Letter to the Guardian editor about the MCB and the declaration signed in Istanbul

28 March 2009

A row has broken out over the participation of the assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain at an event in Istanbul organised to support Hamas. A declaration was drafted which contained the usual ugly Islamist language against Israel and Jews. It also had an appeal for attacks on naval patrol vessels from the democratic world sent by the UN or EU at Egypt’s behest to try and stop the flow of terrorist equipment into Gaza. Government Minister Hazel Blears announced that if the MCB was supporting an appeal to kill Royal Navy personnel, it would not be possible to have normal relations with the MCB. The MCB reacted crossly and its supporters sent in a letter of protest to the Guardian. I was not aware of the details of the row as I had been in the United States. But a quick reading of the Istanbul declaration made clear that there was indeed an appeal to attack Royal Navy and other ships and usually when ships are attacked sailors are killed. I sent the letter below to the Guardian, which printed a shorter version of it today.

Editor, The Guardian, 27 March 2009
Dear Sir,
Surely Mr Abdullah of the Muslim Council of Britain and his supporters protest too much. (Letters 27 March) The declaration he signed says the signatories consider “the sending of foreign warships into Muslim waters, claiming to control the borders and prevent the smuggling of arms to Gaza, as a declaration of war, a new occupation, sinful aggression, and a clear violation of the sovereignty of the Nation. This must be rejected and fought by all means and ways.” Leaving to one side the concept of “Muslim waters” and which “Nation” is having its sovereignty violated, the declaration Mr Abdullah signed says the naval forces mandated by the UN and EU, including the Royal Navy, must be “fought by all means and ways”. We have seen Islamist Jihadi attacks on naval vessels and sailors killed. My constituents who serve in the Royal Navy should not have to face calls for attacks on their ships by British citizens.
Mr Abdullah can clear up the matter by withdrawing his signature from the Istanbul Declaration.
Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane MP

Radio interview on foreign and home policy issues

Interview with Russian Radio Russia Today: British Muslims are fully integrated
24 March, 2009
British politician Denis MacShane gives his view on what should be done to tackle the current global economic crisis and how to fight xenophobia and many other issues prior to April’s G-20 summit that Britain will host.

