Welfare State of Insanity

Welcome to a world where vacations are a human right and prisoners check in at the Hague Hotel.

European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht recently made news for all the wrong reasons, declaring in a radio interview that “It is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East.” According to De Gucht, “religious Jews” and “lay Jews” alike “share the same belief that they are right.”

This is just the latest example of what a dysfunctional mess the EU—and to a large extent, the whole of Europe—is.

While some European officials attack Jews for daring to come to Israel’s defense, others defend—and pamper—the indefensible. The International Criminal Court and a sister court focused on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia houses 36 defendants in what critics rightly deride as “The Hague Hotel.”

The New York Times notes that the goal of the courts’ European planners was “to provide a model of humane, civilized detention.” In reality, the courts and their holding facilities are a model of moral relativism.

For their crimes, the likes of Charles Taylor and Radovan Karadzic can play games and sports. They receive free legal aid, along with travel subsidies for their families. They can read from a library of books, build models, dabble in ceramics, learn about computers and see their spouses and family. But they cannot be put to death, no matter how heinous their crimes or how obvious their guilt.

Even the guilty should be treated humanely, of course, but The Hague Hotel provides something well beyond humane treatment—and thus something far less than justice.

The description of The Hague’s detention center by Slate’s Julian Davis Mortenson is eye-opening and dispiriting: “The accommodations looked like nothing so much as a string of dorm rooms in a college residence hall,” according to Mortenson. “With radios, coffee machines, and full private bathrooms, the cells looked at least as comfortable as your average Super 8.” Mortenson calls it “startlingly cheery—even homey.”

Marc Dubuisson, the director of court services, offered a defense of the accommodations that reveals much about the European understanding of justice. “I’m not here to judge whether a person is worse than another,” he told the Times.

Not surprisingly, European officialdom’s grasp of what defines a right is just as tenuous as its understanding of criminal justice. It sounds made-up, but the EU has declared vacationing a human right. And as such, the EU is planning to subsidize vacations for its subjects/citizens/wards.

“Traveling for tourism today is a right…a formidable indicator of our quality of life,” according to Antonio Tajani, EU commissioner for enterprise and industry. Tajani and other EU officials are exploring what sort of vacations EU taxpayers will be subsidizing—and who will get the vacation subsidy. The EU appears willing to pay up to 30 percent of the cost of vacations for senior citizens, teenagers, twenty-somethings, the disabled and families in “difficult” financial circumstances.

So, if the EU had a Declaration of Independence, I suppose it would declare that all men are endowed with a right to “life, liberty and a vacation in Monaco.”

While on the subject of founding documents, the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon was adopted last year. Taking the place of the failed European Constitution—a 263-page behemoth that was rejected in 2005 by two of the main engines of European integration, the French and the Dutch—the treaty, among many other things, created an EU foreign minister’s post known as the “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.”

The problem is, despite the impressive title, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is a foreign minister in name only. Sure, the office of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will soon have its very own diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service. But this army of EU diplomats will not have much of importance to say since there is no EU foreign policy, but rather 27 foreign policies that sometimes coalesce on ends, sometimes on means, but seldom on both. As Radio Free Europe reports, a popular joke circulating around European capitals nowadays describes EU foreign policy this way: “Those who call the EU telephone number reach an answering machine that instructs the caller to ‘press 1 for the French position, 2 for the German position, 3 for the British position…’”

The EU’s layers of bureaucracy—from the vacations-are-a-right caucus to the faux foreign minister—come with a price. The London Telegraph recently reported that there are 1,023 unelected EU bureaucrats (known as “Eurocrats” on the other side of the Atlantic) who pocket bigger salaries than the British prime minister’s annual income of about $220,385. The EU’s budget plans for 2011 call for a 6-percent budget increase, including a 4.5-percent increase in the EU’s administration budget. And while Europeans tighten their belts amid the worst economy in 30 years, the cost of EU civil service pensions is mushrooming by 16 percent, according to the Telegraph. The average annual pension pocketed by the EU’s 17,471 retired bureaucrats is the equivalent of $88,466. Some retired Eurocrats collect pensions of up to $157,772.

How Europeans choose to govern themselves is not exactly America’s problem—that is, until U.S. policymakers start to veer toward the European model of bulging entitlements and a world-is-gray foreign policy.

Alan W. Dowd writes on foreign and defense policy.

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