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The International Writers Magazine: Comment

Spanish Conquistadors Invade Europe
• James Skinner on Europe in 2010
Zapatero's Global Ambitions


Having lived on both sides of the Atlantic for many years I’ve come to the conclusion regarding both sectors of the planet’s most advanced and democratic sectors of human civilization that Americans have no idea what the European Union is all about, nor do my fellow Europeans understand the land of Uncle Sam. A classic example is President Obama’s recent and controversial Health Reform Bill that caused a rumpus in the USA when millions of citizens manifested against the same chanting slogans like ‘No to European Socialist Health’ whilst vice versa critics in the European press denounced health care in America as ‘A rich man’s medical system’ or words to that effect. Neither, of course is correct.

Whenever I defend America, its institutions and its people I come across the usual left-wing ‘Yankee Go Home’ response; equal discussions with Americans ends up in ‘‘Old Europe’ is behind the times’. However, as far as relations are concerned America is changing rapidly under the new presidency of Barack Obama to a ‘more open dialogue’ policy whereas Europe is still recovering from the Bush days of ‘either you’re with us or against us!’ America and Europe need each other more than ever yet are still reluctant to recognise it. What was deemed at the end of WWII as a ‘special relationship’ should be at the top of the agenda of any future bilateral negotiations or agreements, lest we forget the reason our grandparents fought on the battlefields of Europe: Freedom!

Nevertheless, taking into account the present world financial crisis, we’ve all got a long way to go in this XXI century of renewed challenges especially in technology, emerging markets and above all a new brand of hostilities from our ‘friends’ in the Middle East. But Europe itself is still trying to find its way in this maze of global mayhem. For the benefit of American and other readers I will try to explain the future restructuring of the Union that is now under way and the effect it will have on the world.

The European Union is a Babylonian concoction of 27 nations with all kinds of differences governed by a plethora of institutions based in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. It is managed by politicians and civil servants, all trying their hardest to mould and tame the 500 million or so human beings that live in it into a sort of Federal State, similar to that in the USA. Many would disagree but the bottom line is that the similarities are there. The EU has yet to come up with a Constitution that would somehow put some common sense into the system. They’ve tried to design one but failed as it got bogged down in hundreds of pages of unintelligible babble. There is a Commission that lays down the law on a variety of issues, a Parliament, a Court of Justice and a Council of Ministers. The representatives of this latter body are the Prime Ministers or Presidents of all the country members including their foreign representatives. The Council is where the power of the Union really lies. All major policy decisions are taken at this level. The council is presided over on a rotating basis every six months by one of the member states. Whenever a nation takes over the driving seat, its Head of State brings a set of issues to the table that he or she thinks are the priorities to be discussed and or implemented by the Union during the next six months. The best way to understand this methodology is to picture the United States of America being run by a rotating Governor every six months. It’s only natural that the Chief Honcho of Alabama, when he or she is in charge would try to impose his or her own ideas on how to run the country.  On the 1st of January 2010 it is Spain’s turn and the Spanish President, Sr. Jose Rodriguez Zapatero has certainly got his own ideas he wishes to push  forward to steer the EU ‘monster’ in whatever direction is needed during the following months of his mandate. Oh Boy has he got ideas!

Mr. Zapatero loves to travel and be photographed. He’ll go to great lengths to be shown shaking hands, drinking a coffee, unveiling a statue or sitting at a table surrounded by international big knobs, especially Barak Obama, as long as it hits the local Spanish press. All hell can be breaking lose back home; doesn’t matter, his mainly female cabinet - there’s the odd male to be seen in the corridors of power - made up of a collection of Charlie’s Angels will pick up the pieces whilst ‘ZP’, as he is nicknamed, is busy trying to make friends around the world. Now that he has a chance of actually being somebody abroad, he’s making a meal of it. So far, he has visited or met with all Heads of the 27 member states, part of the big shots in the Middle East, sent his Foreign Minister to meet with a few of Spain’s dubious friends in South America, mainly Chavez in Venezuela and Castro in Cuba, not to forget his gate-crashing success, thanks to France’s Nikolas Sarkozy in attending all G20 meetings or the Climate Change shenanigan in Copenhagen in order to press forward his views on how he intends to run Europe. He’s certainly been busy!  

Like all politicians, his build up speeches both home and abroad were a replica of Peter Seller’s memorable satire on the old Goon Show of the 50’s on BBC radio called ‘Party Political Broadcast’. A spoof of boring platitudinous speeches at party conferences.

