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A Technocrat’s Technocrat



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The New York Times recently ran an article by Strobe Talbott on Jean Monnet. It’s well worth reading (as is the fuller Brookings Institution essay on which it is based, despite its sharp euro-federalist skew). Monnet was in many respects the man most responsible for the emergence of the EU, and, as such, one of the most significant figures in postwar European history. He deserves to be better known over here.

Talbott’s admiring piece is also worth reading for the insight it gives into the mindset of today’s supranationalists, and specifically, not so much for what he says, but for what he doesn’t.

The only clue in the article that there might be another way of looking at Monnet’s record comes from these words:

He never held elective office . . .

Indeed not. Monnet was a technocrat’s technocrat, with a profound contempt for national democracy. To Monnet, voters were dangerously unpredictable creatures (he would have detested both the idea and the result of today’s Swiss referendum on immigration), unworthy of either respect or honesty. A year or so ago Peter Jay (Jay later became a distinguished journalist and British ambassador to Washington) recorded attending a dinner back in 1952 in which Monnet explained that the only way that the federal Europe of his dreams could be created was gradually and by indirection, “by zig and by zag.”

In their book The Great Deception, Christopher Booker and Richard North explain how the “Monnet method”(known in French as engrenage worked, and still works. In his longer essay Talbott uses the word in a somewhat different sense).

[Engrenage] provided a blanket word to describe all those various techniques whereby the [European] project could advance what was really its only underlying agenda: a steady, relentless pressure to extend the [European] Commission’s supranational powers. Each new advance…would merely be regarded as a means of gearing up for the next. Each new addition to its competences might begin with a small innocuous-seeming proposal to which nobody could object: until the principle was conceded and these powers could then be steadily enlarged. Each new problem or setback could be used as a ’beneficial crisis’  to justify further extending the Commission’s powers to provide the remedy..

Thus, brick by brick, would the great supranational structure be assembled. Above all it would be vital never to define too clearly what was the ‘project’s’ ultimate goal, for fear this would arouse the countervailing forces which might seek to sabotage it before it was complete.

Those words were written in 2003. These days that ultimate goal has become more visible, and the “f” word (as in a federal Europe) is more often spoken about. Nevertheless, this remains true:

An intention to obscure and to deceive was implicit in the nature of the ‘project’ from the moment it was launched.

And apparently that’s fine with Strobe Talbott.



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