Sunday, 30 October 2011

What's so great about an ever closer union anyway?

Hoping to find some historical references, I recently googled for "ever closer union" [1]. What turned up was an article in Time Magazine from Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2007.

I've reproduced their 20 points in full below, for the sake of posterity, and for your amusement.

The author's name isn't given, so we must assume this is the official voice of Time.

Can you imagine this being written today?

1 | No Kidding, Peace
It was the Americans — with the Marshall Plan, and then nato — who laid the groundwork, but the E.U. has helped to give Western Europe its most peaceful 60 years since records were first kept. Here's the big picture: France and Germany had fought a war in each of the three generations before the Treaty of Rome. Twice Europe's wars had sucked in the rest of the world. By locking together economies, societies and political structures, the E.U. has made such horrors unimaginable. For that alone, give thanks.

2 | The French Countryside
There has to be something to be said for the Common Agricultural Policy, and indeed there is. The timeless contours of la France profonde — at least south of the wheat and beet belt — are a testimony to the long subsidy of French farming. The cap may offend free-trade purists, but on a summer morning somewhere in the Dordogne there's something to be said for impurity.

3 | Easier Travel
The Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö; the Channel Tunnel; high-speed rail links snaking out from France — all have done their bit to knit the Continent closer together than ever before. But perhaps above all it is the growth of budget airlines — stimulated by regulations that came into force in 1997, allowing an airline from one member state to operate a route in another — that has made easy travel around Europe available to all.

4 | Ireland's Revival
E.U. structural funds aren't the only reason that the Emerald Tiger roars, and Ireland isn't the only place where money from Brussels has helped build a modern infrastructure. But there's something about the scale of the transformation of Ireland's economy since membership in 1973 that boggles the mind.

5 | That Burgundy Passport
Remember the days when your passport got scrutinized by some suspicious official on even the most straightforward trip from Innsbruck to Bolzano? Some of us do. But since the signing of the Schengen Agreement in Luxembourg in 1985, the free movement of people has become more than an aspiration — and an attribute of modern Europe, remarkably, that has survived the struggle against terrorism of the last decade.

6 | GSM
You may not know that it stands for Global System for Mobile communications, but the E.U.'s decision in 1987 to adopt a common standard for digital mobile telephony gave both the telecoms and handset manufacturers like Ericsson and Nokia the security of knowing that there was a huge single market for their products. The consequence: a whole new appreciation for the virtues of the opposable thumb.

7 | Work Where You Want
It took years for the Treaty of Rome's dream of a single labor market to come to fruition, but now — cue joke about Polish plumbers — the right to live, work, and indeed retire, in another Union country is established, and such freedoms will gradually be extended to citizens from the 12 countries that joined since 2004. This means working to the same rules, too; though national legislatures had taken the lead, the Treaty itself enshrined the principle of equal pay for equal work for men and women, while the 2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights proclaims workers' entitlements on issues from labor mobility and collective bargaining to equal opportunities.

8 | Good News for Galicia
And Wales, Sardinia and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. For regions on the periphery of their nations, with proud cultures and traditions of their own, the E.U. has been a godsend. The Committee of the Regions provides a political voice while the E.U.'s regional policy has channeled funds for projects aimed to tackle economic and social disparities within member countries. The consequence? Not a Europe homogeneously harmonized, but one that is more diverse than ever before.

9 | Cern
Since 1954 the European Organization for Nuclear Research on the outskirts of Geneva has been in the forefront of advanced particle physics, figuring out what stuff we're made of. Bonus: Tim Berners-Lee was on the staff there when he developed a new way for scientists to share information over the Internet — the World Wide Web.

10 | The Euro
The single currency — introduced on Jan. 1, 2002, and now used by 315 million people in 13 countries — did more than eliminate those tiresome collections of small coins that we used to bring back from vacation. By making prices transparent, the euro made the single European market a reality.

