29 September 2011

Deceitful Cassandras...

I think Peter Oborne's rant on Newsnight yesterday was useful. Jon Worth's response to it is pretty much on the money:
'Extraordinary "debate" on Newsnight last night between Amadeu Altafaj Tardio (Ollie Rehn’s spokesperson) and Peter Oborne. Oborne repeatedly calls Altafaj Tardio "the idiot in Brussels", a phrase that Paxman also uses, and Oborne is equally vile towards Richard Lambert, giving him a copy of Guilty Men.

I don’t know whether I am more annoyed by Altafaj Tardio who was just rubbish (but hell, he’s employed by Rehn, so are we remotely surprised?), Peter Oborne who was vile and offensive, Jeremy Paxman who let Oborne rant on and on, or Newsnight for having invited Oborne and Altafaj Tardio onto the programme in the first place. Oborne’s vitriol might have a place in the Daily Mail but it surely has no place on Newsnight.'
Pretty much, I say, but not quite.

The episode had some value, not least is providing those of us who've long argued that the BBC doesn't have a bias towards the Union with a handy little stick with which to beat those who claim it does. Look at how the National broadcaster invited Peter Oborne onto its premier current affairs show, allowing him to insult a spokesman for an EU Commissioner and to insult those who'd advocated an EU project that had been on the cards even before the UK joined the then EEC. Look at how the presenter of that show himself addressed the spokesman as 'Mister Idiot from Brussels', allowing Oborne to rant freely to a point where the spokesman walked off.

Anything who thinks Chris Patten is compromised in his position as chairman of the BBC Trust by virtue of having been an EU commissioner between 2000 and 2004 -- with all that that entails -- should make a point of keeping their mouths shut in future. After last night, you can't say anything.

Self-fulfilling Prophets...
Aside from the sheer gratuitous bad manners shown by Oborne, I get irked by this sort of carry-on for a host of other reasons, not least that most of the people sneering about the troubles facing the common currency now are people who've opposed it from the start. It reeks of an 'I told you so' attitude, but hardly in an honest way, not least because the game's not nearly over yet, and they may yet be proven wrong.

If Britain is to sneer about France and Germany never having applied the EU's own rules properly, thus having undermined it from the start, they should give some thought to how the United Kingdom stood sniffing at the sidelines when the project was being launched; perhaps these problems could have been headed off with British help.

To hear these people whine is almost like listening to a footballer complaining about his team losing a match, in a situation where he himself has chosen to sit out the game. Imagine, say, Carlos Tevez whinging about Manchester City having been beaten by Bayern Munich the other day, despite him having refused to go on when summoned from the bench, or Roy Keane whinging about Ireland having been knocked out of the 2002 World Cup, despite him having gone home rather than playing. Imagine. That's what it's like.

An unfair analogy? No, I don't think so.

The Origins of the Euro
See, the thing is, monetary union has always been part of the European project, and the UK knew that all through all the years it was so desperate to join. The Treaty of Rome's primary aim, as stated way back in 1957 in the first sentence of the treaty's preamble, was to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe. In order to do this, the EEC aimed to eliminate the barriers that divide Europe, to strengthen the unity of their economies, and to implement a common commercial policy. The second article of the treaty makes clear that the EEC had never been intended to be merely about establishing a common market:
'The Community shall have as its task, by establishing a common market and progressively approximating the economic policies of Member States, to promote throughout the Community a harmonious development of economic activities, a continuous and balanced expansion, an increase in stability, an accelerated raising of the standard of living and closer relations between the States belonging to it.'
Yes, those are my italics. A common currency had always been on the agenda, as a necessary tool to harmonise the development of Europe's economies, and it was in 1969 that work first began on establishing it. The then Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Pierre Werner, was commissioned by the six EEC countries of the day to head a group to look into the practicalities of economic and monetary union and in particular the issuing of a single currency. Werner's report was submitted in 1971, before the UK joined the EEC, and the UK was informed of the direction in which the EEC was heading; it was free not to join, but it did so anyway, signing the Treaty of Rome in 1972.

The plan wasn't implemented, of course, for various reasons, not the least of which related to the convulsive effects of the Oil Crisis, but it was only ever put on the back burner -- monetary union was always on the agenda.

And then there's Mrs Thatcher...
Thatcher is, of course, the hero of so many British Europhobes, whose apotheosis as an anti-European divinity has only ever possible by the determined refusal of so many to consider her early role in championing the European project, and by their ignoring how it was she who signed 1987's Single European Act with all that entailed...

Thatcher, of course, had been a prominent member of the Heath Government that had brought their country nto the EEC, despite opposition from the Labour party of the day. She was one of those who signed Britain up to a process of ever-closer union with her neighbours, and who knew that that ever-closer union was always intended to involve a currency union and the abolition of the pound. Just a few years later, in early 1975, she vigorously affirmed that this had been the right thing to do, praising Britain's accession to the EEC as Ted Heath's greatest achievement and saying of him:
'This torch must be picked up and carried by whoever is chosen by the party to succeed him. The commitment to European partnership is one which I full share.'
And then, on 8 April 1975 she openly championed Britain's full and determined participation in all aspects of the European project, and did so using arguments that are as valid now as they were 36 years ago.

I know I've talked about much of this before, but I've been meaning to get into that 1975 speech for a long time, and it needs context. I'll look at the speech itself tomorrow, I think.

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