The party's over, the champagne is flat, and the EU is bigger. Twenty official languages now. That's gotta be a major boost for the translation industry in Brussels. The negotiations now begin in earnest on the constitution, with Bertie Ahearn looking for the triple whammy of a Bush visit (to the king of Europe, no less), the accession of the new member states, and the signoff on the Constitution. Well, the easy one is done, and the last two are relaly going to tell whether or not Bertie has made his mark in Europe.
There was some trouble at the weekend outside Farmleigh House, the state retreat in Dublin where they wine and dine important visitors. Not much, but 29 arrests. And, well, it wasn't exactly Farmleigh House, nor even the Phoenix Park which surrounds it. Four miles away, in fact, at Heuston Station. It bodes ill for the Bush visit, and God only knows what will happen when the 12,000 Gardaí are deployed alongside the sunglass disguised special marine protection assualt SEAL units that will no doubt accompany the leader of the free world. Men in grey coats, meandering through a sea of reflective yellow Gardaí - grey doesn't usually stand out, but for once these undercover guys would probably be better set in something brighter. Not pink though, that just wouldn't work.
So the anti-globalisation dudes will be out, the anti-war-in-Iraq guys, the why-are-US-planes-in-Shannon brigade will blow hard, and the morass of malcontents will choose the most sensitive time to exercise their democratic right to free speech. Many human rights writers have argued the qualification theme - that a qualified right is necessary (no rights are absolute) but that qualification can emasculate the substance of the right. China has freedom of speech in its constitution, and Saudi Arabia has signed up to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women). But there are people locked up for speaking their mind, and faciliating such speeches (like Internet geeks who set up websites) in China, and Saudi Arabia operates under Sharia Law. Women are not free there.
Which brings us back to the Phoenix Park and Farmleigh House. Is freedom of speech / assembly truly granted when the protestors are made to stand fully four miles from their audience? When they are cordoned off by a force of Gardaí in riot gear expecting a fight (a self-fulfilling prophesy, perhaps)? When media - the true arbiter of such rights - dismisses them as anarchists, cranks, drop-outs and unimportant? The media, and particuilarly the newsmedia, have an obligation to facilitate these rights, but what they end up doing is cow-towing to those who, after all, control their budget. Humbug.
So George's visit may be troublesome once again, but the trouble should be kept well away. The final pin in Mr. Ahern's little cushion is the Constitution. The Brits have effectively scuppered that for him. Unanimity is the key to Europe, and results in the worst form of Lowest Common Denominator politics. Should we now in Europe, we the progressives (note our Human Rights record - we should be proud), we the free thining intellectual idealists, we the integrationalists, be dragged down by a British consciousness that still belives afternoon tea to be an institution, and soccer to articulate a cultural position?
By a post-Empire, narcissistic, self-centered, xenophobic, unrealistic, bunch of we-still-think-we-own-you type Rule Britannia thugs, shall this lofty project be brought to its knees? It will be a pity, but yes. We cannot have Europe without Britain. By we, of course, I mean Ireland. Everyone else can most likely tell them to bugger off and join Nafta, but we, well, we're still tied to the beast. Too many exports go there, too many political ties through the North, too many saps who think we never left the union, and too many football shirt wearing, Sun-reading, God-save-the-queen-singing West brits live here, and so we can't allow that to happen. It's unconscionable. Guess what guys, we've grown up. We're bigger than that, and if we could make Ireland great through a relationship with US big business, why can't we make Ireland greater still through a relationship with France and Germany? Let's start educating our children in a European way, and make sure that like every continental child they can speak at least two languages. Let's make sure that they experience European culture more than Anglo-US culture. Let's make sure that they experience Irish culture, and redevelop that unique identity that brought us the promise of a bright future at the turn of the twentieth century. We should target 2016 as the year in which Ireland is again reborn, where Ireland is cultually broud, identifiable, and European.
Or we could choose to sink into the dross of mediocrity.
Tomorrow, ten new countries join the EU in a day to be celebrated as a ‘Day of Welcomes’ across Europe. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia join the weighty alliance – remember these names. Their accession has been the stuff of vigorous and vicious discussion and debate. They have been vilified as the purveyors of job-takers, subsidy hounds and deadweight. They have been lauded as a mechanism for cultural enrichment, and the conveyance of additional legitimacy for the Union. The social ideal of Jean Monnet lives on in the accession, and the anti-war post World War II driver has new life breathed into it in this single act.
Yet is in the political, power broking scheme that we see the real sensitivities and issues emerging. Rumsfeld’s New Europe is on the doorstep; Annan’s (nearly) reunified Cyprus is joining; Iraqi combatants Poland and the United Kingdom are united, and France and Germany holding the anti-Iraq war flag are further isolated in political terms. The EU Constitution had central to its debate the notion of Christianity – was Europe to be defined in terms of its predominant religion? As Europe is inevitably redefined through the incremental accession (for only some of the rights of the 15 will immediately fall upon the new initiates) will it define itself as strongly European, or strongly not-Islamic or not-American? It is in the temptation of a negative definition that the pitfalls lie.
Reactionary politics is all too frequent in modern democracies. From Jim Hacker’s lamentable ‘I am their leader, I must follow them!’ through the incessant focus groups, pollsters and spinning, the political elite has meandered through public opinion, reflecting what the perceived opinion is, and not leading a people to where it should go. This is easy, because it requires no courage, no bravery, and invariably no scruples – it is also lazy. Similarly, as Europe defines itself, it must not define itself in the context of the world first; it must seek to define itself in terms of that which makes Europe great, and ultimately an analysis of that position should determine its place in the world. If only this could be true!
The pragmatists will of course win. Definition of Europe can only be permissible where the US is not completely isolated, China is kept within the fold, and bin Laden is not too miffed at us. Within these parameters, we can seek definition. It’s OK to oppose the death penalty while the US does not, but it would be unthinkable to support the G22 in the WTO. It’s OK to have a tokenist resistance to China’s human rights record, but we certainly cannot do anything about it. And it’s OK to send peace keeping troops to Iraq, so long as Palestine retains our support. It’s a melting pot of culture, and a melting pot of compromise.
That doesn’t make it a bad place, though. Europe is stronger together than apart; the ideas of Monnet and the other fathers of Europe were laudable and idealistic – they are largely retained in social and (internal) economic terms. Yet in an increasingly globalised society, Monnet’s vision can never be sustained in the absence of a similar idealism extending beyond the frontiers of the EU, in how Europe is represented abroad, and how it manages relationships across the oceans.