Sunday, 15 May 2005

We May Be Europeans, But Please, We're Not That Damn Stupid

One of the advantages of middle age (maturity as we old geezers prefer to call it) is that one gains insights into oneself, little bits and bobs of self-knowledge make themselves apparent. A slightly disturbing one of these reared its head today as I was reading a couple of political speeches. I have become a geek, someone who actually reads such dreck; worse, I have become a hopelessly naive geek, as I actually expected a politician, in public, to speak the truth. I must be halfway to my second adolescence (ouch, zits again) if I can entertain such an absurdly stupid notion.

The speeches were by TEBAF (The Ever Blessed and Fragrant) Margot Wallstrom, Vice President and Commissioner of the European Union. One she gave at Terezin on the 60th anniversary of that concentration camp’s liberation was reported in The Daily Telegraph thusly:

A senior European Commissioner marked VE Day yesterday by accusing Eurosceptics of risking a return to the Holocaust by clinging to “nationalistic pride”.

That really does sound just a little extreme even for Margot with her constitutional referenda to win so I had a look at the actual text of the speech. No, quite obviously she doesn’t actually say that those who don’t like the Constitution want to whip the Jews, Gypsies and gays through the camps again but she did make these points:

We also came to this terrible point in our history through nationalistic pride and greed, and through international rivalry for wealth and power. It was precisely to put an end to such rivalry that the European Union was born – the first ever supranational organisation in which sovereign nations voluntarily share their sovereignty.


Yet there are those today who want to scrap the supranational idea. They want the European Union to go back to the old purely inter-governmental way of doing things.


I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads.


So no, Margot did not come right out and accuse Eurosceptics of being proto-Nazis but she came pretty close to claiming that the only thing between Europe and a re-run of the holocaust is an acceptance of the new Constitution. Quite obviously reasonable people can disagree on the subject of European integration but that is a near insane allegation.

A further manifestation of my new geekness was that instead of phoning her office and shouting at people (yes, some people don’t limit such behaviour to daydreams) I read the speech she gave the next day, at Charles University in Prague. This had the following stunning statements:

Economic and political integration has not only kept peace between EU member states over the past half century: it has also raised their living standards to levels our grandparents never dreamed possible.

My, my, so all those places which did not integrate politically with Europe didn’t grow over the past two generations? The test of such a contention is to ask: well, what did happen to those who integrated, what did happen to those who didn’t? The average GDP across the EU 15 (that is, those members before the poor ex-communist states joined last year) is some $27,000 per capita.

So we’ve done better than the United States? Ah, $36,000 a head, so no, but maybe that’s unfair, for the US was richer in 1945 as well, richer in 1920. Better than Switzerland? Umm, $32,000 but that’s unfair too, for Switzerland didn’t take part in the war. Norway? Gosh , this is getting difficult isn’t it, $32,800 but they’ve got all that oil so that’s not fair either. How about Iceland? 250,000 people on a bare island, no trees, used to eat cod skins in place of bread, all they have is a bit of hydrothermal power and fish, lots of fish. Well, we must be better than they, right? Nope, $30,000.

(Please note, all international economic statistics must be taken with a large handful of salt.)

It also worth noting that those poor new entrants, those ex-communist states were part of a highly integrated economy, one with a large amount of political centralization as well. So perhaps it isn’t actually true that the political integration of Europe leads to wealth that would amaze our grandparents?

Travel and communication are cheaper; food is safer; the environment is cleaner.

Travel? That would be planes, trains and automobiles? The Commissioner is claiming Ford, GM, Toyota, Boeing, bullet trains and Airbus as part of political integration? (Please note, Airbus is indeed an example of European co-operation, but it is not one of European Union co-operation.) I suppose food has not become safer in the United States either, nor the environment cleaner? It’s very difficult to think of any of these things as being caused by or predicated on the political disposition of sovereignty in Europe.

A slightly disheartening experience then, ploughing through the considered opinions of one of those who rule over us. Outrageous allegations, sweeping claims and not many facts to back them up. How could, I ask myself, anyone vote for such a politician? Surely no one could win an election on such vapidity? Ah, but then no one did vote for TEBAF Margot, she was appointed. As were all of the other Commissioners, those petty gauleiters of the new order. None of them stood for election, none faced the voters and it is unlikely that they would in fact be in power if they had had to do so.

Look, we may be Europeans, but please, we’re not that damn stupid.

By Tim Worstall Published

The author is a TCS contributing writer living in Europe. Find more of his writings here.
This article was first publ
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