Alphen, just over the Dutch border from Belgium. Friday, the 13th. Will someone please save Europe from Belgium? The influence of this chocolate superpower is growing by the day. Now, my own country, Her Imperial Britannic Majesty’s Dis-United Kingdom, has made the odd mistake over the years. We are good at mistakes. Indeed, London is currently working through Britain’s new foreign policy manual; “101 Mistakes To Make Before You Collapse”. Perhaps Britain’s greatest mistake came at the very height of Empire – we made Belgium! Yes, I know, it is a terrible admission to make and hardly a testament to sound British judgement. Sorry.
The 1839 Treaty of London was a British-led deal between the Great Powers, the Dutch and the “Kingdom of Belgium” to create a buffer between the French and the Dutch. Belgium was to be perpetually neutral and Britain was to guarantee Belgium. Now, having led Western Europe’s only failed state to the heights of its ‘glory’ it is Belgians leading the way towards something all the more ambitious - a failed European super-state.
Eveywhere I turn there are wild-eyed and ever so slightly dishevelled Belgians leading calls for the Super-Onion. Be it Onion supremo ‘President’ Herman van Rompuy, or Chief Euro-Parliamentary Onionista Guy Verhofstadt. Everywhere I turn Belgians are telling me I have no alternative but to bow to the ‘power’ of Belgium, sorry Brussels, and scrap my country so that Belgium can be made to work. Did I miss something?
The latest piece from the chocolate superpower goes under the characteristically misleading title of “The European Council and the Community Method” (no, it is not some form of bizarre group sex but one does need a good smoke after reading it). Written by one of those consummate Onion insiders Philippe de Schoutheete, former Belgian Ambassador to the Onion, it is a true horror story.
Like all good horror stories the paper starts by presenting the very essence of normality. Europe was made up of a series of cozy hobbit-like shires nestling in the green and pleasant vale that was 1950s ‘Europe’. Because the Hobbits had no issues that divided them they all agreed to come together to grow a European Onion. However, because they were all as lazy as hell and did not really trust each other one little bit they also agreed to create something called the European Omission, whereby they all pretended to ignore their many disagreements and let some bloke called Manuel, a Portu-Belgian, decide things for them. Of course, the Belgians maintained ultimate control by making their own lad Herman, King of the Belgians and President of Europe at one and the same time. After a particularly damp period the Onion went mouldy and the only way to save it was to make the Omission responsible for ‘growth’, overseen of course by Herman.
And then the descent into horror quickens. The good Ambassador cites the secret Treaty of Lisbon which the Belgians, sorry Brussels, had imposed after French and Dutch Hobbits had rather objected to their country being taken away simply to save Belgium. The Belgians having given this democracy thing a try demonstrated that it did not work but avoiding a Belgian government for many years and decided this would also be good for Europe. Thus, the only solution was to recast the Onion in the image of Belgium and overseen by the sprouts in Brussels.
At the end there is nowhere to run. There is no life after debt. Sooner or later the Onion crushes all before it and Europe is finally turned into Belgium; a happy but broke place where the people live happily ever after, love each other deeply but have no say over anything. At least the beer is good.
To be fair, the Ambassador is right about the essential challenge of our Euro-time; “One may ask whether the true debate today is not between the Community method and intergovernmental decision-making, but rather between governance and government”. For those of you not-versed in Onion-speak the meaning is simple; is there any way we Hobbits will ever again trust the Muppets who have created this mess? Moreover, is there any way that we can be convinced to give Belgium, sorry Brussels, even more power but ask less questions. For that is what at the end the good Belgian Ambassador is offering.
He concludes with a warning. “No political system can survive without giving hope to its citizens. Europe has been a great channel of hope for several generations, including mine. And today? It is not hope that encourages integration, it is market fears. Is this enough? What we see around us, rather, is hopelessness. Many Europeans do not see a light at the end of the tunnel. Who will bear a message of hope, if our leaders and institutions do not?" Hope springs infernal - there is no life after debt but the Onion.
British Prime Minister William Pitt once described Belgium as a “pistol pointed at the heart of England”. It is about to be fired, if they can find the bullet. Belgium - coming soon to a town near you.