RT: Given your former position with the Foreign Office, let's start with foreign affairs. How do you assess British Foreign policy at the moment and do you believe that the change of the leadership has had an impact on the UK's standing in the world?
Denis MacShane: I think the most important Foreign Policy development in terms of personality overseas is Barak Obama – “Waiting for Barack” could be the title of the new play if someone is around to write it to see where we are going to go. We've obviously got huge geopolitical, economic problems which impact on foreign policy.
We’ll have to come out of this together. There are Middle East difficulties, Hamas’s wanting to kill as many Jews as possible and Israel not being prepared to negotiate. We’ve got Afghanistan and Iraq. I think though the broad outlines of British Foreign Policy remain the same – open trade, economics, friendship with everybody but stand up also for what we believe in this place: Parliament – democracy, human rights, free journalism. And that’s something that’s been important for Britain well before Gordon Brown or Tony Blair, and will be important in 15 or a 100 years I hope.
RT: What are your expectations of the G20 that Britain is going to host in April? Do you think that the summit is going to come up with some realistic solutions to the current global economic crisis?
D.M.: What an absolute central question that is – we’ve got a lot of international institutions, a lot of international meetings taking place all the time. But what do they actually deliver? The United Nations, for example, that many of us would like to see as an operational arm of making the world a better, more secure place, cannot deliver. So the G20, the Global Summit under Gordon Brown’s chairmanship at the beginning of April. The first time Barack Obama comes to Europe to meet his Chinese opposite, the European and other leaders.
Can it deliver? We all know what we need to do, but all the time between knowing what we should be doing, there is national interest, there’s domestic politics that stops it. But if we don’t get a good G20 outcome, if China, Russia, the European Union, America and Brazil and the Indians – if they don’t find a common path out, then we’re all very worried the world will become more protectionist, nastier and we all will be scratching at each other instead of cooperating and getting after the second that we’ve missed.
RT: But do you think that Britain is on the forefront of resolving those issues? Let’s take Britain’s role in Europe – what do you think of that? As a former Minister of State for Europe, what do you see as Britain’s role in Europe’s current affairs and do you think this role is constructive?
D.M.: Britain is a full-hearted member of the European Union. I think Prime-Minister Brown has been working very, very hard since this crisis exploded – what, we can say roughly, about September or October of last year – going constantly backwards and forwards to other European leaders to try and find common policies. It is difficult, because every country’s frightened.
When you are frightened, you become defensive; when you are defensive you draw up barriers or dig deep trenches and go to hide yourself away.
And I think what Britain has to do with other leaders is to say – “No, this is a common struggle and we’ve got to find ways of uniting. But you’ve always got somebody who’s got an election tomorrow, an election in 6-months time, or things he hasn’t been given even enough respect to say ”well, you’ve got to listen to my point of view and only my point of view is an important one.
RT: But wasn’t it Britain who was finding it sort of difficult for itself to integrate to the European Union?
D.M.: Not really. Britain has been in the European Union for 35 years now. You can look at every European Union country. I can give you examples of France’s particular vision of Europe. Or the German idea or Italian idea of what Europe should be like.
We are the most open trade economy in Europe.
We’ve got the most Europeans working in Britain. Sometimes people say – oh, you are not a good European partner. In that case, why are there 400,000 French people working here in London, 150,000 Russians, 200,000 Germans? We’ve got 2 million Brits, British citizens, working in the European Union countries. So, we like the idea of Europe. We’ve got criticism on this bit, on the side of the French or the Germans. I don’t know any European country that doesn’t have its fantasy European Union. What we have to do is live in the real European Union, not in the one of our dreams.
RT: What about the rise of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, the issues that you have touched upon in your recent book and also you’ve been writing about it a lot. Why is it happening? What are the roots of it in Europe and in Britain in particular?
D.M.: Anti-Semitism of course can be called the oldest hatred and it is, I mean hatred of the Jews, I am afraid, goes back for more than 2000 years, and it was in horrible forms. What we’re seeing though – it’s coming back to life.
I think for three reasons. Firstly, there’s a growth of an extreme nationalistic right wing across Europe. An intolerant nationalism that says: the outsider is wrong, we dislike what is not like us, and the Jews are always easy to point the finger at. Secondly, of course, you have the rise of ideological Islamism. I am not talking about Islam – the religion, or Muslims – the followers of Islam any more than I talk about Catholics or Orthodox Christians. But there are extreme ideologies now in the Islamist, in the Muslim world – Islamist ideology.
RT: You criticized yourself the British Muslim community in 2004 saying they did not do enough to condemn the acts of Islamic terrorism. Do you still stand by that?
D.M.: Some of them – yes. I think after the terrible bombing in London, what’s called 7/7, with chute bombs in the underground, London, where 54 people were killed, there has been a seachange, but my view is you have to condemn all terrorism, you can’t pick a Jew and say: I condemn terrorism in London, but I think it’s all right to put a bomb round your waist and go kill a Jewish girl or a Jewish granny in Tel-Aviv. So I think you should condemn all terrorism, and still there’s Islamist, I do stress this point, I am talking about ideology of Islamist organizations, not Muslims. I mean I have 10,000 Muslims who vote for me – well, they vote in my constituency, they are good friends, I go to their Mosques. They hate this.
But you’ve got a small group of people around the world who think they can advance the cause of their perverted ideology – Islam is a religion of peace, as is Judaism, as are all the Christian religions, as is Buddhism and Hinduism – they think they can advance their perverted idea of their faith into the ideology of Islamism by killing people. And I think we need a worldwide campaign against anti-Semitism. But we begin in my country by insisting: yep, you have to denounce all forms of terrorism, if you are not doing that – I’m not sure I really want to talk to you.
RT: But then there’s a widespread feeling that the British Muslim community is being alienated in this country.
D.M.: No, on the contrary. I mean there isn’t a single Muslim community, there are poor Muslims, and then there are in some communities. It’s heterogeneous, most British Muslims are born in this country, they grow up loving Manchester United and David Beckham and Facebook, and I think they just want to be normal British citizens. Very often they come from the poor parts of society, so they don’t have the same economic opportunity, very often they are attacked – not because they are Muslims, but because they have skin color that’s brown or black, and frankly British white racists, from the extreme right wing, they attack a guy not because he’s Muslim – he might be an Indian, he might be a Hindu, he might be a Buddhist – they simply attack him on a racial basis.
And I don’t think… there’s enormous effort made by all the main political parties, by local government, by schools – you come to any school, the hospital, any public area or company where I’m a member of parliament – and British Muslims are fully integrated and they work hard. A small number though have this passion to promote Islamism. They don’t speak for the vast majority of British Muslims any more than any extremist in my view speaks for the vast majority of the people he claims to be associated with. Europe now is a continent with 20 million Muslims, and European Islam, European Muslims are going to be part of our future. We have a President – of America – whose middle name is Hussein, I know lots of people called Mr. Hussein in England, and they are just as much British as Barack Obama is American.
RT: And finally – you are quite an articulate supporter of military interventionism. Do you think the example of Iraq is a positive one, and do you think this kind of an approach could bring lasting solutions to the disputes?
D.M.: No, I don’t support military interventionism, I’ve supported upholding rule of law, and Iraq flouted UN rule of law, there were 250,000 soldiers there, and they could not stay there forever to keep the arms inspectors in.
Throughout history I’ve always been happy when a tyrant has been toppled, so I think we shouldn't be frightened of it. Nothing, nothing I would like better to see than every British soldier at home with his family, but if people abroad – in Afghanistan or elsewhere – are planning, spending money, are organizing, hoping to kill me and my children in Britain – then I am afraid our soldiers have to be in action to try and stop that.

