The Sunday Times, Uncategorized

October 31st, 2004

In one bloody bout Brussels reveals its true hypocrisy

Last week was a bad week indeed for supporters of the European Union. Strangely, however, they don’t seem to have noticed. On the contrary, there has been a lot of crowing and cheering among Europhiles, particularly among members of the European parliament (MEPs) and the Brussels establishment.

They are convinced that their public rejection of Rocco Buttiglione because of his views is a triumph both for democracy and for the European Union and everything it stands for. Yet in bringing down Buttiglione, they were and are in flagrant breach of the fundamental principles of the EU. It is very odd.

Buttiglione is, or was, the prospective European commissioner for justice and home affairs, appointed by Jose Manuel Barroso, the incoming president of the European commission. Buttiglione’s appointment was tactless.

His outspoken views on gays and women were so offensive to many MEPs that they were inspired to get together and bully Barroso into reshuffling the commission and dumping Buttiglione and his unspeakable opinions — contrary, however, to the guiding principles of the European dream.

These principles are clearly laid out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Buttiglione, whatever his views, is surely as well entitled to those rights as any other European but he has been denied them. The charter undertakes to respect the diversity of the cultures and traditions of the people of Europe.

Article 10 guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to “manifest” one’s beliefs not only in worship, but also in “teaching, practice and observance”. Article 11 guarantees freedom of expression to hold opinions and exchange them “without interference by public authority”. Article 21 states that any discrimination based on any ground such as a religious belief, political or any other opinion shall be prohibited. And just in case anyone had somehow missed the point, Article 22 declares that the EU shall respect cultural and religious diversity.

Well, either you respect cultural and religious diversity or you don’t. Personally I don’t. I don’t respect Buttiglione’s view, religious, cultural or other, that gays are sinful. I think it’s wrong and offensive. And there are many other mainstream religious teachings and cultural practices that I don’t respect either such as the caste system, the subordination of women and the suppression of embryo research, to name a few. I disrespect them. I don’t see why I should be expected to pretend otherwise. Nor do I see why I should be denied the freedom of speech to say so.

When people prate on in this country and doubtless all over the rest of Europe about “celebrating diversity” (as in Article 22), I find my blood pressure rising. Why is that now written into practically every company’s mission statement?

Who was it who decided that we are all duty-bound not just to respect, but to “celebrate” diversity? This has crept up on us rather unobtrusively and very fast. As far as I’m concerned there are a great many cultural attitudes and religious beliefs around that I find distasteful or shocking; I find it deeply alarming that in Britain there seems to be a deliberate and increasing conflation in activist literature between culture, religion and race, so that criticising a cultural practice — such as forced marriage or primary purpose marriage — is tantamount to racism.

However, the truth is that hardly anybody does respect diversity, however European, when real convictions are involved, as the defenestration of Buttiglione has made absurdly plain. The MEPs don’t truly respect cultural and religious diversity any more than the Pope does or than Buttiglione. And in his case, far from respecting it, the MEPs aren’t prepared even to tolerate it. Yet they don’t seem to have the slightest suspicion of the comic absurdity of their position or of the ridiculous light it casts on the EU.

The Buttiglione fiasco is an elegant demonstration of what is wrong with the new European high culture as demonstrated in Brussels. It is riddled with hypocrisy and confusion and the kind of totalitarian attitudes that the EU was created to resist. After all millions of people right across Europe are, like Buttiglione, Catholic. Many presumably accept the teaching of the Catholic Church that homosexuality is sinful and abortion too. And many millions also agree with at least some of his views on the role of women.

If those views make him unfit for office, what about them? What about those of other faiths with other conservative views? Should they too be cross-questioned by new EU thought police about their fitness to work in companies committed under countless EU directives to celebrating diversity and promoting equality?

Comically hurried along by poor Buttiglione, we Europeans have arrived at an important fork in the road. We cannot go down both paths at once. One sign is marked the Usual Old Pragmatic Muddle, the other sign is marked the European Project.

The European Project, contrary to its claims about rights and respect, is the endeavour to impose on everyone the values of today’s supposedly enlightened European intelligentsia — that continental club of the like-minded, who have more in common with each other than with their own fellow countrymen and women.

Anyone with any experience of European-led directives in business or services, dreamt up by this intelligentsia, will be well aware of how culturally manipulative many of them are, and are meant to be. The project is an attempt to impose a cultural, religious (or rather irreligious) and political uniformity on 400m very various people.

You could call it militant secularism or you could see it as universal modern values — Europhiles already speak of a union of values. Either way, imposing values — for better or for worse — is entirely at odds with tolerance and the decency of muddled pragmatism. Europeans are going to have to choose.

For myself, like the Irishman in the joke, I wouldn’t start from here. I wouldn’t start with a hugely ambitious charter of rights and freedoms, many of which are mutually exclusive as any schoolchild could have pointed out in the beginning. We’ve just seen last week that religious freedom and freedom of speech mean nothing when they clash with the European ideals of equality.

However, if I did have to start from here, and I suppose I must, I would not choose the way of the European Project. That ways lies absurdity, hypocrisy, intrusion and waste. The European Project is not only statist; it is helplessly bureaucratic, all the more so since it is pursuing unachievable and contradictory ends.

Last week saw not only the affaire Buttiglione. It also saw the signing of the new European constitution, in great pomp and splendour in Rome, despite the fact that at least 10 countries intend to have a referendum and at least three may well reject it. Bloated folly and presumption, coupled with hypocrisy and confusion. That surely cannot be the way to take.