Europe's Would-Be Masters

The EU prophets aren't giving up.

euIt's getting pathetic. Or is farcical the proper word? What to call it when European Union politicians, functionaries, and assorted publicists, promoters, and hangers-on throw themselves into a full-scale campaign to transform the continent's peasants into enthusiastic boosters of the whole elite EU project – only to fail ignominiously? And then, not having learned their lesson at all, make another attempt to seduce the rabble? And, when that fails, another? And another?

For years, the European ruling class has been struggling to get the hoi polloi worked up about the EU superstate, which the overwhelming majority of Europeans never voted for and which has steadily been draining away legislative, executive, and judicial authority from the various local and national officials that they did vote for. The apparent determination of EU technocrats to enact – with no mandate whatsoever – strict, nannyish laws governing absolutely every imaginable kind of activity within the superstate's borders has increasingly irked ordinary citizens. And the disastrous effects of the euro have led more and more people to decide that their own countries would be better off going it alone. Yet the efforts to win over ordinary citizens continue unabated. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran an inane op-ed, inanely entitled “The Fix for Europe: People Power,” written by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Felix Marquardt.

Who are these two? Well, Marquardt, according to his Times contributor's note, “runs a public relations company.” A recent profile of him fills in some details: he's a rich brat who got kicked out of a series of prep schools but, thanks to his parents' cash and his smooth metrosexual charm, ended up a glittering success in the high-level PR game – a fixture at Davos and the toast of Paree. “All of Paris,” we're told, “wants to dine at his home.” (One of those who have dined there – in October 2010 – is the brutal dictator of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.) As for Cohn-Bendit, he's something of a European celebrity, having made his name as an anarchist leader in the May 1968 student riots. The Times chastely describes him as “a German Green Party member of the European Parliament.” But a recent Guardian article provides more colorful information: in the 1970s he worked at an “anti-authoritarian kindergarten,” and later recounted his “constant flirtations with the children,” which in some cases led to sexual activity. Where to go from there but politics? (To be sure, Cohn-Bendit now maintains that he never actually had sex with toddlers, but only said he did in order to épater la bourgeoisie.)

Christopher Booker, in his foreword to Czech president Václav Klaus's 2011 book Europe: The Shattering of Illusions, sheds further light on Cohn-Bendit. In 2008, when the Czech Republic was about to take over the rotating presidency of the EU's Council of Ministers, Cohn-Bendit and other EU bigwigs flew to Prague to meet with Klaus, who is no fan of the EU. Upon being greeted amiably by the president, Cohn-Bendit “brusquely plonked down in front of Klaus an EU flag” and subjected Klaus to a bullying lecture on various issues, to which Klaus replied: “I must say that no one has talked to me in such a style and tone in the past six years. You are not on the barricades in Paris here. I thought that such manners ended for us 19 years ago.” When the conversation was over, Klaus concluded that “post-democracy...rules the EU.”

This, then, is the public-spirited pair who argue in the Times that what “national politicians...see as the be-all and end-all of modern governance, the nation-state, is fast becoming an obsolete political structure.” They wish. On the contrary, recent developments are proving the nation-state's remarkable tenacity – and it's precisely this that has Cohn-Bendit and Marquardt so exercised. Quite simply, they can't stand the fact that the proles still identify strongly with their own countries rather than the EU. Cohn-Bendit and his comrades-in-arms have been itching for decades to march Europe into a brave new post-national world – but the overwhelming majority of Europeans, damn them, refuse to put on their marching boots. They've got this frustrating quirk: they cling stubbornly to the idea that their countries actually belong to them, and that they should have a say in how they're governed.

But Cohn-Bendit and Marquardt won't give up. Young Europeans today, they warn, face having lower standards of living than their parents. And there's only one remedy. Longer working hours? Shorter vacations? Less lavish welfare benefits? No: “accelerated integration” into the EU. Why? Because as European populations shrivel, the only way to keep Europe in the game is to complete the job of merging its nation-states into a single sovereign entity. That EU integration has been an unmitigated economic disaster is an inconvenient truth Cohn-Bendit and Marquardt prefer to ignore in their zeal to bring the EU project into full flower. “The time is ripe,” they proclaim ringingly, “for a transnational, transgenerational, transpartisan, grass-roots and crowd-funded movement to take European integration to the next level.” A grass-roots movement! That's rich: two top-seeded members of the European elite, unable to make their EU dream a reality, take to the New York Times to beg the riffraff to do it for them. Desperate times, I suppose, call for desperate measures.

To be sure, while Cohn-Bendit and Marquardt ache for a slave army to lead their cause to victory, they're not asking their inferiors for any input into their big EU plans. They've already worked them out, it appears, to the last jot and tittle; the rabble need only listen and obey. Here's their program, in part: “Let the Finns teach us about education; the French about health care; the Germans about flexible employment; the Swedes about gender equality.” And obviously Cohn-Bendit & co. will decide who'll “teach” whom about what. Never mind if the people of country X don't want to copy country Y's solution to problem Z; no, these gentlemen have a vision – a vision which involves giving the boot to “traditional politicians elected for four- or five-year terms by citizens from within a sovereign territory” and giving free rein to the EU's virtuosos of statecraft, who alone, one gathers, are capable of “adequately address[ing] issues like resource scarcity, deforestation, chronic unemployment, global warming and fishery depletion.”

The solutions to Europe's problems, in short, “need to be transnational, or they won’t be real solutions at all.” Why? Cohn-Bendit and Marquardt don't say. They don't even try to make their case. Their op-ed is a tissue of unsupported assertions, written in the language not of realistic social and economic calculation but of utopianism. Europeans, they write, must stop being “fooled by our leaders’ self-aggrandizing delusion that in terms of policy making, the nation-state is still the appropriate vehicle for our times.” “Self-aggrandizing”! “Delusion”! That's rich. It's these two who are self-aggrandizing and deluded – unwilling to accept that the people of Europe don't want to be pawns on their chessboard. There's an urgent need, they write, for a “framework” that will “enable every European to truly embrace the European Union project.” Meaning what? Europeans have been given every opportunity to embrace it – to no avail. What kind of “framework” would change this? Should the already heavy-duty pro-EU propaganda in the schools and media be further intensified? Do they want re-education camps? The phrasing, when you look at it, is downright sinister: when they say “enable,” they aren't really talking about enabling; they're talking about something more like cajoling or pressuring. (You can't make an omelet, after all, without breaking eggs.)

As the op-ed moves toward its close, it sounds more and more like something a twentieth-century European tyrant might have penned. Europe will change for the better, the authors write, “only when European-minded politicians who are elected to national offices agree to transfer power to truly European institutions.” Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin also had grand visions of what they'd be able to accomplish if only they had could get the whole continent under their thumbs. The European Commission and Parliament, Cohn-Bendit and Marquardt insist, must be given “the authority they deserve.” The authority they deserve! Am I alone in finding this chilling? The authors' contempt for democracy – for the right of European peoples to forge their own future – is palpable; manifestly, when they use the word “post-national,” they do indeed, as Klaus discerned, mean “post-democratic.” Their message to the European masses is clear as day: shut up, sit down, and be grateful that your lives are in the hands of such magnificent masters.

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Tags: politicians, eu