Review of 'Bonfire of Bureaucracy in Brussels'

BY Daniel Hannan

Those Europhiles who cling, despite all the evidence, to the whole people-who-don’t-like-the-EU-racket-are-secret-xenophobes shtick should meet Derk Jan Eppink MEP.  Cerebral, courteous and cosmopolitan, Eppink is a brilliant linguist even by Dutch standards. He is married to a Russian, represents a Belgian constituency and was living in New York until he was elected. His last big job was at the European Commission, where he worked with Frits Bolkestein to try to crowbar free market principles into the EU’s competition policy. Eppink won’t even call himself a Euro-sceptic, preferring the term “Euro-realist”.


The Tower of Babel: Inspiration for the European Parliament

All of which makes his book, Bonfire of Bureaucracy in Europe, awkward for Euro-integrationists to ignore. There is nothing nostalgic here, nothing intemperate, nothing angry. The book is empirical and measured. It judges the EU by the liberal-democratic precepts on which Western civilisation is built, and finds it wanting. The Brussels apparat, Eppink concludes, is remote, self-serving, anti-American, addicted to spending other people’s money, disdainful of the ballot box and fearful of the masses. He makes these observations in such a matter-of-fact way that it is impossible to call them shrill or exaggerated. Nor can his credentials be easily called into question: his years at the European Commission qualify him perfectly to write an insider’s account.

Incidentally, the book’s Dutch title is De Toren van Babel Staat in Brussel, and the eponymous Tower, as imagined by Athanasius Kircher, looms on its cover. Regular readers will know that I blog often about what I call the EU’s hideous strength: the way in which, as well as being undemocratic in itself, it subverts the internal democracies of its member nations.

Thus, for example, in order to secure “Yes” votes on Nice and Lisbon, Ireland was obliged to junk the rules which had guaranteed fair referendums – a change which means that all future Irish referendums, not just those to do with the EU, will be unbalanced. Thus was a Belgian government cobbled together for a few weeks for the sole purpose of ratifying the European Constitution, which task fulfilled, it promptly dissolved itself. Thus the way in which the British general election was deferred so that Poland and the Czech Republic could ratify the Lisbon Treaty before polling day (see here).

I borrowed the phrase “hideous strength” from a novel by C S Lewis, who had in turn borrowed it from a poem about the Tower of Babel by the sixteenth century Scottish writer, Sir David Lyndsay:

The shadow of that hyddeous strength,
Sax myle and more it is of length

Which brings me to my second book recommendation: Planet Narnia by Michael Ward. Unlike Bonfire of Bureaucracy in Europe, it is neither short nor easy. Ward’s thesis is taut and compelling, and requires intelligent engagement: this isn’t a book to dabble in while half-listening to the cricket. But it is the best book I’ve read since… well, since at least this one.

First-rate writing is difficult to précis, and a bald summary of Ward’s conclusion – that each Narnia book corresponds to one of the seven planets in mediaeval cosmology, and that the chronicles collectively serve to glorify God by making the reader taste the essence of each heavenly sphere without being conscious of the symbolism – doubtless sounds implausible. To which the best reply I can give is read it for yourself. If Ward is wrong, his is the most beautiful mistake in modern literary criticism. But I don’t think he is wrong.

By the way, if you haven’t read it, do have a look at That Hideous Strength, a disquieting novel about a literally diabolical conspiracy against England – a conspiracy that takes the form of an apparently well-intentioned bureaucracy. The name of that bureaucracy? The N.I.C.E.


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