11 | Airbus
Sure, we know, the jewel of European industrial collaboration looks pretty scratched these days as the aerospace company's management weaknesses are exposed. And yes, "launch aid" for new planes is a taxpayer subsidy by any other name. But the weirdly cobbled together planes — wings made in Britain, tail fins in Germany — have at least ensured that there's some competition in the global commercial aviation market, and forced Boeing of the U.S. to raise its own game.

12 | Better Football
Started as the European Cup in 1955, dominated by Real Madrid in the early years, the Champions League now gets audiences from Minsk to Munster watching the same images, and the final each year has become Europe's Super Bowl. Plus: the Bosman case in 1995 — where the European Court ruled that players at the end of their contracts could move freely between clubs — enabled top teams to become the collection of international talents they are now.

13 | Erasmus
Since 1987, over 1.5 million university students have benefited from the Erasmus European exchange program and taken comparative knowledge of local beers to unimagined heights. The E.U.'s Lifelong Learning Programme has a $9 billion budget for the next seven years to develop areas such as cooperation in education policy, student exchanges and adult learning.

14 | Tabloid Heaven
British Euro-skepticism may irritate others, but let's be fair — it has much contributed to the gaiety of nations. What would the London red tops do without the constant supply of stories — most of them urban myths — about European standardization of everything from cucumbers to condoms? Our favorite: the widely reported claim that E.U. safety rules required circus tightrope walkers and jugglers to wear hard hats.

15 | The Fourth Movement of Beethoven's Ninth
To tell the truth, we find the "Choral" a bit crass, as symphonies go. But at least since Beethoven's tune was adopted as the E.U.'s anthem in 1985, kids learn at least one bit of classical music. It would be even nicer if they knew the words of Friedrich von Schiller's Ode to Joy. Plus: as flags go, those gold stars on a blue field make a pretty decent one.

16 | Clean Beaches
In 2005, 96% of Europe's coastal beaches were deemed clean enough for swimming, thanks to the 1976 Bathing Water Directive — toughened up last year — which set binding minimum water-quality standards. More than 200 pieces of E.U. environmental law, aimed at staunching toxic fumes, eliminating dangerous pesticides, phasing out cfcs, protecting birds and creating the European Environment Agency have generally made the place more pleasant.

17 | Safer Food
In 2005 French President Jacques Chirac was recorded unawares by a French journalist joking with the then German Chancellor and Russian President, "the only thing [Britain has] ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease." His point, surely, was that food scares such as bse had the salutary effect of speeding moves to set basic health and labeling standards. The European Food Safety Authority was established in 2002, and in 2006, food-labeling regulations were tightened to substantiate nutritional claims like "low-fat" and "lowers cholesterol."

18 | Taking Climate Change Seriously
Al Gore has been the Cassandra of global warming, but the E.U. was the driving force behind the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. As part of the Kyoto process, the E.U. set up its Emissions Trading Scheme, a market to trade pollution permits for carbon dioxide emissions. In recent months, Europe has aimed for even lower emissions standards through initiatives on cars and aircraft exhaust, and has already set minimum biofuel targets.

19 | A Reason to Go to Brussels
We would not go so far as to say that we love the place, but the Belgian capital deserves more respect than it gets. The food and beer are great, it's developed a nicely cosmopolitan flavor and it's more green than almost any other European capital. It is also the home of Magritte, Bruegel and Tintin, is a center of Art Nouveau and has enough Gothic architecture to do you for a lifetime.

20 | Eastward Look, the Land is Bright
There were times when it seemed bogged down in bureaucratic technicalities, but the decision after the fall of the Berlin Wall to offer membership to the former communist nations of Eastern Europe was a courageous and generous act of leadership. There are now 11 former Soviet republics and East bloc states in the E.U., and the boundaries of democracy and free markets have been decisively moved East.

[1] My recollection was correct. The phrase appears at the very beginning of the Treaty of Rome: "DETERMINED to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe".

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