Richard North, 01/03/2005  

I suppose they do not really mean to sound funny but they do. Café Babel is an online European youth magazine, created by several students who were in Strasbourg on Erasmus scholarships.

Over the years I have met a number of Erasmus students and they have, one and all, been perfectly normal young people, who were taking the opportunity to do some of their studying abroad. They worked on their subjects, made friends, travelled round the countries they were visiting and generally had a good time. European integration never entered their minds or their conversations.

Those are not the ones the system exists for. I have now found the ones for whom it does – the 350 who make up the Babel Network, co-ordinated by the komsomol leaders in various cities, particularly Paris.

These young would-be journalists and politicos apparently get worried about the pace of European integration and how soon Europe will be acknowledged as a superstate. As true eurocrats in the making, they seem unable to lift their eyes from this tiny, rather sluggardish sub-continent and see what is going on in the big bad world.

The latest issue of the magazine deals with Bush’s visit and the concept of European common foreign policy, the obvious mechanism of putting Europe or, rather, the European Union (though that does not sound all that grand) into its rightful position on the map.

The title of the main section is En Route to Becoming a Superpower?. I am glad they have put in that questionmark. That is the only thing that is saving it all from becoming a parody. The introductory paragraph, after all, gives the game away:
“The EU is having difficulty defining a common foreign policy, but this could change with the introduction of a European Foreign Minister as envisaged by the Constitution. Will the Union finally become a force to reckon with?”
So young and already brainwashed. Sad. After all, the smallest amount of thinking would make these ex-Erasmus students realize that defining a common policy goes well beyond the institution of a foreign minister. The minister and his growing staff must be the expression of that policy.

Instead, we are given the same old bromide: as the institutions proliferate, the policy and common interests will somehow appear. What, I wonder, did they study in Strasbourg?

This is not an argument for or against a common foreign policy, merely a statement of fact: a common policy must be based on a commonality of interests. If it does not exist, if it remains an expression of the institutions then it has two ways of developing, both fraught with danger.

The European policy will become the expression of one particular country’s policy. In so far as it has happened, at least in the minds of commentators and journalists, that country has been France, whose entire policy seems directed towards an expression of opposition to all things “Anglo-Saxe” or, in practical terms, American.

The other possibility is that Javier Solana, as he acquires the power he longs for, starts creating what he sees as European foreign policy. Its one objective will, presumably, continue to be opposition to the United States but, as it will have no basis in any common interest, it will have to be always pro-active, just to demonstrate its existence.

In either case, the result is likely to be destabilizing for whichever part of the world “Europe” decides to get involved in. (Unless the involvement is as ridiculous as the 800 troops in DR Congo, whose purpose has still not been explained. Nothing, not even the European common foreign policy, can destabilize DR Congo any more.)

We shall ignore one of the main articles in this section about the need for Europe to eschew the American way and to go for peace and nuclear disarmament. The chances are that is not what Solana and his merry men and women are interested in. You do not become a superpower that way.

But what else can Kate Hudson, Chairperson for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK, say? She and her colleagues were wrong in the cold war and have been wrong ever since. It is good to know that somebody is still publishing her verbiage.

One article in the CafeBabel magazine suggests that President Bush may have been confused during his visit to Europe and did not manage to work out who he should be talking to. Why else did he spend time meeting leaders of various member states instead of concentrating on the important ones: Commission President Barroso and Javier Solana, European Foreign Minister in waiting?

Or, perhaps, it is Europe’s fault in not uniting finally and presenting itself as a superpower?
Imagine if the President of the EU Commission, José Barroso, went to Washington to discuss with the Governor of Florida the theme of relations with Cuba; or went to California to talk about economic growth; or even to New York to suggest anti-terrorist policies. It would be deemed ridiculous! Perhaps the Constitutional Treaty, which has already been ratified by the Spanish referendum, will make the foreign policy of the EU more cohesive, but only time will tell. Certainly, the figure of a European Foreign Minister or an institution of external action (as a prelude to a communal diplomatic service)promises to change these things - at least on paper.”
Mmm. It is a little hard to imaging the Governor of Florida (elected by the people of Florida, incidentally) giving Commission President Barroso the time of day but you never know.

The rest of that article is rather confused. Its analysis of what went wrong in Yugoslavia is not born out by facts. It was the attempt to impose a common foreign policy that prevented any kind of resolution of that ten year war, until NATO moved in.

The US foreign policy is not run by neo-conservatives, who are the sort of bogey everyone talks about but few people, especially in Europe, really understand.

