Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Heady times for those of us fascinated by railways. Last week saw the breakthrough under the Gotthard massif, the decisive step towards the realization of the 'basis tunnel' designed to bring northern and southern Europe closer together. I well remember in the early seventies when I was semi-resident in Switzerland the excited talk about this hugely ambitious project.

And yesterday the Deutsche Bahn sent a high-speed train through the EuroTunnel to arrive with considerable fanfare at St. Pancras station, to glide to a halt across the platform from a Eurostar. This is a step towards the realization of a rail service connectivity which can be seen as a milestone.

But today I prefer to see it as a metaphor for disconnectivity.

There is, with this railway adventure, a hint of idealistic Europeanism... Germany, France and England linked.

Given the need for Europe as a whole to recover from the dire economic meltdown of recent years might one not expect some adventurous thinking, some hints of a quest for cross-frontier solutions?

We hope in vain. That is the conclusion I reach from watching the newscasts and talkshows on German and French television and listening to BBC radio.

In Germany the headlines are dominated by a schizoid cacophony of voices seemingly determined to subvert any rational approach to the nation's immigration policy. And there is the second issue posed by the popular uprising in Stuttgart, where there is the extraordinary spectacle of hundreds of thousands of protesters whose aim is an ex post facto annulment of a project which long ago passed through all of the requisite legislative procedures. We deplore, as a matter of course, further military fatalities in the 'Stans. And, oh yes, there's usually a sidebar story pointing a finger at the spectacularly revolting French.

Meanwhile in England there is no story bigger than the government's draconian spending cuts which... and the gory details will be revealed later today... will leave no aspect of life in Britain unchanged. Budgets for defence, welfare, policing and education will be slashed as never before. The retirement age will be raised to sixty-seven. And, yes, the French are also mentioned and there is a clear smugness about the conclusion that the streets of Great Britain will never be crowded by vociferous, marching protesters.

The French news shows have no time to reflect on the harsh medicine being fed to les Rosbifs. The 'Stuttgart 21' would be incomprehensible in a land where les grands projets are pushed through without any care for dissenters. No, France is preoccupied by the perceived iniquity of raising the retirement age to sixty-two! School children and students are marching, too, claiming that their employment prospects will be diminished if older workers remain in their jobs. (This, of course, totally ignores the fact that when the retirement age was lowered to sixty there was no corresponding improvement for youngsters seeking to enter the labour market.)

This is what I call a disconnect. In each of these countries there is incoherent anger bubbling beneath the surface, different in its form in Germany, France and England. Perhaps we should even be glad of this parochial compartmentalization. For in the United States there emerged the Tea Party to unite the incoherently angry, the unhinged, the unwashed, the paranoid, the subversive and the ignorant.

Might not the worst case be a pan-European stridency, on a par with a Palin or a Limbaugh, a cross-frontier populist crying "All aboard!" in German, French and English?

1 comment:

nzm said...

When Democracy fails, Socialism rears its head. It never went away; it was just veiled, burqa-like, which France has ironically just banned. Exorcising one form of physical cover reveals more hidden than first realised. Symbolism anyone?