Book review: Simone Veil's Memoirs

This book review was published in the Observer
22 March 2009
A Frenchwoman and feminist nonpareil
A Life: The Autobiography of Simone Veil
by Simone Veil, Haus Publishing, £16.99

The life story is a debased genre, but occasionally someone writes one who actually has something to say. Simone Veil is one of those. She survived Auschwitz and later, as minister of health, allowed French women the right to control their bodies by steering abortion law through Catholic France. She lifted European politics to a new level as first president of the European parliament, where her intellect, grace and calm Europeanism turned the Strasbourg assembly into a serious body.
Yet this memoir is more than a straight record of achievement. It is a vade mecum to French life as lived and experienced from the 1930s to the present day and a profound insight into the feminine condition.
At each stage of her life, Simone Veil had to overcome male resistance in one form or another: a loving, intellectual husband who saw the role of a wife and a mother as being at home; a judicial system that could not handle a woman determined to be a judge and expose wrongs in France's ancient regime prison system; and then the male politicians who want women as tokens in ministerial office but still see government as men's business.
Veil was born to an atheist Jewish family in the 1930s. Sent to Auschwitz as a teenager, she lost her parents and other family members in the gas ovens. Veil dismisses Hollywood films like Schindler's List and remains bitter that it took the French state until 1995 to acknowledge that it was the official French government, not some renegade clique of Petainists, that organised the deportation of Jews from France as late as 1944. Yet at the same time, she tells story after story of non-Jewish French citizens helping to hide and protect Jews.
She is critical of General de Gaulle, who covered up French complicity in the Holocaust and openly despised Israel and the Jewish people when he returned to power. By contrast, she has kind words for Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who made her minister of health in 1974 explicitly to make abortion legal and promote women's rights.
Veil is not a campaigner for Jewish causes, but being Jewish is central to her life. She criticises those who apply the term genocide or Holocaust to ugly, brutal violence and killings in the Balkans conflicts or Gaza; she witnessed the Holocaust and knows the difference.
She is a campaigner for Europe, as an ideal and a cause. The British equivalent might be a cross between Shirley Williams and George Weidenfeld. Veil's French is that of the classically trained French intellectual who pares words to fit thoughts as tautly as possible. Something is inevitably lost in translation, but the small publishing firm Haus is to be congratulated on making available in English this account of a great Frenchwoman's life.
If it comes out in paperback, the English for garde des sceaux is not keeper of the seals but minister of justice. But then how does the foreigner translate lord privy seal or chancellor of the exchequer?

