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Home > Politics

Europe: Whose side are you on?

23 April 2004

Announcing a referendum on the European constitution this week, Tony Blair bombasted: 'Let the issue be put and the battle be joined!'

Oh dear. It's Tony doing his unconvincing 'inspirational leader' act. And if it's not an act, then that's even more worrying. When Tony has his cup of lapsang suchong in the morning, does he tell the teabag: 'Once more into the pot, my friend! 'Tis a far nobler thing I brew! Teas in our time!'?

Tony's melodramatic posturing implies that it's time to stand up and be counted. Are you a loyal supporter of a mild form of federalism and stabilised intra-European exchange rates, or a vehement opponent of closer economic integration and centralised regulation of business? Zzz. But the way Tony tells it, it's going to be the English Civil War all over again: neighbour against neighbour, brother against brother, full English breakfast against croissants and coffee.

It's a measure of Tony's psychological distance from the public that two simple facts have escaped him:

1) Most people slip into a catatonic state whenever Europe is mentioned.

2) The ones that don't are either raging bigots who think Agincourt is still going on, or consider themselves to be thoroughly cosmopolitan modern Europeans because they've got one of those little coffee pots that goes on the stove. (They also believe they'd be having intense affaires de coeur with enigmatic French girls if only they didn't live in Croydon.)

Blair, Howard and the other one have all got the red mist over Europe. You can only wonder if they've read the actual draft document, which is full of statements like this:

'The Articles in Title IV "The institutions" are the only ones
to be sent to the members of the Convention without change
from the original version contained in CONV 691/03 of 23 April
2003. The very numerous amendments received and the comments
made at the plenary on these Articles often go in opposing
directions, particularly on central questions, including the
three linked questions highlighted in the note of 23 April
(representation in the European Parliament, definition of the
qualified majority, and composition of the Commission). The
Praesidium therefore thinks it would be appropriate to devote
more time to discussion and thought on those subjects.'

Stirring stuff.

Actually we're being a little unfair. The body of the draft EU constitution is full of worthy statements like this:

'In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold
and promote its values and interests. It shall contribute to
peace, security, the sustainable development of the earth,
solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair
trade, eradication of poverty and protection of human rights
and in particular children's rights, as well as to strict
observance and development of international law, including
respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter.'

You have to wonder why anyone bothered to write this down. Whatever the reality of EU policy, you'd hardly expect the draft constitution to read 'We shall engender war and instability, rape Mother Earth, vilify foreigners, pursue exploitative trade, increase poverty, fuck up our children'.

But, of course, none of this is what the referendum is really about, at least in the UK. The Conservatives and the right-wing press want this to be a referendum on whether we're part of the EU at all. Blair, by his sheer enthusiasm for the European project, is playing into their hands by staking so much of his credibility on winning the referendum. And for someone as mistrusted as Tony Blair, that's like sticking a sign on your back saying 'Kick me.'

The outcome of the referendum is anyone's guess. We've been bombarded with anti-European propaganda for the last 20 years, which will surely have an effect on the vote. On the other hand, there's a strong groundswell of opinion that being 'in' Europe is generally A Good Thing. As Kent Brockman would have it: only time will tell.

In the meantime, you're probably wondering what the real issues are. TFT is happy to explain...


Reasons for voting 'Non!'

- We've always hated the French. It's that simple.

- German translates badly into English, making them all sound like Nazis. For example, by a quirk of translation, 'Would you like a slice of cake?' becomes 'ACHTUNG! The cake you will be having NOW!'

- Have you seen what the Spaniards do to those poor little bulls?

- Some Germans consider Kevin Keegan perms, leather pantaloons (worn with enormous white Air Jordans) and check pattern blazers to be the height of fashion.

- Voting 'no' will spite Tony Blair.

Reasons for voting 'Ja!'

- Enigmatic French girls.

- The Germans have fantastic food. (If you're got the appetite for the meat of a large puma.)

- Belgium is very clean and neat, a bit like Legoland but without the knobbly bits.

- Europeans have really good trams, if you're that way inclined.

- Voting 'yes' will spite the Daily Mail.

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