The EU dream has turned into a nightmare
The euro project was always based on a colossal act of make-believe - and now it is unravelling.
It was hard to know – as the danse macabre of the euro spirals towards its devastating denouement – which of last week’s utterances and events was the maddest. First, there was the speech by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, in which, after admitting that this was the worst crisis the EU had ever faced, he renewed his wish for it to impose a tax on “financial transactions”, to provide Brussels with what has been estimated by Open Europe, the independent think tank, at up to £70 billion a year.
Since Britain’s share of the EU’s financial markets is 72 per cent, the cost to the UK would thus be up to £50 billion. But that wouldn’t last long because, as the Commission itself admits, such a tax would soon send the financial industry fleeing out of the EU, destroying the biggest single earner in the UK economy.
George Osborne may be right in saying that Britain would veto Mr Barroso’s proposal. But the very fact that the ex-Maoist in charge of the Commission should suggest anything so suicidal is a measure of just how surreal this crisis is becoming.
Equally bizarre was the spectacle of Germany’s MPs defying the wishes of most of the German people by supporting the EU’s £380 billion bail-out fund, to pour much of it into the bottomless pit of Greek debt, which has reduced the Greek people to a state of catatonic trauma. The peoples of the EU’s richest and poorest countries are thus equally powerless in the face of what amounts to a bureaucratic dictatorship of unelected apparatchiks – who, in a vain bid to save their pet project, are now talking about the need for a further bail-out fund of £1.7 trillion.
The truth about the euro project is that it was always based on a colossal act of make-believe, launched in defiance of all economic and political reality. And as history and storytelling have shown us again and again, when human beings, individually or collectively, attempt to act out a fantasy, there is a very clear and identifiable pattern to what follows.
The “fantasy cycle”, as I have called it elsewhere, unfolds through five stages. The tragedy begins with the Anticipation Stage, when nervous energy tempts the protagonist into some enticingly hubristic course of action. Now we enter a Dream Stage, when for a while, all seems to go well. But because the fantasy defies the reality of the world around it, things move into a Frustration Stage, where it all starts to go wrong. This prompts those in the obsessive grip of the make-believe to push their fantasy even further out of touch with reality, leading them to the Nightmare Stage, where, as reality crowds in on them, everything goes wrong. This leads to the fifth and final stage: Nemesis, or an “explosion into reality”, where the fantasy destroys itself.
The story of the euro, as the supreme symbol of the lunatic drive to weld Europe together into a wholly undemocratic political union, is now entering its Nightmare Stage. People like Barroso predictably claim that the only way forward is more of the same: “more Europe”. We are witnessing the unfolding of one of the great archetypal patterns that shape human affairs, one we can compare to the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The EU’s leaders frenziedly rush about trying to stop their magic broomstick running amok, as it fills their house with ever more buckets full of debt. The hapless victim of the old fable was eventually saved by the return of the sorcerer, who knew the magic spell that could avert final disaster. In the case of the EU, there is no sorcerer. There seems to be no means by which Europe’s leaders can halt the chaos that now threatens to bring down the euro, much of the world’s financial system – and, ultimately, even the EU itself.
Clueless Huhne turns his back on the only way we’ll keep our lights on
With immaculate timing, our Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, has again demonstrated why it is hard to think of any minister in history less fitted for his job. Last month, it was announced that 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas had been discovered, embedded in the shales under Lancashire, which could herald an energy resource even larger than North Sea oil and gas. Thanks to technical advances pioneered in the US, which already draws 20 per cent of its gas from shale, we might be looking at reserves big enough to power Britain’s economy for centuries to come.
Yet that same day, it was reported that Huhne had been telling an audience of Lib Dems that we must halt the “dash for gas”, because this would prevent us from meeting our commitment under the Climate Change Act to cut our CO2 emissions by 80 per cent within 40 years. He even cited approvingly an absurdly mendacious propaganda film produced by US global warming zealots vilifying shale gas.
So lost is Huhne in his green dreamworld that he somehow imagines that we can centre our future energy policy on building thousands of wind turbines. Faced with the discovery of vast reserves of cheap gas, any minister who knew his job would say: “Forget about those ludicrously expensive, inefficient and unreliable windmills, and go flat out for building enough gas-fired power stations to keep Britain’s lights on in the years ahead, when we will lose 14 coal-fired and nuclear power stations that currently supply 40 per cent of our average electricity needs.”
Of course, we are compelled to waste £140 billion on those wind turbines due to our commitment to the EU that by 2020 we will generate nearly a third of our electricity from “renewables”. But among the countless practical aspects of his job that Huhne clearly doesn’t begin to understand is that the more turbines we build, the more we will need new gas-fired power stations of the same capacity, just to provide instant back-up for all those times when there is insufficient wind to feed more than a derisory amount of power into the grid.
So we will have to build those gas-fired stations anyway – at vast expense, to be kept wastefully running all the time, emitting more CO2 than anything notionally saved by the wind farms – just to indulge the babyish dreams of Huhne and the EU. Crazier still, if Huhne manages to stop the exploitation of our new shale gas resources, he will be condemning us, as North Sea supplies run out, to importing ever more gas and oil from abroad, at a cost that a government report predicted in 2008 could soon be £40 billion a year.
So obsessed is Mr Huhne with all the fluffy rubbish associated with the “climate change” part of his job description that he has never shown the faintest sign of grasping the practicalities of the “energy” bit. He has become very much a luxury we cannot afford. But so too, it must be said, is our commitment to the EU to build those useless windmills.
Shouldn’t we now call it the BBCE?
IT IS SIX years since I noted here that Jeremy Paxman, on University Challenge, had joined the ranks of those seeking to avoid using the term “BC” by talking about “Before Common Era”. As everyone knows, except those working for what should now be called the “BBCE”, the trouble with this sad effort to avoid offending atheists such as Paxman by forcing them to use a dating system related to Jesus is that it immediately prompts the question: “So what is this ‘Common Era’ based on?”, which brings these poor sensitive souls right back to the point they wish to avoid. It reminds me of when my late colleague Paul Foot, a keen fan of the Bolshevik revolution, once claimed in print that 1917 was “the most important date in history”. I asked him: “1917 years after what?”