Ending discrimination in the laws on succession to the throne

News Release
27 March 2009
MacShane Support Moves to Allow Catholics to Join Royal Family and Princesses to Have Same Rights as Men
Rotherham MP Denis MacShane has welcomed the Parliamentary and Government efforts to change the anachronistic laws which forbid members of the Royal family being Catholics and which privilege princes over their sisters when it comes to being the monarch.
Speaking in the Commons, MacShane praised the Lib-Dem MP, Evan Harris, whose private members’ bill proposes changes in the constitutional law on succession which since the 17th century has banned Catholics from marrying heirs to the throne as well as passing over the daughters of monarchs in favour on their sons.
MacShane noted that Gordon Brown had began to take the measure seriously once the bill was in front of Parliament which showed that Parliament, far from being the poodle of many clichés, could force the Government into action.
Ultimately we should aim for a written constitution for the United Kingdom so that we can have a fully constitutional monarchy in line with modern republican monarchies such as we see in the Nordic nations, the Netherlands and Spain.
The anti-women MPs who voted over 300 years ago to privilege princes over princesses now need to be forgotten. The Queens of England and Britain from the first Elizabeth to the present Queen via Queen Victoria have always been splendid monarchs in contrast to many of the very dodgy and dubious men imposed as kings on the nation by these archaic laws. Labour has to keep up the rhythm of reform on all fronts and now is the time to propose a new written constitution for Britain setting out the rights and obligations of everyone. We need to move from being subjects to being citizens with equal constitutional rights for all from the monarch to the most humble citizens in the land,” he said.

Below Exchange in the Commons 27th March.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early. Before he develops his arguments, may I offer him my congratulations? By introducing this Bill, he has moved the Government. It is said that Parliament is a poodle and achieves nothing, but we have one of our most senior and illustrious Secretaries of State, the Secretary of State for Justice, in his place on a Friday morning, and we have also had the Deputy Leader of the House making massive concessions on the “Today” programme this morning. I therefore congratulate the hon. Gentleman on putting this issue before the House and the nation, and I wish him well with his Bill.
Dr. Harris: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support on this and on other important matters, and I recognise his contribution to fundamental issues of human rights and freedoms. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to welcome real progress from the Government on this issue. I look forward to hearing the Government’s view to determine whether real progress has been made, because the measure of that will be whether we see action in this term. Some 12 years ago, the Labour party’s manifesto said that the Labour Government would end unjustified discrimination wherever it existed, and I strongly supported that. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Justice—I am pleased that he is in his place this morning—or the Minister. However, those words and the sincerity behind them are not in the end sufficient when dealing with such discrimination. We need legislation. That is what we are here for, and that is the true power of Parliament.

MacShane in France to discuss European elections

21 March 2009
Vive the Party of European Socialists !
Denis MacShane took part in the giant forum organised by the French paper Libération at Rennes in France. Dozens of French and some European politicians, as well as intellectuals (lots of them in France) and NGO leaders took part in a non-stop weekend of debates and exchanges. Below the introduction by Denis MacShane – as published in Libération, in which he argues that only the ideas and proposals of the Party of European Socialists (which groups Labour with sister centre-left democractic parties in Europe) put forward as its platform for the European Parliament elections on 4 June in the UK (7 June in most EU nations) offer a way out of the present crisis.