‘ZP’ has kicked off in a similar fashion with such phrases as the ‘European Union must be a transformer, demanding and compromised’. Pretty good for starters wouldn’t you say? How about a ‘strong Europe that exerts its leadership!’ or ‘in a multi-polar world it must speak with one voice!’ I mean, it really sounds great and impressive. But then he becomes serious and presents his proposals to the world. Apart from the usual obvious priorities such as the economic crisis, the climatic change, social justice, terrorism and all the other main headings on anybody’s list, he reverts to his own detailed nitty-gritty objectives.

When ZP pulled out the Spanish troops from Iraq in 2004 his next step was to tackle Islamic terrorism with the proposal of a pacifist, non aggressive plan to deal with the Muslim world as an equal. He proposed a sort of world forum based on dialogue to iron out the differences between East and West. He named his project ‘The Alliance of Civilisations’. For the next few months, his ‘missionaries’ travelled the world, especially the Arab world and thanks to much lobbying and hard work the scheme was put before the United Nations and received the blessing from the then General Secretary Kofi Annan as a ‘good idea’ to pursue. By January 2008, the first Forum was inaugurated in Madrid whereby more than 80 countries were represented to kick-start the Alliance. In April 2009, the second session took place, this time Barak Obama was present as a guest of honour. Trouble is the Islamic extremists continue to blow up people in different parts of the world. The sceptics say that the whole set up is just another scheme to whitewash the real problem, which is the constant violation of human rights by many nations that couldn’t give a hoot about alliances or any other form of agreement to stop this continued violence and only tag along for yet another international joy ride. Can you imagine Osama bin Laden addressing the UN general assembly or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad given the Noble prize for Physics? Nevertheless, ZP intends to push forward his project on the European Union’s negotiation table.

Being a good socialist he also wants the European Union to work on the social rights of all its citizens. This means better public pension rights, easier divorce mechanisms, and naturally a boost to harmonize all Social Security benefits throughout the Union. He proposes working hand in hand with all the lefties, be they trade unions, NGOs, and any local entity that wishes to join in the dialogue. On the international front, and because Spain has a unique relationship with Latin America, he will push forward a more open attitude of cooperation with the main rebels on the American content, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. He is all bent in allowing Turkey to prepare for EU membership and has gone to great lengths to convince Cyprus, who already is a member that it would be in their interests to open up the barriers. There’s plenty more and it’s all good stuff. He’s forgotten about one thing, however; ‘The Lisbon Treaty’.

For years the gurus of the EU knew that a great deal of the Union needed overhauling including the ridiculous system of presidential rotation. After months of wrangling and negotiations the 27 got together in Lisbon and on the 13th of December, 2007 signed a binding Treaty that among other rules agreed to the appointment of two permanent posts to preside of the Council of Ministers, a President and a Foreign Affairs Secretary. Two years later the Treaty came into effect and on the 19th of November, Belgian Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompouy and EU Trade Commissioner Baroness Ashton from the UK were appointed to the respective posts. Thus, as from the 1st of January these two high ranking politicians will literally lay down the new foundation stones for a more cohesive and sensible management of the European Union. Where does that leave Spain? In theory, the six-monthly jamboree must continue for another 18 months, with Belgium and then Hungary taking over from Spain yet the small print on the Treaty quotes an obvious period of transition and eventual transfer of power. ‘When’ is the 64 thousand dollar question!

However, the way ZP has been ranting and raving over the past few weeks, you would think that the Lisbon Treaty never happened. He still persists on presenting his agenda and is constantly reminding us that he will lead Europe to bigger and better things and that Spain will be recompensed with the inflow of European goodies from business to technology.

Meanwhile, at home on the ranch, there are no signs of economic improvement. Spain is still in recession, has the highest unemployment rate in the Union and growing, is heading for a catastrophic public deficit, intends to increase taxes in July and yet refuses to carry out the dramatic reforms, especially in the labour marker, that every financial institution, from the IMF to the European Central Bank is recommending. Quite a scenario!

In the XVI century, an explorer and conquistador called Francisco Pizarro with 180 soldiers and 37 horses penetrated deep into Inca territory in Peru, caught up and slaughtered Atahualpa the leader and his Indians thus conquering the silver and gold belt of the Western Coast of South America.

Can you picture ZP, sword in hand entering Brussels and proclaiming: ‘Europe is mine?’ He’ll soon realise he’s in the wrong opera.              

© James G. Skinner. Vigo. Spain. January 2010.

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