On the other hand, some glimmering of sense is shown in criticism of the EU policy towards China and Iran. At the same time the EU is perceived as a
“… true and proper exporter of rights that knows how to support democratic movements for change. These movements fight in Iran, have fought in Ukraine and continue to fight in Belarus for liberty - with or without Bush.”
It is a little difficult to explain how the EU which is criticized for negotiating with the Iranian government in one paragraph can be praised for exporting democracy to that country in another.

Nor is it precisely explained what the EU has done to help any of the movements for freedom in the three countries named. As a matter of fact, the American government is always criticized for doing just that – helping the opposition in countries with oppressive governments. That is called American arrogance and unwarranted export of American ideas. But not when the EU can claim, however wrongly, to have done the same. Well, children, make up your minds.

The bonne bouche of the section is an interview with Miguel Ángel Moratinos, the Spanish Foreign Minister and Special Envoy to the Middle East for seven years, who, the magazine explains breathlessly,
“Surrounded by trinkets he has gathered from all the corners of the world, he tells us why a united Europe is the only way forward.”
As I said before: they don’t mean to be funny. But they are.

Señor Moratinos puts forward a few very simple ideas. Well, one, really. The age of national sovereignties is over and Europe must unite in order to be a power in the world.

What he does not explain, perhaps because he was not asked, is what exactly that power going to try to achieve. And if those ex-Erasmus young Europeans had any nous they would actually try to find this out. But, alas, they are probably more interested in being part of the project. Still, there are only 350 of them across Europe. Even with the difficult demographic profile we have acquired, that is a very small proportion.

There are a few choice quotes that Señor Moratinos does come up with.When asked whether accepting the European constitution would mean surrendering national sovereignty, he says categorically:
“Absolutely. The member states have already relinquished control of certain economic and social competences [policy areas], including justice, liberty and security. Now the difficult part is approaching: the giving up of sovereignty in the duel arenas of foreign affairs and defence. The concept of traditional citizenship has been bypassed in the 21st Century.”
Perhaps he should have a chat with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. There seems to be some discrepancy here.

Then there is an interesting question:
“To what extent will the Constitutional Treaty facilitate democracy in the European institutions?”
Not, you understand, in the European Union, or the European countries but in the European institutions. Democracy in institutions is not of any great importance and is, in any case, somewhat meaningless, if it does not involve the people outside them. But even more interesting is the response:
“The Constitution involves an historic jump which will overcome what the critics have always called “the Europe of the Merchants” [an EU based on common economic rather than political goals]. We will need to give ourselves a certain amount of time to allow the new situation to settle down and for its implementation to develop. Moreover, the Convention [which drew up the Constitutional Treaty] was different to past [inter-governmental conferences] as it involved debate in which many sections of political and social life participated, so criticisms of a democratic deficit are unfounded. The Convention was formed well in advance to allow time to discuss, and today we find ourselves with a model of Europe where power is distributed more equally. Evidently, the text is not sacrosanct; in this sense I agree with [the French scholar] Paul Hazard, according to whom “Europe is an idea in motion that will never be content””
Well, indeed, Europe is in perpetual motion and has been for centuries. That is why the suggestion that the European Union is some kind of a Hegelian perfection of that motion is so ridiculous. All this will be swept away, just as previous empires were and, probably, with greater ease, as the roots are weaker.

However, our readers will have noticed that Moratinos does not even answer the question about democracy, however inadequate it may have been. He is talking about the transformation of an economic union into a political one, a development that has not had the consent of the people of Europe, merely the involvement of carefully created and selected "social groups" that are themselves part of the whole project and are inimical to the concept of individual freedom and participation in politics.

To the good servant of the EU that does not matter. What matters is the development of the institutions, which, they hope, will bring content with it. That may have worked when the institutions were purely economic, since international economic integration was going to happen anyway. But when it gets to foreign, defence and security, other interests become important.

The trouble is that Señor Moratinos does not explain why integration of European foreign policy and the abolition of national sovereignty is the only way forward. He merely asserts it and adds that the European countries are generally in agreement on this. Assertion, however, is not enough. If these people do want to see the common foreign policy in reality rather than just large numbers of people employed in what will be known as a European Foreign Ministry, then they will have to come up with content.

In the meantime Señor Moratinos was asked whether a low turn-out in any referendum would be seen as a failure of the government in question (a silly way of putting it, since obviously, it is also a failure of the European project and its democratic credentials).
“No, there is no fear of this. I hope that the historic moment we are experiencing is understood and that the people participate actively [in referenda]. Those who support democracy should understand this.”
The interview is dated February 28. More than a week before it, the turn-out in Spain had been 41 per cent. Was the man listening to himself?

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