Politics & Policy

How to Euro-Speak

A phrasebook for the presidential tourist.

Europeans hate the way Americans talk. They think we’re loud and uncouth and they don’t like our jokes, except for

Michael Moore. Plus, they resent the fact that they’ve had to learn our language because if they didn’t we wouldn’t buy their stupid metric widgets or visit their overpriced ruins.

So when the president goes to Europe to give his speech to all the EU-niks in Brussels on Tuesday, it’s important that he speak clearly–or at least clearfully. Because there are a few things he needs to say, and they can all be summed up in seven handy, easy-to-utter phrases:

1. Get a job. With their endless vacations and pint-sized workweeks, Europe can’t produce enough of anything–including more Europeans–to save themselves from doom. So the French and Germans have only one realistic strategy when it comes to revitalizing their comatose economies: Wait for the U.S. economy to rise high enough to float their petits bateaux. Meanwhile, the EU’s own reports have long shown the complete failure of the Lisbon strategy that was supposed to have the EU on a competitive par with the U.S. by 2010. Now, as noted in the EU Observer, the EU is failing to compete in technology and research, lagging behind not only the U.S., but also countries such as India. “The EU is falling behind,” admitted EU commissioner Janez Potocnik. “And we are now under pressure not only compared to our traditional rivals like the U.S. or Japan, but also China, India or Brazil. We are facing a much tougher competition in talent and knowledge than we are used to.” Why? “We don’t want to achieve our economic growth by lowering the social or environmental standards.”

2. Clean up your mess. As reported here and elsewhere, French leadership of EU and U.N. missions in Congo and Ivory Coast, among other African countries, have led to massive moral and tactical failures as “peacekeepers” have turned into rapists, thugs, robbers, and killers. In France, according to Le Monde, some survivors of the Rwanda genocide, which would have been impossible without French complicity, are finally being given a chance to ask for a hearing in a French court of law. This will almost certainly be blocked by the government, which has been covering up this gruesome scandal by burying it in slow-mo “investigations” for a decade now.

3. Stop taking bribes. Humanitarian groups have been screaming about the crisis in Darfur for a long, long time. The U.S. calls what is happening there a “genocide”–but the EU won’t buy that because if it did, it’d be forced by law to intervene, something it not only doesn’t want to do, but, logistically, could barely do if it had to. The U.N. Security Council is paralyzed because France, Russia, and China have blocked sanctions against Sudan. They blocked the sanctions because they all have very large oil and other investments there. Of course, this was the same reason the French rendered Security Council resolutions meaningless before the Iraq invasion, so not surprisingly, as the BBC reports, France is doing the same thing once again. The EU has introduced even more delay in bringing peace to Darfur because of a new insistence that war crimes–assuming anything ever occurs to bring them to justice–be tried before the ICC, where the U.S. does not participate.

4. Since you can’t defend yourselves, get out of our way. NATO became a work-around for the U.S. in Iraq, and the alliance is now paralyzed because of the EU’s own ambitions, as the International Herald Tribune reports. “There is paralysis between the EU and NATO,” the paper quotes an EU official as saying. “We do not discuss anything serious.” If that’s the case, then why are we spending serious billions to keep the thing alive?

5. Knock off the eco-hypocrisy. The Europeans like to parade their agreement to abide by the provisions of the Kyoto pact like members of an Earth Shoe drill team. According to a piece in the IHT, “[Jürgen] Strube, the chairman of BASF’s supervisory board, responds with a hint of impatience when asked how European industry plans to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, which requires Germany and 34 other countries to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. As the treaty takes effect Wednesday, worries about its fairness are mixed with mild resentment [because] in their view… American and Chinese companies will not bear these extra costs.” The item is a pick-up of a New York Times story by Mark Landler, so of course the rather salient fact not reported is that neither France, Germany, nor the rest of the EU will comply with the treaty provisions either. They aren’t about to “bear these extra costs” when they can barely afford to drive to the beach in August as it is. In fact, the EU has treated Kyoto like its now-toothless debt-limit treaty and given up on it altogether. “Kyoto im Koma,” were the words of a memorable Suddeutsche Zeitung headline a little over a year ago when the EU’s Kyoto failure was first widely noticed.