«Haro sur la croissance !» est le cri de guerre de ceux qui voudraient transformer la crise économique en une catastrophe politico-économico-sociale encore plus explosive. Il nous faut miser sur le retour de la croissance et nous avons pour cela plus que jamais besoin de l’Europe. Depuis les Trente Glorieuses, l’Europe a été conservatrice dans les politiques économiques menées au niveau national et protectionniste à l’international, à l’inverse du modèle prôné par Keynes. Des puissances économiques nouvelles sont apparues et l’Europe a échoué à inventer un nouveau modèle économique fondé sur la centralité du travail.
Alors que la crise bancaire en était encore à ses balbutiements, le taux de chômage était déjà très élevé en France, en Allemagne et en Italie. Les pays européens ont développé une incapacité chronique à investir dans des secteurs nouveaux et porteurs de croissance, tirés par les universités et la créativité plutôt que plombés par la bureaucratie et les vieilles formes monopolistiques du capitalisme. La crise va s’aggraver, sauf si nous apprenons à coopérer et acceptons de partager le pouvoir et la souveraineté. Seul le programme soumis par le Parti socialiste européen (PSE) contient des propositions cohérentes et solides pour permettre le retour de la croissance, loin du discours vide qu’offre la droite européenne au pouvoir. Les valeurs européennes doivent prévaloir sur le communautarisme des nations. Dans le cas inverse, aucune perspective de croissance n’est permise, seul le retour d’une politique du pire.

Ukraine and the West

How The West Turned From Kiev
The last thing Ukraine needs is for Paris and Berlin and Washington to create a new kind of axis of complacency.

30 March 2009
Just five years ago Ukraine was the toast of pro-democracy politicians the world over. The Orange Revolution seemed to be the next strand of the thread going back to the 1989 Velvet and other peaceful European transitions. Despite the bullying of Moscow, the Ukrainians stood their ground and said they wanted to become another Euro-Atlantic nation.
But now, like parents with a sulky, wayward child who just won't grow up, the world's democracies are turning their back on Ukraine. U.S. President Barack Obama will clink glasses with Russian and European leaders in London, Strasbourg and Prague and drop in to say hello to Turkey. But Ukraine, Turkey's Black Sea neighbor, is off his radar. Silvio Berlusconi openly supports Russia every time there is a dispute over gas. Angela Merkel used to visit Ukraine regularly and hold annual Berlin-Kiev summits, but now she ignores the country. Russia's ambassador to NATO, the ultranationalist Dmitry Rogozin, boasted to France's Nouvel Observateur that French President Nicolas Sarkozy "opposed America's desire to see Ukraine join the Atlantic alliance," adding that the French president was "Moscow's ally in Europe." That may be just Russian bombast, but increasingly Kiev looks west and sees no alternative.
Yes, Ukraine faces many internal domestic problems that the EU and the United States are largely powerless to influence. Its economy is a shambles. With 40 percent of GDP linked to steel and aluminum, it is seeing a nose dive into negative growth as exports slump. Ukraine's politicians squabble openly and try to tear each other down. Yet everyone in Kiev agrees that democracy has sunk deep roots. Ukraine has its oligarchs who wheel and deal and buy influence, but they live in their own country and not (as has happened to some of their Russian counterparts) in exile in London waiting for a dose of plutonium to arrive with the coffee or banged up in a Russian prison. There is no state police, journalists at last are free, and Kiev sparkles and looks more energetic and full of well-dressed people, bustling stores, offices and public spaces and new cars—despite the recession. Unlike neighboring Georgia, which remains a favorite of the West, Kiev avoids provocation. It has abolished nuclear weapons. It has sent troops to all NATO missions. Ukrainians have remained calm about Russia's Black Sea fleet, and they are fed up with being linked to Georgia as if they were a double act, when Ukraine has a stand-alone claim to be taken seriously as a European nation that wants to fit in with the Euro-Atlantic community.
There was once real hope that Europe meant it when a procession of visitors from Brussels and other EU capitals said Ukraine was en route to a European future. But the West got frightened last August, after the Russian invasion of Georgia, and bought into the Russian line that plans to admit Ukraine to NATO meant trouble and strife—though this had also been the Russian line on NATO membership for Poland, the Baltic states and Black Sea nations like Bulgaria and Romania. Now this kind of nyetpolitik is getting the upper hand. Earlier this month U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton staged a photo op with her opposite number from Moscow pressing a "reset" button. But reset for Moscow means a free hand to dictate Ukraine's internal affairs.
Clearly, the Kremlin has never adjusted to the idea that Ukraine is its own nation—"whole and free," to use the first President Bush's phrase about the nations that emerged after the end of Sovietism. Russian leaders still think of Kiev as Russia's "mother," compared to its heart in St. Petersburg and brains in Moscow. And, obviously, Russia matters more than Ukraine to both Obama and Europe. On Iran, on nuclear-weapons treaties, on transit access to Afghanistan, Russian cooperation is the goal of post-Bush foreign policy. But help for Ukraine can come in the form of soft power. EU leaders can visit more and encourage trade and investment. Brussels might end a repressive EU visa regime that means a Ukrainian university professor who used to need only a multiple-entry visa to go repeatedly to universities in Western Europe must now apply for each single trip. The Ukrainian military needs help to modernize, and it should get that help as a thank-you for taking part in NATO missions.
Indeed, with Russia breathing down its neck, the last thing Kiev needs is for Paris and Berlin and Washington to create a new axis of complacency that uses the incoherence of Ukrainian politics to justify accepting the Moscow world view that places Ukraine firmly in Russia's sphere of influence. What's needed now is a new policy that treats Ukraine, warts and all, as a European nation. Instead of listening to the nyet from Moscow, the United States and the EU need to start saying da to Kiev's moderate and modernizing politicians. Certainly this will be hard for Moscow to accept, but bringing Ukraine into Europe—in the full sense of a path toward EU and NATO membership—might even help encourage Russia to see itself as a future partner of the EU and the United States, in place of the scratchy rivalry Moscow now creates in the Euro-Atlantic community.

