Euromyths, Part 1

Well, I promised to indulge in some fun myths about the European Union, so let’s start out hard with this compilation of untrue reports in mainstream media that the European Commission’s representation in Britain has amassed.

What’s that? Oh, I’ll say that again.

The lengthy list of simply untrue stories, reported as if they were true, that you will find by clicking on the above link, is what the European Commission has been able to find in ONE out of 27 member states. It’s probably mind-boggling to start imagining the amount of myths reported as facts in non-EU countries.

Don’t believe everything you read in the news, then.

Already googling the word ‘euromyths’ returns almost 32,000 results, and then we’re obviously not counting the major part of them; the myths and misunderstandings that are being taken as truth as we speak.

How did this happen?

Well, to begin with, a lot is plain ignorance. In most countries, newsmen and -women lack the basic understanding of how the EU functions, in a way that would embarass them had they been similarly ignorant of how their own nations work. I will be the first to agree that the EU’s legislation process is very complicated and difficult to comprehend, but you would at least expect editors to be aware of the difference between the EU Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council of Ministers.

Moreover, there are strong EU-skeptic movements in many countries, and be not ignorant, m little children: there are bad boys out there deliberately spreading misinformation. Exaggerating things just a little bit or twisting things only so slightly is a well-known way of bending reality so that it serves your own interests.

However. If you look at the stories gathered on the page I linked to, you’ll notice that many of them do contain a grain of truth. Bananas may not be banned if they are curved, for instance, but it is true that they cannot be too curved in order to qualify for Class 1 standard.

Now, how in the world did we end up wasting our time and money inventing Classes 1 and 2 for bananas, when half of the world is starving and the other half is eating itself to death? That’s a question only the European Commission can answer.

Yes, I do like the banana shelves in my supermarket to look neat and tidy, but I’ll rather have peace, health, safety and prosperity for everyone first, please.

The page I linked to should keep you busy for the 1 May holiday. When you have finished marvelling at the threats against traditional Irish funerals, the erasing of islands, the rewriting of history or Kent becoming part of France, we shall move on to some of the murkier stuff where there is really misinformation going on, so stay tuned.

And no, I do not write this because I necessarily like the European Union or want to convert you all into EU-huggers; I simply can’t stand when fiction is being presented as fact. If we want a proper critical assessment of the EU, which we should in health’s name, then it must be based on facts. Otherwise, we’re just wasting our time and unable to keep the real scandals under control.

In the name of democracy, let’s stick to the truth.

Technical Info

WordPress has managed to mess up the entire appearance of this and a host of other blogs, and will not respond to any support questions because they’re still having a nice weekend rest. Let’s hope they get my painstakingly designed sidebars back in their places soon, until then, I can’t change a thing.

After The Coffee Break, We’ll Save The Rest Of The World

Speaking about press briefings, I must add a note about Thursday’s lengthy press briefing on the upcoming EU-USA summit on 2-4 May. The whole briefing was off the record, so I can’t go into too much detail. But you’re not missing much, because it was frankly as exciting as watching paint dry.

However, what did make it worth attending was watching one of the spokesmen for the German presidency, suit-clad, stone-faced and serious-looking, list the issues within the field of foreign policy that would be on the agenda:

“Ze Middle East, ze Israel-Palestinian situation, Lebanon, Syria, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Darfur and Russia, international terrorism, organised crime, and weapons of mass destruction”.

By then, muffled giggles had started spreading among the journalists in the European Council’s press briefing room in Brussels (where the whole thing was shown live on-screen via CCTV as the original briefing was held in Berlin).

Consequently unaware of the amusement he was causing in Brussels, the poor spokesman made a short pause and added, in an unchanged serious voice:

“I’m not sure all of these will be discussed”.

Duh.

Good thing, then, we must conclude, for the rest of the world’s dictators, criminals, thugs and villains, that the summit is only TWO days long.

PS. Speaking about villains: I wrote this in the reception lobby of a car glass service in Drogenbos, where I had to waste a lot of time watching my car having the window replaced that some faceless thugs smashed in pursuit of my car stereo yesterday. To add insult to injury, it now turns out that the car glass company can’t produce such a window on short notice, so I have to satisfy with a plexiglass dummy TAPED there and come back once again another day for the real thing. All the hassle, all the time wasted, all the frustration, just because of someone who couldn’t care less about other people’s hard-earned belongings! If only THAT could have been on one agenda or another, I murmur selfishly.

