Tuesday, March 20, 2007

50 Ways to Praise the EU

To follow on from my post some time ago on the importance of recognising the benefits, as well as criticising the problems, of the European Union, it is worth flagging briefly this list, compiled to mark the 50th anniversary of the Union and undoubtedly partially tongue-in-cheek, in today's Independent: 50 Reasons to Love the EU, backed up by this more detailed explanation of each item, and by this editorial and comment piece.

As mentioned, some of the "reasons" provided are, well, a little suspect: No. 14, for example, on "making the French eat British beef again", or No. 37, which proclaims that "Europe's bananas remain bent, despite sceptics' fears", are both mildly amusing padding; No. 13, which praises the "small EU bureaucracy" on the grounds that it has less employees than the BBC is certainly contestable (number of employees not being the only, or indeed always the most important, indice of the "size" of a bureaucratic machine); while No. 42's claim that the "EU gives more, not less, sovereignty to nation states" is still at best an open question, theoretically.

These and other asides aside, however, many of the list entries do contain powerful affirmations of the Union's success, even if there aren't - quite - 50 of them: the abolition of the death penalty and the eastward spread and entrenchment of democratic principles; the increased mobility of youth and labour; stauncher support for minority languages; and, of course, the end - for the foreseeable future - of war between European nations, to name but a few.

Also noteworthy is the theme, running throughout the list, that the UK has missed out on many of the benefits that the Union has brought to its other members, from the Euro, through the effective dismantling of border controls, to a general increase in multilingualism; and the idea that this is both symptom and cause of the manner in which debate within Britain focuses almost exclusively on the Union's shortcomings. The editorial on the subject begins thus:

The European Union will celebrate its 50th anniversary this weekend with an all-night party in a rejuvenated Berlin. It is a joyous coincidence that the anniversary should fall in the middle of the German presidency. What more conclusive evidence could there be of what the European Union has achieved than around-the-clock festivities beneath the Brandenburg Gate? The symbol of Europe's post-war division has now become the most potent symbol of Europe's unity.

Of course, the EU as it has evolved from the six-member European Economic Community is far from flawless. From the remoteness of its institutions, through its clumsy administrative structures, to its labyrinthine bureaucracy, the EU can appear all too often as a cobbled-together machine of Heath-Robinson complexity. Nor are perennial complaints about the "democratic deficit" without foundation...

But none of this should be allowed, as it all too often is in Britain, to eclipse the truly remarkable success of the European project.

Amen to that.

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