Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, February 24, 2005

TRICKY TIM

Timothy Garton Ash writes:

If the constitutional treaty is approved by all 25 member states, then next autumn Solana will become the EU's foreign minister, chairing the council of national foreign ministers and heading what is to be called, euphemistically, the European External Action Service. The British, and others, did not want it to be called what it really is: a fledgling European diplomatic service. Some friends in the European institutions have been trying to find an attractive acronym to compensate for that cumbersome title. They came up with EXTASE (EXTernal Action SErvice), which evokes suitably un-Eurocratic visions of ecstasy.


It's just a trivial detail. Means nothing, perhaps. But the neologism EXTASE for Europe's proposed diplomatic service reminds me of the Soviet Union. The Soviets liked to name new organizations by pinning together the first syllables of different words. Thus Com(munist) Intern(ational)=Comintern. Polit(ical) Buro=Politburo. The Cheka got their name from the first letters of "Extraordinary Commission...", part of a much longer title. These neologisms were part of the regime's opacity to ordinary people.

To get to Extase, Europe still has to go through a good deal of agony, including some in the original Greek sense of agonia, meaning struggle. The opposition is of two kinds: national and institutional. Many member states, especially Britain and France, don't want to surrender control of foreign policy. As a result, while the constitutional treaty allows for some qualified majority voting in the council of national foreign ministers chaired by the European foreign minister, it also gives every government the right to invoke "vital and stated reasons of national policy". It insists the matter be taken to the European Council of heads of government, where the contentious issue would have to be agreed by unanimity. Eurosceptics lobbying for a no vote in the British referendum are deliberately obscuring this point, suggesting that our foreign policy will now be made by the soulless fiat of faceless Eurocrats. Well, as an old Jewish proverb has it, a half-truth is a whole lie. But with such half-truths they may yet secure a no vote in Britain. Then it would be back to the drawing-board for a European foreign policy.


A common European foreign policy and an independent British foreign policy directly conflict-- right? The more British foreign policy is determined in Brussels, the less it will be determined in London. The title of Ash's article, "Can Europe speak with one voice?"-- this is presumed to be a good thing-- gives the game away: if it could, that voice would not be Britain's. If British voters don't want their foreign policy to be made by the soulless fiat of faceless Eurocrats, that is as much as to say that they don't want Europe to speak with one voice. Ash tries to hide this diametric conflict using rhetorical sleight of hand.

"A half-truth is a whole lie." He's right about that, at least.

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