Politics & Policy

Ponzi’s Honor

What's the difference between an EU summit and a Polish wedding? The Poles are serious.

At family gatherings, some truths are best left unspoken. If the family happens to be the EU, then common sense would dictate that nobody should utter a word, since no matter what you say, you risk bringing the party to an end.

Take, for example, the EU’s big reunion now convening in Brussels. The dream of Chancellor Angela Merkel was to bring a glorious and triumphant end to Germany’s turn at the rotating European presidency. While this is the aim of every holder of the presidency, her strategy was imbued with blitzkrieg logic: She wanted to insinuate almost all the provisions of the proposed — and rejected — EU constitution into a simple treaty revision, some boring bureaucratic thing that people wouldn’t get so worked up about. With luck, it could be rushed through without a lot of annoying interference from those who would have to live under its provisions, and pay heavily for the privilege. The paperwork was described this way by William Rees-Mogg in the Times:

[It’s] a new draft treaty of amendment that will contain most of the legal substance of the constitutional treaty, with some cosmetic changes to make it mor acceptable…The German proposals are expected to include a longer-term presidency for the EU Council, a foreign minister, new voting weights, more majority voting including justice and home affairs, and the reintroduction of the charter of fundamental rights. 

The net effect is to reduce national sovereignty without consulting national opinion. That’s German efficiency for you. Eursoc has some salient details.

But then the Poles showed up. With Silvio Berlusconi sidelined by the capriciousness of Italian voters, it has fallen to the land of superfluous consonants to be the EU’s sentry on the naked-emperor front. The Polish prime minister pointed out that the “new voting weights” part — a German-inspired system that would define a “majority” as 55 percent of EU members and 65 percent of its population — would come at Poland’s expense. Germany would benefit most, and the Franco-German bloc would improve its position against the newer states from Eastern Europe.  Just saying that much was rude enough. But, as the Daily Telegraph delicately reports, the Poles then went ballistically honest:

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Polish prime minister, complained that Poland would have a far bigger population on which to base its EU voting power if it had not been for…the war…”We are only demanding that we get back what was taken from us,” he told Polish national radio. “If Poland had not had to live through the years of 1939-45, Poland would be today looking at the demographics of a country of 66 million.”

 Now you can bring up a lot of topics in the polite society that governs the EU: Allegations of American torture and clandestine kidnappings, for example, are frequent subjects for lunchtime happy-chat in Brussels. But it really isn’t done, you know, to bring up the past — especially the World War II part, owing to the awkwardness of it all. Reminding people that there are a lot fewer Poles than Germans because the Germans killed millions and millions of Poles flies in the face of the grand European tradition of forgetting the past in order to avoid having to learn from it. As the Telegraph’s man, George Jones, observes, “European leaders have traditionally adopted a ‘don’t mention the war’ approach and pointedly sought not to single out Germany for blame for the death and destruction wreaked on the continent.” Much better to let Germany profit from all that death and destruction and, as they say, just move on.

While the attention of the summit was focused on the obstreperous Poles, the wily French have just sneaked through a treaty revision Paris has been wanting for decades. As the Financial Times reports:

The European Union’s 50-year-old commitment to “undistorted competition” has been scrapped from a list of the bloc’s objectives in a French coup that lawyers argue could undermine Brussels’ fight against protectionism and illegal state aid. Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, secured the change, on the eve of an already tense Brussels summit to allay concerns in his country that the EU has become too “Anglo-Saxon”. The surprise move came as EU leaders gathered in Brussels to try to agree a revamped version of the bloc’s moribund constitutional treaty…The proposed deletion of competition – one of the Union’s founding objectives – was smuggled into the draft treaty by the German EU presidency. 

That German smuggling trick wasn’t necessary to keep France on-side, of course. France, even under Nicolas Sarkozy, has no side other than the German one. It was simply part of a growing recognition in both Paris and Berlin that their flaccid economies can’t survive unless they can be subsidized, which is why I just paid $10 for a box of 60 antacids. Meanwhile, as Les Echos reports, global trade talks have collapsed. In about ten minutes, this will be blamed by the Europeans on the Americans.

As Le Figaro notes, there’s only a 50-50 chance this summit will be any more successful than previous EU power-grabs. The chances might have been improved slightly if planners had convened the summit next week, rather than now. This Belgian holiday is Tony Blair’s last European entertainment as British Prime Minister. He’s “uncompromising,” says the worried and always-compromised Independent, in his promise to walk away from any treaty that requires Britain to surrender its foreign policy and its legal system to Brussels. No wonder, according to an analysis by a New York Times reporter in the International Herald Tribune, Blair leaves the scene described as a “divisive” figure — which, in Times-speak means he stood up for principles not much appreciated on West 43rd Street.

I bet Blair’s counting the hours. A few days ago, he told (.pdf alert) Reuters that the press had become “a feral beast tearing people and reputations to bits,” which I would have thought the fey-corps would have found flattering, but no. And now the Guardian reports that the IHT is joined in its attack on Blair by no less personage than Malcolm McLaren’s son, an underwear maker who finds Blair so “morally corrupt” he really can’t accept the MBE he had been foolishly offered. Wow. Who knew Malcolm McLaren could father children? The last time I saw him, he was on the floor of a bar in New York City, barking like a dog and looking for something he claimed he had dropped — and, for once, not his trousers.

Of course, anything’s possible, even for the EU. We should know later today or tomorrow if the German putsch was successful. Either way, Blair’s next stop, according to the Daily Mail, is Rome, where he’ll meet with Benedict XVI before saying farewell to the official faith of England, in the throes of an apparent ecclesiotomy, and joining the pope’s divisions.

Most Poles are already members, so they’ll believe this spells redemption for Blair — while Blair’s impatient successor, Gordon Brown, will believe this spells redemption for himself, even though he’s a Scot. Redeeming the EU, however, may take something even more overtly miraculous. It may take the Poles.

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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