Topolski Museum in London

MacShane Hails Topolski Museum
18 March 2009

Labour MP Denis MacShane has welcomed the launch of the Museum dedicated to the life and work of Felix Topolski, the Polish born artist, intellectual and sketcher who lived in London from the late 1930s onwards.
Topolski was a witness at many of the most important events of 20th century Europe and after 1945 around the world. His drawings and sketches of the wars, liberations, famines, political upheavals, the world of film, theatre, music and film as well as drawings of the historic people he met have never been matched.
Now his son, Daniel Topolski, legendary coach to the Oxford rowing team in the 1970s, has found public and private funds to open fully his father’s studio underneath the archway on Hungerford Bridge beside the Royal Festival Hall.
Topolski’s masterpiece, the giant mural called Chronicle of the Century, can be seen there as well as hundreds of other works.
"This is history put in front of our faces by an eye-witness who drew the most important events of the 20th century and the most interesting people. I hope schools arrange visits because once you see a Topolski as I did as a boy you are hooked by his brilliant draughtsmanship and a sense that you see what is happening and who is important in a completely different fashion," said MacShane.
"This is perfect gem of a museum and now that the South Bank, from County Hall to Tate Modern, has been turned into Europe’s golden mile of art and culture, I hope as many visitors as possible go and enjoy the Topolski museum."

ILO and China

4 March 2009

MacShane Urges Support for Worker and Social Rights in China

Labour MP Denis MacShane has urged ministers to use the International Labour Organisation to promote fair wage and social security systems in China as millions of workers there lose their jobs because of the global economic down-turn.
Speaking in the Commons, MacShane asked Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to "bring into play the International Labour Organisation" so that the Chinse authorities could be urged to alter their system of paying workers and to bring in social security networks.
At the moment, Chinese workers have to save up to 70 per cent of their earnings in order to make provision for health care, pensions, unemployment and education. MacShane said the ILO should promote a new economic model in China "based on workers being able to earn enough to but what they produce and to have social and other networks of support."

MacShane’s intervention in the Commons (25 Feb) is below:

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): As literally millions and millions of Chinese people lose their jobs with the Chinese economy going into even freer fall than the European and American economies, there are political consequences. In my right hon. Friend’s talks with the Chinese, will he gently suggest that the next economic paradigm has to be based on workers being able to earn enough to buy what they produce and to have social and other networks of support? Will he further bring into play the International Labour Organisation to urge the Chinese to develop a much fairer social and wage system in their country?

