I WAS glad not to be in Brussels during the visit of President George Bush. Since last year, I have rented a flat within walking distance of the European Parliament. It is in the same block as the American Embassy. Last month, there were notices on every floor saying that the whole area would be inside a special security cordon during the visit. Even though I live there, I would not be able to go in or out: some MEPs are clearly a security risk.
Instead, I watched pictures of military helicopters hovering over my apartment block live on CNN, while sitting in my office somewhere else. The Presidential trip was during one of the 12 weeks of the year when MEPs have to be in Strasbourg, thanks to the French forcing this costly idiocy into an earlier EU Treaty.
George W. Bush is the first US President to make an official visit to the various EU institutions in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Commission. It was significant that the President specifically asked for a meeting with Commission President Barroso.
Some people like to caricature the European Commission as unelected bureaucrats running a corrupt institution. President Bush clearly regards it as an important body, worthy of his direct contact. Those who believe the caricature should listen to the voice of America. It was also significant that President Bush not only had meetings with the 25 Heads of Member State Governments, who comprise the European Council, as well as with the President of the European Parliament, he also had separate meetings with President Chirac of France, Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and, of course, Tony Blair.
The message is that, while the EU represents something in addition to Member States, individual countries still matter in Europe.
Solid ‘Yes’ in Spain
In the same week, Spain voted on the proposed EU Constitution. Most Spaniards had probably not read its 350-plus pages, but recognised the EU’s value in securing their democracy and investing in their infrastructure. It was no surprise the result was a solid ‘Yes’.
However, British expatriates were understandably angry that they could not vote. If they had left the UK more than 15 years earlier, their right to vote back home had been removed. Yet they had no right to vote in Spain, either in European Parliamentary elections or the Constitution Referendum.
Clearly, where expatriates should be allowed to vote is a real issue. It may be considered “inappropriate” for continental Europeans living in Britain to vote in a UK referendum as they might skew the result. But then to be denied the vote in any country has to be wrong. Individuals should matter in Europe too.