Wednesday 5 December 2012

Europe's Choice

During the first couple of months of this year BBC Radio 4 broadcast a major three-part documentary about the European Union. This was Europe’s Choice, Allan Little’s history of the euro. Though not uninteresting, it came across to me as the official BBC line on the years leading up to the birth of the single currency. The programme is still available to re-listen to.    

Episode 1 began with Tony Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, attacking Mrs. Thatcher, then went through all manner of key players – Douglas Hurd (pro-European); David, Lord Williamson, former Secretary-General of the European Commission (pro-European); John, Lord Kerr, former UK ambassador to the EU, member of several pro-EU think tanks (pro-European); Sir Nigel Wicks, former aide to Mrs Thatcher who went native in Europe (pro-European); plus Joachim Bitterlich, Helmut Kohl’s advisor; Dietrich von Kyaw, former German ambassador to the EU; and Jacques Lafitte, French former advisor to the EU Commission. Finally, on came Ed Balls to blow his own (and Gordon Brown’s) trumpet.    

So, a BBC programme about a controversial period of recent EU and British history and not a single Eurosceptic in sight. (It comes to something when Ed Balls is the closest thing to one).     

These were all players in the story, but there was an ‘independent expert’ too. Who did Allan Little pick? A disinterested academic? No, it was the arch-Europhile Timothy Garton Ash.     

Episode 2 was again not without interest, but there were still no Eurosceptic voices.   

There was Alistair Darling, giving his own oh-so-independent account of the post-election EU summit where the first bailouts were agreed. He was followed by Blair’s pro-European chief of Staff Jonathan Powell again. Europhile John, Lord Kerr also returned, as did Ambassador von Kyaw and French EU advisor Jacques Lafitte. New voices were former EU commission president Romano Prodi, Greek budget minister Peter Doukas, Greek economist Miranda Xafa and two former UK ambassadors to the EU, Sir Stephen Wall (a Europhile – Denis MacShane loved his book on Europe! – and part of the pro-European Business for a new Europe) and Sir John Grant (also part of the pro-European Business for a New Europe).  

So many Europhiles!  

The thesis of the programme seems to have been this: National governments (plus the markets) were responsible for the present Euro Crisis. The European Commission wasn’t powerful enough to stop them. That’s the problem. So there’s now going to be more powers for the pan-European institutions to keep national governments in check. The ‘talking heads’ were agreed on that. 

Allan Little did mention the ‘democracy’ issue, but John, Lord Kerr said that democratising the EU is not what’s needed at all. The EU should be an unpopular policeman doing the right thing.   

Still, at the very end Allan Little promised that the third and final episode would look at the issue of popular discontent, so maybe, just maybe, we’d get some non-elite, non-Europhile voices the following week. 

Well, the final episode did give some space to a Eurosceptic voice – a single Eurosceptic voice. That was Sampo Terho of the True Finns, introduced as a “nationalist”.

Unlike the other (pro-European) contributors, Allan Little’s commentary undermined his comments by suggesting flakiness, introducing one statement with the words “The True Finns are now flying a conspiracy kite” and afterwards adding that it’s “a seductive conspiracy theory”. Allan Little also carefully labelled him as “Eurosceptic”, while none of the pro-Europeans/Europhiles was described as “pro-European” or “Europhile” – the nearest we got was having one Europhile former mandarin described as “a renowned British European”.

Arch-Europhiles Sir Stephen Wall, Timothy Garton Ash and Lord Kerr returned to shape the narrative in a pro-EU direction. Added to them was Quentin Peel of the Financial Times, another known pro-European (he called the EU “a really exciting project” during the programme).

Ed Balls also returned to give his (unchallenged) self-justificatory slant on events. He and Tony Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell made several appearances across the series. There were no Tories – except for one single appearance from pro-European Douglas Hurd in the first episode.

Why allow Labour such eminence in a series covering some 23 years of recent history? Why not a single British Eurosceptic? There was a clip of the Polish foreign minister attacking British Euroscepticism but Allan Little clearly thought it wasn’t necessary, even then, to grant British Eurosceptics a response.

This episode’s central thesis followed on from those of the earlier episodes – that the current crisis has been caused by too little EU intervention, due to Germany not wanting to throw its weight around enough – a highly Europhile thesis.

Europe’s Choice was, I believe, the BBC making its position on Europe crystal clear again.

Allan Little will be back on Radio 4 on Tuesday 18 December with a programme called Europe Moves East. What will his take be this time? 

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