Dead Men Left

Monday, March 14, 2005

Europe: hanging heads in shame

It's true, it's all true:

Since moving to Brussels last February, I've spent quite more than a quart d'heure on anti-Bolkestein demonstrations, one of which was quite large (for Brussels, admittedly), and the draft directive and reactions to it certainly have given rise to any number of continental newspaper column inches, often even creeping onto the front pages. But if you're reading this from Britain, I'd wager no small amount that even if you consider yourself to be the most Right On and 'conscious' person in your circle of friends, with your collective guerrilla turnip garden and a civil disobedience rap sheet as long as a roll of toilet paper, you won't have the faintest clue what this Bolkestein business is.

Well, we all sort of know about it, in the way we all sort of know about Formula One or FTSE[*]: people get quite excitable about both, they obviously matter in some way, but (if we're honest) it's all a little bit dull and impenetrable, and (again, if we're honest), we don't like anybody who gets too enthusiastic about the whole business.

This is the nub of the problem in the UK. The debate over the Europe is conducted at the most infantile level, an absurd round of cliches and vacuous flag-waving on all sides. Public arguments over any aspect of the EU are confined solely to tedious questions of "national interest", either in the debased form of the Eurosceptic Right, in which sinister cosmpolitan forces seek to flood Britain with asylum seekers and red tape; or, with a certain intellectual spin, the Europhilic Left, in which economic goobledegook, bureaucratese and an inverse Podsnappery coalesce into a vision of a European Britain, liberal and prosperous. The really important question - which "national interest"? mine, or the director of BP's? - is never asked.

Given a choice in these conditions between, say, Peter Mandelson and Robert Kilroy-Silk, the discerning leftist is inclined to mutter "a plague on both your houses" and consign the entire question to the same outer reaches that fox-hunting is left at. The contrast on the mainland could not be more marked: the question of Europe, rephrased as the class question of a "social Europe", is paramount in almost any campaigning activity. With the faint whiff of a referendum on the European Constitution just tickling the political nostrils, the Left needs to raise its game.

It's not good enough, comrades. Go read Victor S. His conclusion isn't correct - but then, I'm expected to say that - but his demand for a little more effort on our part is spot on.

[*] blogging also springs to mind