A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Monday, 27 June 2011

Those Bloody Foreigners

Anglo-Saxons casually plotting to destroy the euro. Picture by Ouip.

Those of you who are still following the Arab Spring would have particularly enjoyed Assad's rant on state television the other day. The Syrian dictator finally gave in to pressure and played the usual card of Arabic dictators; blame it on the foreigners. The protests against him were, he said, in a speech eerily remniscient of Gaddafi before he lost control of Misrata, a plot by al-Qaeda and foreign influences in an attempt to destabilise the country. His government was, he claimed, becoming too strong. We may look upon the antics of the Arabic fruitcake and laugh: we are, after all, thousands of miles away from the trouble. No leader here would ever stoop so low as to blame foreigners for their own political or economic troubles, would they?

Well, yes, actually. The enraged fist-pumping theatrics of Bashar al-Assad thousands of miles away in the Syrian desert may receive considerably more air-time than the antics of officials currently engaged in making law in Brussels, but some elements of conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Berlaymont have reached us. They are either faintly amusing or slightly scary, depending on how you view them, but, if nothing else, they are the most revealing insight into the mentality of an institution in crisis, a mentality that the public - with no public records of debates and discussions and no popular elections - rarely gets to see.

As the European Union's engines of integration disassemble or stall, the rhetorical defence of the European Union by its supporters is becoming more and more extreme. Faced with the unravelling of a project that many of them are inextricably committed to, financially and mentally, European Union officials have turned away from rational and reasoned argument and turned instead to the cosy world of conspiracy theories.

A number of high-profile people seem to have abandoned all reason and logic altogether since the start of the eurozone crisis: aides to the Spanish Prime Minister claimed in February 2010 that the Spanish economy was the victim of a well-orchestrated speculator attack from 'Anglo-Saxon' economies. There was some plot to destroy the euro, hatched in the corridors of power in London and New York. The Spanish Public Works Minister declared that 'none of what is happening in the world, including the editorials of foreign newspapers, is coincidental or innocent,' implying that there was some collusion between governments, speculators, and Anglo-Saxon newspapers. This wasn't just them playing the 'foreign conspirators' card to shore up public support: they appear to have genuinely believed this. Armed with a few provocative headlines as 'proof' of their theory, the government set the National Intelligence Centre on the task of uncovering the conspirators.

The Greek Prime Minister declared that there was 'an attack on the euro zone by certain other interests, political or financial. We are being targeted, particularly with an ulterior motive or agenda.' He left out the Anglo-Saxon aspect, but the insinuation is clear: the eurozone crisis was not caused by a flawed concept or mistakes made by politicians, no, the eurozone was the victim of an international attack by a secret, unnamed collection of individuals who plot to destroy it. Jürgen Stark, ECB chief economist, takes the slightly more rational - if still completely unsubstantiated - view that the British media and financial interests were perpetuating the eurozone crisis in order to hide their own government's deficit. And this sort of wild fantasy is not limited to 'Europeans,' either. Britons, too, are giving credence to their claims of an evil right-wing plot. Denis MacShane, a former Labour Europe minister, declared that 'the Anglo-Saxon club of anti-Europeans is on the rampage.'

The European Union has a long history of using conspiracy and talk of 'plots' to explain away its problems. The comments echo earlier claims by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a German Green MEP, who once said that the Irish 'No' vote to the Lisbon Treaty was not representative of the views of Irish people, who secretly wanted the treaty. The reason, he said, was that the CIA had employed people to vote 'No' in order to prevent Europe becoming too strong. This conspiracy was heartily endorsed by Hans-Gert Poettering, former President of the European Parliament, and were even looked over by the European Commission, the EU's executive body. And Anglo-Saxons are also the subject of any conspiracy theory in the European Union where money is concerned; Sarkozy once claimed that British and American financiers were spreading false rumours about his love life in order to destabilise the French economy.

This shows more than anything else that the European Union - or a lot of high-ranking officials - are incapable of self-reflection. It takes a far greater leap of imagination and genuine conviction to state openly that you are the blameless victim of some international plot than it does to re-examine the nature of the euro's introduction. The euro is not perfect; Romano Prodi, the EU chief executive at the time of its introduction, said that there would be a crisis. But somehow the EU officials who succeeded him seem to have forgotten that; in their view, everything they did and continue to do has been flawless. If it wasn't for financiers and the British, the euro would be going fine.

The officials that make the decisions are so incapable of re-examining their own policy, and we cannot vote them out. Sounds like one hell of a recipe for disaster.

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