Brainstorming Storm

…as I was saying, before we were so rudely interrupted, yesterday offered some of the usual, amusing stonewalling amusement that only the European Union can muster. This time, the attempt was to rein in the monumentally mishandled “mini-summit” that the Commission’s chairman José Manuel Barroso called the day before.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Mr Barroso was to invite a few select heads of government to his native Portugal on 12-13 May, to look into the future and discuss a few issues of one kind or another. (You might suspect this to be a euphemism for “looking into a glass with an ice cube-cooled beverage by the poolside in sunny Portugal”, but that is of course unsubstantiated slander.)

However, a number of other heads of government were not invited, which immediately triggered questions such as “What criteria did you have when selecting the lucky charter passengers sorry, conference attendees”, or “Is this another step towards a ‘two-speed EU'”, with some members being, eh, more members than others, which the union has tried to avoid in recent years.

Amusingly enough, the outcry thus produced made Mr Barroso swiftly change his plans and strike a few people off the guest list. All of a sudden, only a few people with slightly more defined importance for forward-looking issues were now on the shortlist, such as the heads of government for the countries next in turn to take the rotating chairmanship. You could almost hear the groaning of the other ones grumpily unpacking their sunscreen tubes and swim shorts.

Of course, Mr Barroso’s spokesman, our favourite gatekeeper Johannes Laitenberger, was pressed about all this by journalists who wondered whether or not they should bother booking a flight ticket or so. (They always send him forward when they know something controversial’s coming up.) Mr Laitenberger tried his best to convince us all at the daily press briefing that this was not a “mini-summit”, merely “brainstorming”.

“What”, one reporter eventually asked, ” do you say to those heads of government, like for instance the Belgian Prime Minister, whose brains were not considered important enough to storm”?

“Mr Barroso holds ongoing talks with all kinds of people”, Mr Laitenberger responded, adding:

“I can assure you that all brains will be stormed”.

All brains? Yeaouwch. Remember this, next time you have a sudden headache: it might be the EU storming your brain. Watch out for little men in black. Look carefully under your bed before going to sleep,

Chrome, Smoke & BBQ

(That’s the best name for an album I’ve ever seen, given the image of the group, so I couldn’t resist using that as a headline for this entry. My apologies if you were looking for the CD and ended up here by mistake.)

Yesterday, I was told that Belgium was going to impose a tax on barbecues. 20 euros per event, the deal was, because BBQ adds so much to CO2 emissions and global warming. To make sure the whole thing was adhered to, the country would be monitored by helicopters with thermal sensors.

Helicopters! Which would of course leave a far heavier CO2 footprint than your cookout! (No, wait, choppers can’t leave footprints. That sounds like a decent title for a Christian album, though. Footsteps In The Sky. Like another completely brilliant Christian album title by Graham Kendrick may years ago, Footsteps On The Sea. But that’s beside the point.)

Anyway. Some brief investigations showed this to be an April Fool’s joke in the Belgian region of Wallonia, however, that for some reason wouldn’t go away.

“We have repeatedly denied this information, which is nothing but an April Fool’s Day joke. But we never imagined it would create such a fuss”, a spokesman for the local government of Wallonia told RIA Novosti.

That’s the second time in half a year that a Walloon prank has gone haywire. In December, the RTBF television channel created a War-of-the-Worlds-style hysteria when it broadcast a bogus report that the other main region, Flanders, had broken off and formed a country of its own.

In both cases, you can laugh at the dupes. But there is some reason why so many people readily believe such things to be true: somewhere, it is enough in line with mad political decisions to be credible enough.

That is perhaps the reason for the host of myths that surround the European Union. I will spend a few blog entries over the next week or so dealing with some of the most outrageous ones; be sure to check back here regularly for some happy slapping of your favourite EU conspiracy theories.

Waiting For Clouseau

I was going to tell you some funny episodes from today’s events at various EU institutions, but that will have to wait until tomorrow, because for most of this afternoon and evening I have been busy with all the miserable aftermath that came with the discovery that someone had broken into my car when I was away downtown, stealing the CD player I had as a gift for my graduation, with a CD in it that I had for my latest birthday.

(If someone offers you to buy a JVC KD-G332EX with the serial number JV20332UE07124, it’s MINE.)

