Dr Helen Szamuely
They went on their travels again: President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, old uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. First to St Petersburg to celebrate its tercentenary and, in the case of President Bush, start to make clear to President Putin that Russia, unlike France is likely to be forgiven for her incomprehensible stand over the Iraqi war. Whether that forgiveness will lead to a balanced co-operation or whether Russia will continue to demand concessions, support, what have you and give nothing in return, remains to be seen. President Putin treads a very fine line both at home and abroad between the need to be the United States' close ally and the need to display Russian intransigence.
Then it was Warsaw, where speeches were made. Unsurprisingly, it was President Bush's speech that was covered widely, not just because he, as President of the United States, is of great importance in the world, but because his speech, like his policies, is forward looking. He refuses to be enmired in the outdated, exhausted post-1945 political system of creaking international structures and amoral policies. Having called the new Europe into action to redress the balance of the old, the American government continues to appeal to those people who have fought and defeated a mighty tyranny and who, therefore, understand that tyrannies need to be fought; that appeasement rarely works; and who remember that none of those international structures helped them in their hours and even years of need.
It cannot have escaped Mr Blair's attention that three out of the five yes votes in the applicant countries have been achieved with a turn-out that was even lower than the two that have given him his so-called landslide victories...The East Europeans do not seem to be as enthusiastic about joining this particular creaky international structure...
Mr Blair also made a speech and a very odd beast it was, too. Heaping praise on Poland, Polish culture and the Polish people, he proclaimed in ringing tones the mutual need of Poland and Europe. Poland must join Europe not just for her own but for everyone else's benefit. Mr Blair obviously knew that, despite the Pope's providential intervention on behalf of the EU, the debate about accession has been very bitter in Poland and there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the way the country has been treated by the Union. It cannot have escaped Mr Blair's attention that three out of the five yes votes in the applicant countries have been achieved with a turn-out that was even lower than the two that have given him his so-called landslide victories. All is not well. The East Europeans do not seem to be as enthusiastic about joining this particular creaky international structure as they are told they ought to be. Well, all right, let us tell them that they will be doing us a favour and above all, let us not mention the European Union. Let us talk about Europe and joining Europe. This is nonsense and dishonest nonsense at that. Poland does not need to join Europe - it is in Europe. Its history, tragic though it is in some ways, is part of European history; its culture is European; its people are European. The question is should it join the European Union. If Mr Blair believes that it should then he should say so, fairly and squarely; if he does not really think it is a good idea, he should stop advocating it.
There were one or two other comments in the speech that deserve some interest. For instance, Mr Blair announced that Britain had fought for the right of the Polish delegation (and, by implication, delegations of other applicant countries) to be "fully involved in negotiations" to do with the proposed constitution. This must have surprised his hosts, or those of them who knew what he was talking about. The applicant countries sent observer delegations. The negotiations were conducted without them and they will be faced with a fait accompli to be accepted after they had agreed to join the EU on the basis of the existing treaties. Once again, decisions about the future of Eastern Europe are taken over their heads.
Then Mr Blair tried to explain why Poland was having a referendum about accession while Britain was not having one about the constitution. He did this by not really talking about the constitution but explaining that Britain was going to have a referendum about the euro because joining it would be a "step of such economic and constitutional significance". Setting aside the rather strange syntax there, let us examine what he actually said. First of all, I do not remember the constitutional significance being mentioned in Britain. On the contrary, that has been pooh-poohed as another eurosceptic scare by the government and other supporters of the lemming policy of "let us join the euro immediately and destroy what is left of the economy after Gordon Brown has had a go at it". No, no, they said, there is no political or constitutional aspect to any of it. It is merely an economic matter. Well, apparently not. Or so said the Prime Minister in Warsaw on May 30.
Right, so the euro is a matter of great constitutional significance. But, apparently, the proposed EU constitution is not. That, too, is just eurosceptic scare-mongering. Many of the powers have already been handed over to Brussels, Mr Hain and the Prime Minister tell us. What is all the fuss about? Well, actually, some of us tried to raise the fuss when those powers were being handed over only to be told that we were indulging in eurosceptic scare-mongering. Still, the Poles are not stupid and they know what the word constitution means. They have had numerous constitutions of their own. I am not sure they like being told that a constitution has no constitutional significance. (Though, to be fair, Mr Blair merely implied it in his speech.)
Meanwhile, back with the topsy-turvy world of the British media: presumably there was not time to report or analyze Mr Blair's speech because of the somewhat ersatz row over the WMDs in Iraq and that rather moth-eaten dossier that was published and demolished in September. Why has this row suddenly erupted? Was it Donald Rumsfeld's throw-away comment about the possible fate of the WMDs? Hardly. Nobody in America seems to care. Was it because nothing has been found in Iraq? Well, again, hardly. Mobile laboratories have been found, missiles have been found, plans have been seen and all that with most of the country still not examined. Above all, prisons, torture chambers and thousands upon thousands of dead bodies have been found. It is all like Kosovo but much, much worse. Both Robin Cook and Claire Short supported the war in Kosovo. Well, all right, those two need to get some air-time, being now back numbers in politics. But what about the rest of the hysterical pack of political hacks? Are they seriously going to tell us that getting rid of Saddam was not a good idea either from the Iraqi or the international point of view? Why has nobody put such an obvious question to them? A complete non-story is treated as if it were of great importance. Call me over-suspicious but I cannot help wondering whether its timing is more than coincidental. Every column inch spent on denouncing a dossier that was proved to be inaccurate months ago, means less space on what really matters at the moment: the European constitution. If that is the strategy, we can happily say that it is not working. The constitution will not go away. Even the BBC has reluctantly acknowledged its importance.
The constitution will not go away. Even the BBC has reluctantly acknowledged its importance