HISTORY is little but an inventory of errors. Even the best and most erudite can suffer delusions. Whenever I am in Washington DC I find many of those I most enjoy encountering come from the US State Department, a sort of graduate school that specialises in fallacies. The rest of the planet regards the State Department as on the side of the angels but gaspingly naive.
A defining folly that resides in the State Department is an almost uncritical perception that the European Union (EU), the commission and all its works are a good thing. The argument is a stale remnant of the Cold War. We are talking bulwarks here. The US government regarded a prosperous Western Europe as the best assurance against a Red Army assault. What happier idea than the reconciliation of a crushed Germany with its ancient enemy France, victorious but depleted? In 1946 I readily accept this was all relatively wholesome and benevolent.
Yet what made sense 60 years ago is more than threadbare now. It is false. The Soviet threat has evaporated. If we did have a device to deter any imperial ambitions of Moscow the deterring agent was Nato not the common agricultural policy.
I think it is possible to detect a few stirring from their slumbers in Washington. The endless jostlings with Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, are plainly not the acts of a liberal or free trading entity. The EU has been busy banning genetically modified seeds for farmers. It has been harassing US corporations such as Microsoft with legal challenges that are, to put it charitably, contrived. US pharmaceuticals find the commission happy to draft retrospective laws and to disregard property rights.
The EU is not a democracy. Some in the State Department express some alarm that the EU powerhouse is unconstrained by any elective forces. Others speak in hushed awe at such a smooth bureaucracy unencumbered by troublesome politicians. Few Americans have really bothered to understand the nature of the commission. I believe it to be the most aggressive and ambitious force in the western world.
While China is opening itself up, the Europe of the Union is cocooning itself in ever more detailed rules, taxes, regulations and levies. India abandons is antique love affair with bureaucracy and chooses liberalisation. The Belgian Empire, as Margaret Thatcher calls it, is going in the opposite direction. If this were the result of electoral choice it would have a legitimacy. In fact it is