The stuffed shirts of Europe vs. youth and a fresh start

The stuffed shirts running Europe need a new plan

The closing group photo-op of an EU summit with Latin America in Vienna last Friday was hijacked by Ms. Evangelina Carrozo, the carnival queen of Gualeguaychú in Argentina. The minders didn’t realize she is also a Greenpeace activist. She wangled a press pass and paraded a sign protesting a planned pulp mill (nothing to do with the meeting) before the assembled stuffed shirts, having first removed her own.

Stuffed shirts_html_m5ddf03f5.jpg

It was only a stunt, but the photo illustrates how the European project has lost the fizz, libido, sex-appeal, chutzpah that Ms Carrozo radiates. Jean Monnet had them: in 1914, as a young man of 25, he talked his way into the office of the French Prime Minister, René Viviani, and presented him with a plan for financing the French war effort; in 1934, he got round the unavailability of divorce in Italy by marrying his young Italian partner Silvia in Moscow; in 1951, already 62, he bounced the French government he worked for into the European Coal and Steel Community by manoeuvres that surpassed Sir Humphrey Appleby. Contrast the minimal results wrapped in diplomatic waffle of the gatecrashed Vienna summit, plainly not worth the air fares.

All that vitality is gone.

Young people (and not-so-young) people see the EU as a grey, timid, lowest-common-denominator technocracy, and they’re quite right. When the countries of central and eastern Europe broke their chains and enthusiastically knocked on the door of “Europe”, the first thing the EU negotiators presented to the candidates was the acquis communautaire – a take-it-or-leave it package of legislation and regulations 50,000 pages high. The only solution proposed by European leaders is double or quits: to give the EU more powers and more responsibility for defending the European social model, which would cause the mountain to multiply like the water in the cellar of the sorcerer’s apprentice. That’s Plan A. It inspired the ill-fated draft Constitution rejected by the voters of the Netherlands and France, founder members, part of the inner core. Unbelievably, the crippled Constitution is still on the table.

Plan B, if you can call it that, the one consistently defended by Britain since 1950, is to emasculate the EU and turn it back into a cosy traditional international organisation, run, God help us, by diplomats. They’ve had some success in making the EU ineffective; the laughable common foreign policy is run by the Council of Ministers, not the Commission, But there’s never an actual proposal, which would involve a strategy and choices.

I have a Plan C – sadly not C as in “carnival”, it’s actually inspired more by Jemmy Madison and Nicholas of Flüe. You can read it here. on my new website.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

8 thoughts on “The stuffed shirts of Europe vs. youth and a fresh start”

  1. What's new here? European parliamentary politics have _always_ been criticized for having lost their "vitality". Particularly by the likes of Mussolini, Hitler, and their ilk. And now the "reality-based community" joins that crowd?
    News flash: politics _is_ boring. Democracy _is_ messy. And it's best for all concerned if it's kept that way. The "vitality" that characterized, for example, European politics of the 1930s (and not just in Germany or Italy) is something we could probably all live without.

  2. Exactly what do you want out of an EU? Another US or Russia with its own Bush or Putin is not an idea that sets the heart thumping. Isn't there a lot to be said for grey, faceless bureaucrats?

  3. Just to briefly add: The GOP framed the 2000 election (and, to a lesser extent, the 2004 one as well) as a contest between "stuffed shirt" Gore/Kerry on the one hand, and "vitality" Bush on the other, who was all Mr. Youth and Fresh Start. While this approach worked well for the GOP during those two elections, the same cannot be said for the rest of the country.
    However, it is telling of the strength of that anti-"stuffed shirt" (or, in other words, anti-intellectual, anti-egghead) here in the US that we find what are essentially GOP talking points used as a critique of Europe. I think this sort of anti-stuffed shirt sentiment is not something that we Democrats are advised to promote.

  4. Mike: Only half the citizens of the EU think that membership is a good thing for their country: see the latest Eurobarometer survey. Voter turnout in the elections for the European Parliament hovers around 40% except where voting is mandatory. That's on top of the failure of the Constitution. Can you find me any European pundit who thinks that everything's going swimmingly with the project? Can you cite a single recent European political event that mobilised young people like say Howard Dean's presidential bid in the US?
    It's because policymaking and legislation are indeed pretty dull that democracy requires the political process to have some entertainment value. If it doesn't, then you're in trouble and you increase the risk of extremism and populism. The only leader at the summit who applauded the stunt was the populist Hugo Chavez.
    My actual proposals are not aimed at this specific problem. But I do think a transparent constitutional scheme is a precondition for real participation.

  5. James.
    Why not include environmental, protection of civil liberties and human rights as "core competencies". Leaving trade and foreign policy to the larger institution, but environmental policy to the smaller one inevitably results in those things being under-protected. Because the larger geographical entity can override the smaller one – but if these are not include in the larger one's responsibilities you end with environmenal, civil liberty and human rights laws over-ridden in the name of trade, national defense and foreign policy. This happens now with the enviroment in regard to the WTO – with just trade as the responsiblity. In fact you have essentially admitted this by including "Global Warming" in core competencies. Do you think this is the only urgent enviromental issue that crosses borders? What about clean water shortages? Not a purely local problem with purely local solutions.

  6. Human rights should certainly be in the federal competences; they are already in a roundabout way through the ECHR. I'm sorry I didn't make this clear.
    Mark already raised the question privately with me about the environment. Some issues are clearly transborder, like global warming, long-distance air pollution, river basin management, migratory birds; but others are local, like land use. So you need to split them. If I rewrote the paper today I would change it on this, but "scripta manent".
    I don't actually think it would be sensible just to read off a detailed allocation from a highly theoretical schema like mine. I do think that if you don't start with such a schema, as the USA and Switzerland did, and adapt it pragmatically, all you get is a muddle. So I deliberately took a provocatively theorical approach as a corrective to Monnet's extreme pragmatism.
    Question to Americans: how effective is inter-state cooperation within the USA, for example in criminal justice? Europeans often admire the US higher education system, which is coordinated without significant federal intervention.

  7. James: "Voter turnout in the elections for the European Parliament hovers around 40% except where voting is mandatory."
    Voter turnout in the US presidential elections isn't much better. We're running, what, ~50%?
    And those elections determine the executive branch for four years, plus one half of the legislative branch, plus one-third of the other half of the legislative branch.

Comments are closed.