Henry Porter in the Observer yesterday talked about enlightened Euroscepticism.
His argument would be easier to accept if he hadn’t confused the European Court of Human Rights and its ruling on the display of crucifixes in Italian schools with the EU and standardisation.
He says “the crucifix is none of the EU’s business” and he is right. It isn’t and wasn’t.
(Even if the EU is about the accede to ECHR).
He talks about the the appointment of a President of the Council in these terms: “the point is that the coronation will take place without the involvement of the people at the very moment when Europe marks the most significant and peaceful revolution in history”. This makes me feel unspeakably angry for a number of reasons:
i) appointing a Council President is not a coronation – Henry Porter has either bought the lie or has not actually bothered to do more that read the UK press coverage of the role;
ii) there’s a number of Presidents in the European context (Commission and European Parliament Presidents already exist). Each heads an EU institution, each has a specific role in the overall EU institutional and decision-making process. It seems unlikely that they would respond positively to a huge swing of power and influence towards the role of the Council (one of the EP’s favourite experssions is “inter-institutional balance”). So I would expect that the postholders would go some way towards keeping a new “upstart” President in his or her place if they start seeing themselves in a more monarchistic light;
iii) Electing a President of the Council would be rather like directly electing a Nancy Pelosi type figure – charismatic, known internationally but more influential than powerful so how many people would bother to turn out. As far as I can see, a directly elected by the EU populace President could not be simply a President of the Council.
iv) to invoke the anniversary of being 20 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall to imbue the declaration that it is a coronation with added significance as if it is the installation of an absolutist monarchy over all EU Member States, with echoes of totalitarianism is insulting to the reader, to common sense and to the memory of that incredible event.
Look – there was a chance, in the Constitutional Treaty and then in the Lisbon Treaty to have a directly-elected President of the EU. But the Member State governments, who agree a text and then seek ratification in their own countries depending on the system that they use for this sort of process (parliamentary approval or public referendum), didn’t go for that. They agreed to a lesser role, in one of the three main institutions rather than sitting above them all and hardly a symbol of superstatehood.
The constant assertion that the role is the supreme leader role needs to be challenged whenever it is made – that is an argument that has already been overcome.
Why can’t sceptics accept that what they’ve got is already a victory? Oh yes. Because we’ve forgotten what scepticism means!
As Julien Frisch said in his tongue-in-cheek guide to becoming a successful Euroblogger, it seems to be generally assumed that the world is divided into “Federalists” that are pro-European, and sceptics/ realists that are anti-EU.
I would argue – as would Julien, Jon Worth, Nosemonkey and a host of other Eurobloggers that enlightened scepticism is actually the position that we all seem to hold: we support the concept of the EU but don’t believe it necessarily operates in the ideal way.
We may not have a shared view over how and what it should do things differently, but the sooner we in the UK come to terms with the idea that being sceptical about something is not the same as being hostile to it, and that you can be broadly favouable towards something in cencept as well as sceptical about its execeution then the more measured, sensible and ulitimately effective and constructive a debate we can have.
So Henry Porter is right: “scepticism is not about being a little England Tory or any of the other nonsense spouted by French Euro-enthusiasts last week; it is sounding a note of caution, reserving judgement and not being in the interests of the common good”.
The behaviours the French Europe Minister described would certainly not be “sceptical” behaviours if we are using the word properly.
I would add that a decent dash of scepticism is vital to get an approach to life verging on “everything in moderation”.
Henry Porter is also right that people have to take responsibility and that the role of the people in a democracy is something that should not ignored.
But detail matters too. And how can the people take informed decsions when they’re given distorted pictures on which to form their views?
So please – journalists, subs, editors, proprietors. We understand that your first job is to write stories that sell papers or get ratings. This is not always completely compatible with accuracy.
And sometimes, as I would hope is the case with Henry Porter’s article, it may be uninformed error rather than deliberate innacuracy that leds to this sort of rant from bloggers.
But democracy itself is affected by what you say, what you publish (you’ve even boasted about this in the past e.g. “It was the Sun wot won it”). You owe it to your readers to act responsibly. And the occasional full article correction, rather than burying corrections away near the letters page or just not bothering would really be a start.
Update: excellent guide to the various Councils now available on Nosemonkey’s EUtopia blog. Fab stuff indeed.