Friday, November 19, 2010

The European 'dream' gets sillier and sillier, why the 'big picture' hides inconvenient truths and three cheers for pessimists and Mad Men

I should say at the outset that I belong firmly in the so-called eurosceptic camp on the EU. Quite simply, what looks good on paper must prove itself in the real world before it gets my vote. The evolution of the European Union makes perfect sense if you follow it from its birth as a ‘coal and steel community’ and the Benelux countries through to the establishment of the European Economic Community and then the present European Union. Each new form was a logically evolution from its predecessor. But if you look at those modest and pragmatic beginnings - based on the idea that if, so far mutually antagonistic, countries have common interests, there is a sporting chance of the could cut down on the killing and warring - to what we now have - a pseudo state with two parliaments, a president, a council of ministers, many of the trappings of a state, a huge budget and a huge and costly bureaucracy and, of course, a stirring anthem, but no territory as such, and all that in just 56 years - it is sure to take your breath away. But not, unfortunately, in admiration. When we eurosceptics mention that corruption is rife and that the EU’s own auditors habitually refuse to sign off annual accounts because so much money cannot, at best, be accounted for and, at worst, simply disappears, we are decried. Look at the bigger picture, we are told, look at the ‘good’ the EU has done. And most certainly many of the poorer countries have benefited from an improved national infrastructure courtesy of EU funds. But much of that EU money which was intended to improve infrastructure is part of what goes missing. (I understand that as a matter of course any group budgeting for some building project or other in Italy will factor in a sum for backhanders and Mafia payoffs. After making all kinds of promises to crack down on organised crime when it applied for EU membership, Bulgaria simply dropped all action once it had become a member and all the crime lords who ran the country beforehand still do so, but can add the stream of EU funding to their income.) It also takes our breath away that so many supporters of ‘the European project’ applaud when Brussels hands out cash in ‘aid’ to ‘developing nations’, but at the same time blithely accept without question the pernicious Common Agricultural Policy which does nothing but keep inefficient, mainly French, farmers in business and thereby puts a full stop to any developing those nations would dearly like to do by selling us their agricultural produce. Then there is the mess which is the euro. A sign that many very influential people have simply lost the plot would be the call by Dominque Strauss-Kahn, who heads the International Monetary Fund, that member states should hand over even more of their sovereignty to Brussels to avoid a repeat of the current crisis. You can read more about it here. His call makes perfect sense in its own context - just as the euthanasia of all over 75 would make perfect sense in the context of relieving pressure on our hospitals by freeing up beds and funds - but it is plain cuckoo in the real world of national sentiment and rivalry. Then there is the point, of which much as made at the outset, that the EU would be a community of equals: there you be no 'big countries' and 'small countries'. Well, that's another principle which has been sacrificed at the altar of pragmatism. When it is footing the bill, 'big' Germany doesn't see why it shouldn't call the shots as far as 'small' Greece and Ireland are concerned. Yes, I know the EU is intended to put a stop to all that national nonsense, but so far it hasn’t and won’t. If it had, the German taxpayers would gladly hand over even their last cent to bail out the Greeks, their brothers in the great European project. If it had, the Irish would not be as sensitive as they, in fact, are to being told what to do by the Germans (such as raising the rate of the corporation tax they charge) and would gladly take guidance in the common good). Of course, they would tell Berlin, because we understand it is all in the greater good. Back in the real world, each nation is out for what it can get, despite the idealistic rhetoric.
So far, you’ll agree, I haven’t made one eurosceptic point which hasn’t often been made before. And if you are a ‘project’ supporter, I’m sure there are many points you are just dying to make to turn this unbeliever onto the true path. But there is which occurred to me which I don’t feel has been made too often. It is this: the theory of the EU is that all members are equals. The reality is that the big boys, are pushing the small boys around, as now Ireland is being bullied by France and Germany. I suppose what finally cooks the EU goose for me is the sheer hypocrisy of so many supporters of ‘the project’.
. . .

I made the point that the EU, on the one hand, likes to present itself as concerned about the plight of developing nations (the term Third World is now rather old hat, especially has quite a few of the former ‘Third World’ nations are doing rather better the we here in the First World) and on the other takes absolutely no practical steps which would be of more assistance than ‘aid’. I heard on the radio this morning that a couple of optimists are hoping to revive the Doha round of talks on world trade. One difficulty is that the ‘developing’ nations are reluctant to ‘open their markets’. Well, that’s no surprise as for too many Western nations world trade means them ‘opening their markets’ to our goods but does not include the concept of ‘us opening our markets to their goods’. And where we do accept goods from ‘developing’ nations, they are invariably produced by Western companies operating in those countries. The other advantage of handing out aid, is that it keeps those who accept our aid highly dependent on us. And that is exactly where we want them.
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I used the word ‘optimist’ earlier on. I should like to share with you the best definition I have yet come across of a ‘pessimist’: ‘A pessimist is a well-informed optimist’. Rather true, really, isn’t it.
. . .

Admitting to liking a TV series which has been praised to high heaven is not easy. Or at least I don’t find it easy. That probably sounds daft, but it’s true. The reason is that I feel as though I’m jumping on a bandwagon. But I’ve just seen this week’s episode of Mad Men and it has to be said that it is streets ahead of most other drama on TV. And I like it a lot. But to ensure - or to try to ensure - that I am not regarded as a fair weather friend,here is a list of very popular, much praised TV programmes which I think are absolute cack: Big Brother, I’m A Celebrity . . ., Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor, Britain’s Go Wannabes and Spooks. Actually, I’m not too sure Spooks has been praised, but it is most certainly popular. And complete bollocks, too. I’ve only seen two episodes but that was enough for me. In fact, it was one and a half episodes. And as you can’t really criticise something you haven’t seen, I did once watch about 15 minutes of Big Brother (several series ago). It was as dire as I expected it to be. It is beyond me what interest people found in watching star-struck idiots talking shite about nothing. Britain’s got talent is especially unpleasant in that in the initial rounds acts perform which are plainly awful, but who were chosen to perform because they were awful and the enjoyment the viewer gets - quite honestly it would be truer to call them voyeurs - is seeing them humiliated. It’s the modern equivalent of going to Bedlam and laughing at the loonies. That was a very popular pastime in the 19th century.

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