6. Start a “No European Left Behind” program. Anti-Semitism, like anti-Americanism, is a permanent part of the European cultural landscape. But, according to an EU study reported in Le Nouvel Observateur, the situation has “seriously degraded” in the last five years. Anti-Semitism, needless to say, is a pretty reliable indicator of a lousy education. As a result, it’s impossible to make the French, Germans, Belgians, and others understand that Israel is a consequence of their own bloody history and that they therefore have a responsibility to protect that which they forced into creation. This lack of basic education shows sometimes even among those who go to fancy schools like Eton. In Britain, only a small fraction of people under 30 knew anything about Auschwitz until Prince Charles’s clever lad, Harry, decided to go partying with a swastika on his Nazi costume.

In France, it’s not at all uncommon to meet schoolchildren who have no clear understanding that their government eagerly collaborated in the Holocaust. “We never learned that in school,” a couple of kids in Provence remarked. Because peace in the Middle East means a greater likelihood of peace in the world, European leaders must explain to their citizens their responsibilities regarding Israel, and stop playing enabler to anti-Semitic terrorism, as France is doing with Hezbollah by refusing to call the terrorists what they are–and that would be terrorists to anyone but the French and Reuters. This quiet support of Hezbollah is hardly reported in the French press, as this rather disingenuous Libération piece describing Chirac’s flying to Beirut suggests. The description of his gray suit is nice, though.

7. Jacques, Gerhard, get a better campaign issue. Chirac and Schröder are running nations that, if they were American sitcoms, would be cancelled and sold to European TV networks where they’d run forever, dubbed and dumber. Both nations are in economic sloughs; the Germans in fact are approaching Weimar-levels of unemployment. If they ran on their records in their coming elections, they’d crash faster than this cheap laptop of mine. So for both of these guys, the only campaign issue available is anti-Americanism. In the case of Chirac, it’s just cynical opportunism, sort of what you’d expect from a guy wanted on fraud once he loses his office. In the case of Schröder and especially German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, it’s blind ideology. As John Vinocur reports in the IHT, the small, cubical Schröder is not hiding his ambition behind his arrogance:

[A] speech by Gerhard Schröder, billed as a German-take-on-the-world and read out by Defense Minister Peter Struck (Schröder called in sick), grated. The Bush folk, trying so hard to be Europe-amenable seven days before the president’s arrival, suddenly found themselves laboring not to look too wrong-footed, embarrassed or provoked by a message from the chancellor they did not fully expect …

His text restated his determination that Germany get a UN Security Council seat cum veto power. It fled any mention of his quest to have the European Union lift its embargo on arms sales to China, a proposal that has enraged Congress across the board. And it urged an end to Iran’s isolation and consideration for the mullahs’ “legitimate security concerns”–on a day when James Woolsey, a Clinton administration director of U.S. central intelligence, was asking a seminar panelist if he knew of a single shard of fact indicating that Iran was not about to produce atomic weapons. (No answer.)

This latest burst of anti-Americanism in France and Germany has been aimed not just at the policies of the American government and the war in Iraq but also the culture of the American people, the popularity of which is something Chirac described as an “ecological disaster” during a visit to southeast Asia, just before the tsunami.

This kind of knee-jerk hatred colors the judgments of both men and their fellow citizens. If Germany and France hadn’t already demonstrated their ability to market brutal hatred during World War II, this might not matter. But to fan the flames of grotesque intolerance during a war on terror just to keep two political hacks out of their own growing unemployment lines is a bit much. If that’s worth deep-sixing the Atlantic “alliance,” that’s jake. Or maybe we could give Germany our Security Council seat (and our share of the bills) on our way out of the U.N. Let Europe pay its own way for a decade or two. If Bush makes nothing else clear when he arrives in Brussels Monday night for a “working dinner” with Chirac it should be that ultimately European anti-Americanism isn’t our problem. It’s Europe’s problem, and Euro-leaders should take the lead in solving it.

So there’s your seven-phrase speech, and good luck on that “fence-mending” mission of yours, Señor President. However, as a man who keeps a blind donkey in a pretty small pasture, I want to make a little suggestion: If you’re going to mend a fence, go for the barbed stuff, minimum two strand 12.5ga galvanized–which, as you know, is just enough to cut the bull.

Denis Boyles is author of Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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