WHEN Mr Blair, M. Chirac and Herr Schroder meet at the EU summit this week their smiles are likely to be forced and their bonhomie in distinctly short supply. Each of the Big Three of the EU has been humiliated by its electorate. Germany's governing Social Democrats fared worst, taking only 25 per cent of the vote while the opposition Christian Democrats got 44 per cent; President Chirac's party finished far behind the Socialists, 29-17 per cent. We know what happened in the UK: the two main parties could not even assemble half of the votes cast between them.
The only country in the EU where common sense and maturity was to be found was here in Spain, with the ruling Socialists bettering the Partido Popular by 44-41 per cent, in line with the March general election. And in two of the smallest of the new member nations, Cyprus and Malta, there were turn-outs of 71 per cent and 82 per cent respectively, putting to shame the apathy seen almost everywhere else in the EU.
Each country will have to decide what lessons it needs to learn from this debacle. But overriding all other considerations is the stark fact that the great majority of EU citizens have only the flimsiest idea of what the EU does and why it is worth persevering with despite its obvious failings. Partly this is because of the trivial approach of the media, partly because politicians take little trouble to promote the EU in their own countries, but principally because the EU Commission in Brussels seems to assume that, since the EU is so self-evidently a good thing, they need do little to explain and justify its decisions. They are wrong.