What is it about the EU that makes brilliant people say dim things? Don’t answer that, I already know. And I know that you know.
Yesterday I had lunch in the company of an exceptional man. One of France’s top diplomats, he is long since retired. But, at 89, he still publishes an excellent book every other year (on subjects ranging from religion to diplomacy), never misses a worthwhile production on the Paris stage or a decent concert on its platform, talks not just soundly but profoundly on every subject (and in most languages) under the sun, drives himself all over the country. In short, a remarkable man. And then the subject of the EU came up.
I’ve always noticed that the EU is a deeply emotional issue for its advocates, and one can’t argue against love. We like for something; we love in spite of everything. It would be pointless to tell an intelligent woman that her son is a good-for-nothing layabout who does drugs, drinks to excess and has a criminal record. She knows all that. Yet she loves him anyway.
Now imagine her trying to defend her son by rational arguments. Drugs? Well, what’s a bit of crack among friends? Everybody does it. Drink to excess? Define excess. Johnny is a big lad, he can handle it. GBH? The other bloke asked for it. The loving mother won’t make her wayward son look better. She’ll just make herself look less intelligent.
That’s what happens to EU junkies, and some of them, like my luncheon companion, are good and sage people. Still, instead of admitting to irrational love, they have to put their intelligence on hold and try to defend that abomination with ratiocination. And, clever people that they are, some of their arguments are quite creative.
Since I can’t help getting drawn into debates on this issue, I come out of each one feeling that now I’ve heard everything. It’s thanks to the EU that we haven’t had a major war since 1945, that we’ve freed Eastern Europe, reached an unprecedented level of prosperity and cultural harmonisation – you name it. But I’m always surprised next time – these chaps invariably think of something I haven’t heard yet.
Defence, as an extension of foreign policy, was my interlocutor’s professional interest, and it’s this area that he chose as the battlefield for his attack on Britain’s most lamentable shilly-shallying.
First came a warning shot: ‘Why is it that Britain is always in and out, as far as the EU is concerned? Never in all the way.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘we’re still a democracy, technically speaking. And our leaders, regardless of their own feelings, fear the political consequences of doing something 75 percent of the people hate.’
That argument waved aside as an irrelevance, the first specific thrust was launched. ‘But we need a European army to defend ourselves. Without pooling our defence, each of us will be helpless on our own.’ ‘But we’ve already done so, Monsieur,’ I suggested. ‘That’s what NATO is for.’
It would take Stendhal’s pen at its most poignant to describe the look of contempt on the old diplomat’s face. ‘NATO? But it’s run by Americans! We don’t want to serve under American command!’ For him, enough said. For me, not quite. ‘Would you rather serve under German command?’ ‘Yes I would.’
‘But in your lifetime, Monsieur, Germany occupied France and America liberated it. With our help. And without America’s nuclear umbrella, France would have become a Soviet colony, like Rumania.’
‘That doesn’t mean we should rely on America for our defence.’ For once we agreed on something. ‘I absolutely agree with you. We should rely on our own resources. But perhaps we should expand such resources first,’ I suggested, to which he replied, ‘What do you mean?’
Now I’m one of those dysfunctional people who can’t remember their own phone number but manage to keep all sorts of statistics in their heads. ‘Let’s see. America spends 4.8 percent of her GDP on defence. We spend 2.7 percent, you 2.3 percent, and Germany 1.3 percent. In absolute numbers, the US spends $1,630 billion a year and Germany 42.2 billion. And that’s in 2011. This year the defence spending will be further slashed everywhere, and if socialist parties take over in France and Germany, you chaps will be relying on social workers to defend you. Or, more probably, the USA. As ever.’
‘We still must have a European army.’ The argument was becoming circular, and I meekly tried to make it linear again. ‘So you’re in favour of a single European state then? ‘Absolutely not!’ Few eurocrats will own up to harbouring such desires, though they all have them.
‘Right,’ I said. ‘You’re in favour of a single army. Are you also in favour of a joint economic policy? Unified taxation? Single currency? Unified legal system and law enforcement? Single foreign policy? Single parliament? Single executive branch?’ Having received an enthusiastic nod to each of those questions, I asked, ‘So which part of a single state have I left out?’ After that, expertly prodded by our hostess, we switched the conversation to matters cultural and religious, and there we had no disagreements.
That exchange in no way diminished my respect for my luncheon companion. I only wish I have the same lucidity of speech and clarity of thought when I reach his age, which I probably won’t. He does have an irrational blank spot in his thinking, but hey – we’re all allowed one.