Richard North, 02/06/2005  

It is a general truism that, if you start off an argument from a false premise, no matter how cogently expressed, it will be flawed. Equally, if you fail to understand the nature of an institution or organisation, and mistake it for another, completely different construct, any analysis or interpretation is going to be flawed. You will be looking down the wrong end of the metaphorical telescope.

So it is with the European Union. The many hacks and commentators who are struggling to make sense of recent events are trying to interpret them in the context of the behaviour of a political body. Most usually, they try to predict its responses by comparing it with the constructs with which they are most familiar – their own domestic political systems.

Where they are gone wrong, of course, is that the European Union is not a political construct. It is closer to, if not in fact, a secular religion, the only thing separating it from one of the more established, fundamental religions is that God does not lie at the core of its belief system.

Instead, the core of this religion is "European Union", this mythical, ill-defined entity that encompasses all, the attainment of which is the ultimate goal of the "project". European Union is no longer for anything – it does not have a purpose. It is the end in itself, the utopia, nothing less than heaven on earth. But, like the Holy Grail, it will never be found. Its acolytes simply strive, Bhudda-like, to achieve the ultimate level of attainment, without ever achieving it. There is always one more level, one more treaty, to attain.

As a secular religion, it of course has all the trappings of the more established religions. For its dogma, it has the sacred acquis communautaire. It has its High Priests in its European Commission, its Praetorian Guard, in the phalanxes of Monnet professors – the Jesuits of Integration – and, of course, its pastoral bishops and priests, its members of the European Parliament. And, of course, it has it temples, its churches and shrines, its saints and martyrs - and its mantras and incantations.

In many ways, therefore, attempting to give the EU the label "superstate", is to compound the error. People looking for parallels would do better to look to the way the Roman Catholic church grew and, for a real parallel, the Vatican is a better model than Rome. The EU is not so much a tool of the Vatican as some would have it, it is a replacement for it.

Crucially, like any religion, it does not obey the rules of politics. As a belief system, it divides the world into two camps, the believers and the unbelievers, the latter group encompassing a division known as "Eurosceptics" or "Europhobes". In the context, these should be better known as heretics, or perhaps "Euroheretics" - "Europrotestants" even.

Within its own framework, there can be no debate, and of course there is none. Approaches to the "unbelievers" are of an evangelical nature and, if you disagree with the true faith, there can be only one conclusion – you are wrong. You have only one option - to agree with that you are told, whence you become a "believer".

That is why the High Priests cannot take note of "no" votes in referendums. They cannot rethink, reform, or change their ways because that, in itself, would be heresy. Simply, if the people do not agree, they must be – as a matter of definition – wrong. They are to be pitied, cosseted and then guided back into the path of righteousness. No more could their false beliefs be accommodated than could an Inquisitor suddenly agree with the point of view of a heretic and release him from the rack or liberate him from the purifying fire.

And it is that which sets the framework for the current events, and will dictate the response of the "colleagues". They are not wrong; there is nothing wrong with the "project". It is simply that the people have misunderstood.

The True Faith must continue but now more effort must be expended to explain to people why they have strayed from the path of true redemption. The "listening" proposed is that of the confessional, where the people must be invited to admit their sins, do their penances and gain absolution. Only then can they be guided back into the fold and invited to recant.

Therein lies the response to the Constitution. In the mythology of the Holy European Union, this has about the same status as the Ten Commandments, handed down from God and delivered by Moses - in this case read Giscard - to the Hebrews. Moses would no more tolerate the tribes of Israel altering the wording of the Holy Writ than can his modern-day successor - who has the added complication of dealing with 25 instead of twelve tribes.

Once the assembled hacks begin to realise that this is the framework in which the Union is operating, they will be better able to understand what is going on. At the moment though, rather than political correspondents, the Union would be better covered by religious affairs correspondents, who would understand the dynamics involved.

Maybe they would realise that there is no turning back for the "project". Driven by religious zeal, it will go on and on until it is stopped, physically, and brutally, or the politicians which give it its sustenance drive a stake through its heart.

Now, that really would make a story.

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