Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Express tiptoes into the EU debate

The Express has spent the last two days carefully making its opinions about the EU presidency known in a series of thoughtful, balanced articles. You may have noticed this if you saw their front pages; yesterday's was headlined BRITAIN RULED BY A BELGIAN? YOU MUST BE JOKING, which was neat but missed the opportunity for the classic 'EU MUST BE JOKING' pun, for shame. Today's reads, with the Express' usual sense of calm and restraint, "UK'S NEW BELGIAN BOSS IS A CLOWN", although on the website they go with BELGIAN PM HERMAN VAN ROMPUY CALLED CLOWN BY SISTER CHRISTINE.

Both these stories refer to the position created by the Lisbon Treaty, for which Tony Blair was once a forerunner, but it now apparently looks like it's going to be the Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy. So, what do we know of van Rompuy? The Express helpfully details some of the things you need to know about him in order to make an informed judgement of his politics and character. Here are the key phrases to take away from the first article;
Euro fanatic Herman Van Rompuy...who wants to impose sweeping Europe-wide taxes, is expected to be picked for the plum new job at a cosy dinner of the Brussels elite...crazed plans for building a European superstate...banning national flags and anthems...massive new taxation offensive...

Don't you just wish sometimes they'd get off the fence? Anyway, that's just the 'news' part of the article, the editorialisin' part comes in a blizzard of quotes from assorted UKIP and Tory mouthpieces, who it seems aren't pleased;

Gerard Batten, UKIP MEP for London, said ­angrily: “What is the point of Belgium? The only reason it would get the presidency is because by giving it to such a non-entity it is not going to upset anyone.

“They are adding insult to injury. It’s bad enough having the Lisbon Treaty rammed down our throats but a president from a nothing country telling us we shouldn’t exist? They are jackals biting the lion’s tail.”
UKIP there, ladies and gentlemen, saying what they probably think we're all thinking. And, of course, up pops Philip "Rent-A-Quote" Davies with clockwork precision, to say "Do Gordon Brown and the Labour ­Government have such little regard for our great country that they think we are only worthy of being governed by a Belgian autocrat? Had anyone at the time of Churchill or Thatcher advanced that theory, people would have laughed in their faces". You can almost feel him itching to mention the war, can't you? Luckily the Express provides an avenue for that kind of thinking with a third article today, DAILY EXPRESS READERS VENT ANGER OVER BELGIAN PM VAN ROMPUY, in which its readers bang the "Did we win the war for THIS?" drum;
JOHN Mills, 73, from ­Cardiff said: “It comes as a betrayal of the men who died for this country and if they could come back they would call our leaders traitors.”

Mary Cock, 88, from Ripon, North Yorks, said: “The Belgians should remember who freed their country from the Germans. We, in this tiny island, we were the only ones who stood up to the force of the German airforce.”

Michael Goulding, 49, from Barnsley, West Yorks, said: “We fought two world wars. Was that in vain? Was that a waste of life?”
One reader worries that "Other countries are laughing at us, especially France and Germany", as if France and Germany aren't affected by this whole EU presidency thing somehow, while another tells us that "Britain should be British", a phrase that's as meaningless and paranoid as it is unnecessary.

So what of this clown story?
THE Belgian politician poised to become president of Europe was last night dismissed as a clown. [...] But the 62-year-old poetry-writing prime minister of Belgium suffered fresh embarrassment when it emerged that even his own sister had ridiculed him.
I've bolded some interesting phrases, all of which hint that this is new information, as opposed to something the Express just found out about. In reality, there's a party of which van Rompuy's sister is a member. For an election they ran a campaign to "stop the political circus", which according to the header on their website, depicted at least six mainstream politicians as clowns. Van Rompuy was sworn in as Belgian PM in December 2008, so presumably this campaign started before then (the website for the campaign dates back to May of 2008, and there's a reference to the poster itself dating back to this June). For some reason, papers find it hard to admit when they're not actually covering current news, so they use phrases like "it emerged" instead of "So we Googled this guy yesterday...".

The most interesting thing about him is that he appears to be a fucking ninja. Two quotes from the 'clown' article;
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said: “The list of famous Belgians will not be extended by his appointment. This is the man who will have more power than David Cameron or Gordon Brown and we are not given a say.

Van Rompuy, a married father of three who was an economist and banker before starting a career in politics, is more famous in his own country for writing Japanese-style poems than any for political achievements.
Not only can he become EU President without becoming a famous Belgian, according to an ever-tactful UKIPper, but apparently he's not even famous in his own country, despite being its Prime Minister. How does he do it? Are the Belgians are a particularly inattentive people? Do they see this guy on the TV and think "Oh look, it's that funny poetry man, wonder what he's been up to lately?". Perhaps his whole career has been a study in Derren Brown-style misdirection and the Belgians haven't even noticed their Prime Minister changed 11 months ago. All we can discern from this is that he is truly a master of disguise, so his critics better damn well be careful who they're talking to at social functions, lest they suddenly feel a flash of cold steel in their gut, their assailant whipping off a latex mask to reveal himself as the Belgian PM as they tumble gasping to the floor.

So what have we learned about this guy, or the machinations of the EU? Well, not much. There's clearly a debate you can have about the EU and whether this position actually means anything significant at all, but you're probably not going to get a particularly balanced appreciation of the arguments if you're an Express reader, since all the articles about him are like wailing sirens. In yet another Macer Hall-penned article today, we're treated to some more shocking revelations about the man most of the other papers don't really care about, including that he's sort of like a passionate Islamist;
He has claimed Islam is the only force in the world standing up to the markets. “There is barely a stronger force in the world than the force of money. Today it mops up societies all over the world. Only Islam is resisting, although it is doing so often because of complete intolerance.”
I like quotes like that, because you could also preface it with "He has accused Islam of 'complete intolerance'", something the Express would agree with, and it would be just as accurate. Anyway, I for one welcome our new haiku-writin', flag-destroyin', stealth assassin overlords; it all sounds quite exciting. I hope he doesn't just turn out to be a largely ineffectual political figurehead who wants European nations to work closer together like what the whole point of the EU is.


  1. Whatever can be said about him at least he doesn't hear the voices like his rival from the UK, our last dear leader, did.