IN EUROPEAN cinemas a short video called Hidden Treasures of Europe was broadcast last year. Produced by the European Commission, it starts with synthesizer chords reminiscent of Bach. We see a mountain lake and hear church bells. The question “Sweden?” appears, followed by the answer “Montenegro”. Two girls watch their mobile phones. The question “France?” appears. And then the answer: “Serbia”. The game goes on for a while, until the sequence finishes with an Hellenic temple. “Greece?” “Albania”. A cute little girl frisks happily over the sunny grass. The screen turns blue, and the text “So similar, so different, so European” appears. A map of Europe including Turkey looms up, and underneath it: “Growing together”.
The European Commission spent about €500,000 (£401,000) on this film. It was an initiative of the European commissioner for enlargement, the Czech Stefan Füle. The clip is meant to show “just how gorgeous and surprising southeast Europe can be. Yes, the region is different and this is what makes it so vibrant, exciting and fascinating. But is it that different?”
Like the five-star hotels and business lounges that make up the living environment of a European commissioner, parks and office buildings are indeed similar in different countries. But that is not the case with the people populating them.
Deep political, moral, cultural, linguistic, religious, historical and economic differences divide Europe, as the euro crisis has shown. That the EU’s officials are unable to distinguish Germany from Turkey, France from Serbia, and Sweden from Montenegro, is as hilarious as it is tragic.
The EU’s total budget for “communication” is around €140m a year. A second film, produced last year, features Kung-Fu fighters who eventually drop their arms and are peacefully surrounded by the twelve yellow stars of the EU flag. The clip was withdrawn because it was allegedly racist. A third project was a European diary – distributed to schools in over 3m copies. The aim was to make children comfortable with European unification from an early age, and to make clear that the EU is a multicultural undertaking. The diary mentioned the festive days of all religions – Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on. Except for one. Christianity. Forgotten.
My work brings me to Brussels every now and then. The old city centre feels like it’s under siege, infested by several kilometres of EU offices. Huge banners are draped along the facades of the massive bureaucrats’ offices, proclaiming the official political agenda. For instance: “Improving animal welfare – Jose Manuel Barroso”. Or: “Creating strong economic governance”. These are slogans no one can really object to, but which are then used to regulate our lives in every detail.
Take European commissioner Viviane Reding’s plan to submit enterprises to a binding minimum quota of women. In the name of human rights and non-discrimination, this quota will surely mean a lot of extra work for Brussels – extra rules, extra employees, extra importance, extra everything. And, in time, it will surely require additional regulations and interventions. For once it is established that a certain percentage of women should be employed, a quota for female students at European universities must surely come within reach, inevitably followed by uniform child care provision across the continent.
It is the combination of boundless ambition and complete lack of interest in reality that makes the European class so dangerous. Regardless of the costs, the cultural and political differences, the economic stagnation, the resistance of the people; this elite just goes on chasing its goal of European unification. The most intrusive rules are devised to make the project legitimate. The most ridiculous clips are shown in cinemas to persuade the public.
But it just doesn’t work. Our national differences are the strength of this continent. And the more they are upset by Brussels’s bureaucratic bullies, the likelier a violent response becomes. The reasonable solution to the EU’s current crisis is orderly dismantlement, like the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in the 1990s. The longer political leaders deny this reality, the likelier a Yugoslavia will be instead.
Dr Thierry Baudet is a teacher at Leiden Law School and author of The Significance of Borders. He is speaking at the Battle of Ideas festival at the Barbican on 20-21 October, partnered by City A.M.