This little surprise awaited me where my car was parked, right behind a police station on the far edge of Anderlecht, as well as the owners of a number of other vehicles in the same parking lot, which were subject to the same fate.

So, obviously, you go to that police station to report the crime. And what do they do? They call the police.

Seriously. I’m not kidding. I and the children, whom I had just fetched at school, sat and waited for about half an hour at a police station, waiting for a police patrol from another police station to turn up so I could report a simple crime.

This oddity was explained when that patrol eventually made I there. It turned out that the police station where I was waiting belonged to the highway police, apparently only authorised to go after cars and not human criminals.

“You would have thought”, I murmured between clenched teeth to the policeman who did not only speak French, “that your car would be safe when you park it behind the police station”.

“Oh no”, responded the policeman, “they’re only the highway police, they don’t even look there”.

Now, you must remember that Belgium used to have a few different fragmented police forces until a few years ago, merged only after the inefficiency of that system proved itself in its epical failure of capturing the Devil of Charleroi, aka paedophile/psychopath Marc Dutroux. But, apparently, the new, purportedly unified police force has yet to merge with itself.

“I thought all this was reformed”, I said in a voice intended to be frosty enough to make snowflakes fall in spite of the +33 C we are currently experiencing here.

I didn’t get an answer.

The CD in the player was the latest by the Belgian band Clouseau, world famous all over Flanders but sadly unknown in the rest of the world, a duo which I hope to write something nice about at another occasion because they’re really good. They take their name from the dim-witted inspector in the Pink Panther movies, and I hope to be forgiven for recalling that character in the light of these current events.

Anyway. OK, I thought. At least I’ve got insurance.

Or so I thought.

My insurance broker kindly informed me that the insurance I have paid hundreds of euros for every year basically doesn’t cover anything, save for liability and legal aid in case of an accident. Moreover, when I asked him in the somewhat animated fashion that was the inevitable result of such a revelation why on Earth he couldn’t have mentioned that or offered me something else when I signed up, it turned out that you cannot insure a car against theft, glass damage and fire in Belgium, if the car is more than five years old. So, if they had done away with the whole car, I would have simply been stranded. Lucky me.

“Excuse me”, said I, “but that’s just not good enough. Can’t you hear how stupid this sounds?”

“That’s how it is in Belgium”, said the broker.

So, now we know. If you’re poor enough not to be able to afford a brand new car, you have to anticipate whatever money you do manage to earn to become cannon fodder for the rampages of any airhead for a lowlife who cannot be bothered to get a proper job.

Upon drawing these conclusions, I asked my friend JD whether I should use a hacksaw or a screwdriver to lobotomise myself.

“That depends on whether or not your head is older than five years”, he responded laconically.

The Gas-Guzzling Travelling Circus

This week, the EU Parliament holds its monthly session in Strasbourg. Strasbourg, France, that is. Although being based in Brussels and having built a monstrous castle at the top of a hill there, they travel once a month to another ghastly castle to convene. This building – erected solely for the Parliament – is then EMPTY for the remaining 307 days each year.

The rest of the year, 785 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), 1,220 officials, and countless hordes of journalists, lobyists and other creatures travel from Brussels to Strasbourg and back again for week-long sessions. The MEPs alone need 15 lorries to haul all their documents back and forth each month, as we all understand is necessary in this day and age of e-mail.
Oh, yes, and I forgot the 525 people who travel to Strasbourg from Luxemburg, where the Parliament’s administrative offices so wisely have been located.

The cost for this travelling circus amounts to millions of euros alone. If you only count in money, that is.

The EU has recently decided to cut greenhouse gases by 20 per cent. A couple of EU Parliamentarians therefore amused themselves by investigating the environmental cost for this madness, and today announce that the CO2 emissions from all this is at least 20,000 tonnes per year. You can read more about it in this excellent publication, one of the best news sources on all things EU.

So, why doesn’t the EU Parliament stop this? The answer is simple: They want to, but they do not have the power to change it.

That’s food for thought. The only directly elected institution in the EU is so aggressively powerless that it can’t even take a decision on where to house itself.

Now you might understand why I usually don’t bother to travel to Strasbourg to cover what they are doing.

One million people signed a petition some time ago to put an end to this. But such a decision has to be taken unanimously by the member states. And there’s one country that just won’t give up.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one.