Europe's 50th Anniversary Clown Show

The European Union’s absurd birthday bash says more about where the EU is headed than 1,000 bland pronouncements from the bureaucrats and politicians in Brussels ever could.

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty ImagesClown show: To most European citizens, the EUs birthday theatrics seem bizarre and contrivedmuch like the European Union itself.

As everyone who has already reached their half-century can attest, fiftieth birthday parties can be very embarrassing. This is certainly true of the outbreak of festivities celebrating fifty years of European unity (officially, the occasion marks the signing of the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Community on March 25, 1957). A Berlin Declaration on the future of Europe was approved on Sunday, but the final draft wording wasnt released until Saturday, March 24. The European Parliament had a debate on the issue nonetheless, but Englands Graham Watson, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and the leader of the liberal democratic bloc, complained about the lack of any text. How could the parliament discuss a ghost resolution? Yet in the words of that living relic from 1968, French MEP and Greens leader Daniel Cohn Bendit, If we dont speak publicly about such documents, the people will not follow us. He need not have worried. As a top official of the European Parliament told the European Research Seminar of the London School of Economics some years ago: The only people who listen to MEPs are the interpreters.

Still, why give up such a good excuse for a party? Member states were told by the Commission to organize celebrations around the continent for their apathetic publics, although they balked at a plan for simultaneous dance festivals. According to the BBC, it reminded them of Soviet-style mass participation fun. Yet Belgium hosted a veteran rock concert, Denmark gave away free buns, Ireland organized a Prayer for Europe, Luxembourg arranged a circular walk, Romania established a European Union Internet chat-room, and Spain produced a giant puzzle, while Slovenia offered free parachute jumps (very liberatinga chance to escape the EU, perhaps?). France, meanwhile, abandoned its once famous artistic originality to produce a film about a Parisian barmaid who rekindles her passion for a German officer from the Nazi occupation when they meet again on precisely May 9, 1950, the day that Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister called for the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community. Who says that Soviet-style, mass-participation fun is dead? This romantic epic was, of course, subsidized by the EU. The grandest tribute to European unity, however, was Berlins all-night rave featuring 100 DJs in 35 clubs, not to mention free beer and sausages. And then theres the rock concert at the Brandenburg Gatewhich cranked up only after the Berlin Philharmonic sounded the last notes of Beethovens Fifth Symphony. No doubt it all ended with his Ode to Joy and shouts of Freude! Freude! And why not? Enjoy! Enjoy! is my view.

But was it so hard to settle on the text for the Declaration? And why such public apathy? To take the first question first, the simple truth is that EU governments cannot agree on the EUs future. Ever since France and the Netherlands voted No to the proposed EU Constitution in 2005, the EU has been paralyzed. The German, Spanish and Belgian governments, therefore, want to revive the constitution (while avoiding any more popular votes on it!), but neither the Dutch nor the British will agree. Poland and Italy, meanwhile, want to emphasize Christian values, which clash, unfortunately, with French (secular) revolutionary ones. Nine countriesBelgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, and Spain signed a statement recommending that the Declaration proclaim the indispensable balance between economic freedoms and social rights, so that the internal market can become an area regulated by a social plan. However, the British and Dutch governments oppose any more regulation and red tape from Brussels. So the drafters of the Declaration have had to choose between some innocuous short statement and a verbose wish list of European targets designed to please everyone. In the end, the final text mostly takes the former approach, calling blandly for placing the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009 because Europe is our common future. Yet, the document dryly chides, the health of the EU depends on the will of its Member States to consolidate the Union's internal development, presumably by approving a new constitution.

This brings me on to my second question. Todays EU resembles a sort of undemocratic Habsburg Empire. Its legislation is proposed by a Commission of unelected bureaucrats who have now apparently lost control of their own staffs and who themselves are usually political outcasts from their national political systems. Decisions on whether to adopt their often bizarre initiatives are then taken in total secrecy by the Council of Ministers or the European Council, before being rubber-stamped by the federalist parliament and imposed on the citizens of member states, whose national legislatures can do absolutely nothing to alter their directives or regulations. Indeed, 84 percent of all legislation before national parliaments, according to the German Ministry of Justice, now simply involves implementing Brussels diktats. All this makes European politics undemocratic at all levels, and opinion polls reflect the publics growing disillusionment. So, given the present lack of democracy, together with corruption scandals and splits over foreign policynot to mention the prospect of having a constitution rammed down the throats of voters who originally rejected it or never had the chance to vote on the matter in the first placeit can be no surprise that ordinary Europeans saw the celebrations as a sick joke.

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