Obama and the European voice

This article was published in Newsweek
Waiting For Barack
Obama needs from Europe a Mozart symphony or a Beethoven 'Ode to Joy'—not a cacophony of voices

9 March 2009
The red carpets are being rolled out for Europe's most popular politician. In April, Barack Obama will turn up to meet his fans across the Atlantic, first for a G20 economic summit in London and then for a NATO summit in Strasbourg on the French-German border. Meantime, "Waiting for Barack" could be the title of a new play as all of Europe looks anxiously to Washington for answers to the world's intractable problems: a banking freeze-up, a job meltdown, a Middle East with no solution in sight, an Iran racing for nuclear arms, a quagmire in Afghanistan, a Russia that treats the European Union as a playpen for the Kremlin's divide-and-rule diplomatic games.
Yet Obama is the first president in decades with no experience or knowledge of Europe. His predecessor had a father who was an East Coast Atlanticist, while Bill Clinton was an Oxford-educated Rhodes scholar who played Europe like a violin. Nobody yet knows what Obama will ask of or offer Europe. But one thing is clear. Instead of a united European approach, there is a cacophony of voices as European leaders spend more time complaining about each other than finding common solutions to propose to the new president.
Since the economic crisis broke last autumn, there has been on average a European summit every three weeks. Like the Congress of Vienna, which met to decide Europe's fate in 1814 and famously danced rather than make decisions, today's European Union leaders are better at scoring points than adopting a common policy. Take Nicolas Sarkozy. In a hastily arranged television interview after mammoth demonstrations showed French discontent with their hyperactive president, he launched into a tirade against Gordon Brown's economic management. Little matter that top French economists had already endorsed Brown's fiscal-stimulus approach or that the British leader had gone out of his way to schmooze with Sarkozy after the frosty rapport between Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac. Sarkozy's assault on Brown made headlines in Britain and showed British-French disunity back in business.
Brown had already been irritated by the public criticisms of his fiscal boost from the finance ministers of Germany and the Netherlands—both fellow center-left politicians, as it happens. Thus it was a moment of pure schadenfreude when EU forecasts showed Germany facing a bigger drop in GDP than Britain. Briefers were quickly sent out from No. 10 to inject anti-German comments into the press, further stoking inter-EU disunity.
The opposition is no better. Britain's Conservative Party, now riding high in the polls, announced it would break all links with its sister center-right parties in Europe—a slap in the face for Sarkozy, Merkel, Berlusconi and Europe's other center-right prime ministers. Indeed, instead of joining hands with fellow Europeans, the continent's putative leaders are stumbling all over one another to meet Obama. When Sarkozy was elected, his spin doctors boasted that he was the first EU leader to enjoy a 30-minute talk with the new U.S. chief executive. Now Brown is enjoying his moment as the first European leader to go to Washington to meet Obama and address a joint session of Congress. Yet while Obama announces that a further 17,000 U.S. soldiers will be deployed to Afghanistan, Europeans refuse to send more combat troops. Instead, the French pursue their own policy in Africa. Germany has its new-look Ostpolitik, saying ja to most Kremlin demands. Twenty years after Milosevic launched his extremist Serb nationalism, which turned the Balkans into a charnel house, Europe cannot bring stability there. Turkey waits while Islamophobic European politicians pontificate against Muslims and their religion.
Rarely has Europe been so at sixes and sevens, so disunited, so quarrelsome on economic, security and foreign-policy issues. Pity Obama. He basked in the glow of some 200,000 Germans and their roaring applause when he spoke in Berlin last summer, as if the candidate were a new "Ich bin ein Berliner" JFK. European politicians of left and right claim to be their local Obama, and "Yes, we can" is the most overused cliché on European politicians' lips. Yet more than popularity, what he really needs is a united Europe. But instead of a Mozart symphony or a Beethoven "Ode to Joy"—the unity of Enlightenment culture—he is getting a cacophony of different voices, screeching at each other. Little wonder if he decides to tune out.
Waiting for Barack is not good enough. After 1945 Winston Churchill inspired with his call for a United States of Europe. Willy Brandt led the world with détente politics. Jacques Delors constructed the Single European Market with a social face and helped bring in the euro. Today's European leaders trip over opinion polls and follow national emotional spasms rather than define a new vision. Why should Obama do Europe's heavy lifting when European leaders no longer aspire to reshape their own continent?