ashamed to say that left to their devices, the Scots were never too good on the old liberty front. Everywhere else did top down government, all the time. Nations which could have developed demoracy didn't; indeed, came out worse for the attempt. It took horrible wars which caused millions of deaths to root expansionist authoritarianism out of the continental Western European mindset; and it is baffling that having at last killed nationalist expansionism within their own borders, the peoples of continental Western Europe (or their leaders) should have so combined, so quickly and so willingly, on a project of internationalist expansionism.

The 'European' project is entirely in keeping with the way continental European nations do things. Top down stuff is their way, not ours. As far as I'm concerned Tony Blair can play with these guys as much as he likes; he feels himself to have more in common with their traditions than ours. Whenever these guys produce a Nice or Maastricht, they actually think they're involved in an event as consequential as the Peace of Westphalia or the Congress of Vienna, with every man a Mazarin or Talleyrand - I hate to tell them this but when I was wee boy I often went to bed thinking my name was Luke Skywalker, and I never once woke up as a Jedi Knight the following morning.

But even if I weren't a committed EUrosceptic, what would baffle me is this - why is Europification a project which has to be undertaken with such urgency? What's the rush?


Mark Wadsworth said...

What's the rush?

They're running out of time is the rush, they know that it will all come tumbling downpretty soon.

mmmmmmmm said...

Ever closer union: Belgium's interim government to finalise constitutional reform "by March 23" - leading to Flemish, er, secession?

chris said...

The rush is that they know that they have to keep it expanding or it will fall apart. The EU has always reminded me of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a deeply unstable political construct formed through marriages (or treaties in the case of the EU) but always on the edge of breaking up because of the internal tensions between the disparate groups that formed it.

verity said...

Martin, thank you for a thoughtful piece. You raise many points not commonly raised.

I'm going to reread it,and then comment. Thanks again.

Tozznok said...

Thanks for this piece Martin, I think your points are probably right. Thanks also for the joke about Alex Salmond. I had not previously noticed that resemblance!

El Draque said...

The rush, to put the roof on the European House as it is called, stems from the knowledge that the financial crisis is upon them and the euro may not survive. Already interest rates for government bonds across the euro-zone are diverging; this is a parallel currency market; it factors in uncertainties. It isn't a roof they are building - it's bars on the windows.

kevin said...

!9th century France had a tradition of libertrian economists, Fredric Bastiat for example -

As for top down not being our way, the UK is the most centralised state in the EU.

Anonymous said...

Free Europe by voting YES at!

William said...

The rush is to complete the "project" before people wake up to its purpose; to achieve "socialism" through the back door. As someone who has spent more than 6 years living in eastern Europe, let alone the western part, I find it understandable but misguided for the new states of the east to want to swap the warsaw pact for EU/NATO. Only now they begin to realise tht they have only swapped one sort of control for another, massively (and this is not overstatement) upsetting the paranoid Russians, who are learning business and benefitting from high energy prices to rearm and irritate.
My question is not why so fast, but why would a politician want to give away power? Isn't that what drives them? If it is true that 70% of UK legislation comes from Brussels and is enacted by Statutory Instrument, what do our politicians do; especially as more has been devolved downstream? The "project" has already destroyed the legislative base of my nation state and like everyone else I was never asked to agree to it.
I think it is a loss of national confidence; do we really think faceless bureaucrats in Brussels can legislate better for us than we can ourselves for ourselves? The mug shots of the "Commissioners" and their backgrounds wants one to weep with embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

The EU was never about avoiding European war. It was obvious to the political/bureaucratic scum after 1945 that the trying to keep plundering the peoples of Europe by military means would lead to a bumper crop of mushroom clouds sooner or later. So why not all join together ( the political/bureaucratic scum that is) and plunder the dumb bastards under the "one big happy family" banner.

anthonynorth said...

Blair is interested in neither Britain nor Europe. He is a 'globalised' man with a vision of a globalised world with no Nation States, just a globalised consumer society with nothing political or different.
His ambitions in Europe are simply to provide a power bloc to bargain with the US on equal footing, allowing merger, and a global throne upon which to sit.
He can then dictate to all the minions of the world he scorns.

Anonymous said...

Best article on the EU scam seen for a while. I do wish some of our politicians would realise they will be redundant. God knows what the poor dears will do then.

kevin said...

Top down government has been the historical norm in England see this link -

Roger Thornhill said...


Yes, I agree, too. The parallel with the AHE was one of my first posts read out by Iain Dale on 18DS - "like the Austro-Hungarian Empire but without the nice uniforms"

It was focused on the ability to mobilize military force externally. Belgian Chocolate Teapot.

verity said...

The European project is a mystery to Europeans and I don't know what drives it. "No more war in Europe" is stupid. Once the European countries were democratised, there was never any question they would go to war with one another again. Democracies don't invade democracies. So that was the first Orwellesque Big Lie.

We've rehearsed them all so I won't go into them again, but I get the sense that the euro is on shakey ground and that the Germans would be interested in having their DeutscheMark back. I certainly think the French would welcome their Franc back.

I've actually thought for some time that the euro was on the way out.

That said, I read that Brown will probably go into the euro (just when it is collapsing, such is his economic eptitude) with the pound at parity. This is horrifying.

Any views?

William Gruff said...

'What's the rush'?

Cynics may say that when an incomprehensibly idiotic decision is pushed through, in obvious contempt of public opinion, by people more fearful of their immediate prospects than the long-term future of the people they purport to represent, some sort of bribe or some form of blackmail may be the cause. I dismiss as scurrilous such allegations, safe in the knowledge that those elected to govern us know more than we know and have been selected through a process that has been honed over centuries to identify and promote those best suited to rule.

Apropos of The Snivelling Little Rat and the EU presidency: I was told nearly ten years ago, when a Labour Party activist, that Blair was known to covet the role of Euro Führer - it was no secret then and is not a revelation now.

Dundonald said...

I fully support Mr Blair’s campaign for the Presidency of EUrope. Perhaps it will concentrate the minds of the Irish voters when they come to pass judgement on the Lisbon Treaty. As has been said, Blair has secretly harboured ambitions to run your country.

Go on lads, you know it makes sense. Sure, Bertie, Mandy, it’s all the same to you is it not? We’re all EUropeans now!