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SUPERSTATE: A POLITICAL FANTASY OF THE EUROPEAN UNION.
Part One: A woman named Valerie.
The image, of a sad looking Adolf Hitler wearing a blue armband with a
European Union flag on it, said as much about The Daily Mail as it did its cover
story.
"Freedom at last!" the headline declared, with a smaller picture of young
Conservative activists burning an EU flag in Trafalgar Square. Inside, a well-
known right-wing historian speculated, perhaps through the use of a medium,
as to how disappointed Adolf Hitler would have been at the news of British
withdrawal from the European Union.
A free “Dad’s Army” DVD was given away with each copy.
Curiously, with the goal achieved, one would have thought that, in the years
that followed, British tabloids would have given their obsession with the EU a
rest. It wasn't like there weren’t enough other things to rant about, and the
British departure had been sensitively handled.
The inital temptation, led by elements in the French Government, to punish
Britain with restrictions on access to the single market had been fought
vigorously by a coalition led, surprisingly, by Ireland’s steely young and
principled female Taoiseach, who regarded trade with Britain as vital.
The Dutch, the Poles, the Swedes and (more quietly) the Germans had come
onboard, and so the deal had been done. Britain had access to the single market
in return for a large Norwegian style annual "contribution" to the EU budget.
Britain no longer had a Commissioner, or seat on the European Council, or
MEPs, but they had what they wanted. Or so it had seemed.
Then the grumbling started.
Eurosceptic MPs started noticing the streams of industrial lobbyists going in and
out of government departments with draft EU directives and regulations in their
folders, and soon the reality emerged.
British business, eager to ensure that its exports to the EU were compliant with
EU regulation, was now asking British governments to copy EU regulations. The
eurosceptics went bananas (Good straight British bananas, it had to be said), in
some cases proposing amendments to regulations purely to be different from
what was coming out of Brussels. The industry lobby started leaning on the non-
swivel eyed loon wing of the Conservative Party, and suddenly, the party was
engulfed in yet another blazing war over Europe, even though the country was
not actually in Europe anymore.
The Conservative/UKIP coalition had attempted to reap the perceived rewards
of "Brexit" by scrapping all the perceived EU regulations Britain was no longer
bound by, but had immediately waded into a furious row when those
regulations became clear to the public.
The media started focusing on what specifically the EU regulations actually
covered. From the right to paid holidays, to protection from poison in the
workplace, to maternity protection and food ingredient labelling, suddenly the
government looked like it was pursuing an almost Dickensian agenda, trying to
roll back employee rights to the era of cloth caps and galloping consumption.
Nor was it helped by the boorish golf club talk of some of UKIP's junior ministers
who made Jeremy Clarkson sound like a Guardian columnist in touch with his
feminine side.
When one proposed that pregnancy be made grounds for employment
dismissal, Prime Minister Gove's immediate dismissal of him almost brought
down the government.
Indeed, even the government's high-profile attempt to introduce some post-
Brexit populist measures, such as a referendum on the restoration of the death
penalty, ran into quicksand. The Attorney General pointed out that if it were
successful, the EU would refuse to extradite serious criminals to the UK without
a pledge that capital punishment would not apply.
Then the Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition, lacking the votes to block the
bill in Parliament, decided to be mischievous, and proposed an amendment to
extend the death penalty to white collar, fraud and financial crimes, a measure
which was both popular in polls but also forced Tory and UKIP MPs into blazing
rows on television where they were accused of just wanting to execute the little
people.
"If we have to have hanging, then's let's have fair, equal opportunity hanging,"
one Labour MP demanded.
When it was revealed that one UKIP MP, notorious for his blood curdling
support for hanging, had been found guilty of VAT fraud in the 1990s and would
have been executed under the Labour/LibDem proposal, his opposition to the
amendment led to him being booed off BBC's Question Time.
The bill was eventually sent by the Prime Minister to a Royal Commission for a
detailed (and hopefully very long) analysis.
But, despite all that, there was a reason why the British tabloids still couldn't
give up talking about the EU, and the reason was clear in three words:
Valerie Patricia Avalon.
One analysis by a University of Kent academic found that the EU President was
on at least one tabloid front page every single week.
The question, of course, was why?
She was a federalist, indeed embodied the single most powerful force bringing
Europe towards a federal superstate, and they were completely against that.
They also didn't like her social liberalism either, the way she tipped her cap at
the gays and the Muslims and women, and the way she cautiously balanced
herself in the centre of the political spectrum, occasionally firing missiles at
targets to both her right and left.
But that wasn’t it. Why were they so obsessed with her?
The answer was simple, in these vapid, visually obsessed times. Valerie Patricia
Avalon was hot.
The President of the European Union was strikingly beautiful, oozed sex appeal,
and dressed the part as well. The 42 year old Frenchwoman, daughter of a
billionaire industrialist and Irish model, could easily have followed her mother's
career path, her tall but curvaceous figure capped with her mother's
shimmering red hair.
Her stunning looks permitted her not only to cross the barrier from politics to
celebrity, but even to catch the attention of the continent’s self-obsessed youth.
Tee-shirts with “Our President is hotter than your President” were all the rage
in the summer of her appointment, and a famous photo-shopped picture of her
wrapped in nothing but a long silk EU flag became one of the celebrated images
of the year.
Feminists were livid at the obsession with here looks. Her, they said, was a
woman who had passed through the elite Ecole de National Administration in
Paris, and then on to MIT where she specialized in aeronautical engineering,
before then returning to take over the family business at 32, a successful empire
that stretched from media interests to aircraft to manufacturing, and yet she
was still being judged on her looks.
Of course, the reality was that VPA, as the media tagged her, was just as quick
to use her looks as play other populist moves if necessary. On the day of her
election as President of the European Council, for example, she had announced
that she would waive all her salary and pension entitlements, a move that had
capped an extraordinary campaign.
Her entire campaign had been cautiously assembled over five years, with her
media interests lining up behind those national political leaders who supported
her, and ignoring those who didn't.
In interviews and parliamentary hearings she displayed a masterly mix of
flirtatious charm mixed with a stunning grasp of detail of the business, legal,
technical and political subjects she was addressing.
When she founded and led a new, centrist liberal party into the European
Parliament elections, winning a dozen seats in France, her name became a
mandatory addition to any speculative lists concerning future Presidents of the
Republic.
Fortunately for her nervous rivals for that particular position, her ambitions had
been wider. From the European Parliament she had begun a careful plan to
create a continent-wide political network utilising all the political, business and
financial resources at her disposal.
At its heart was EuroForce, the quasi-paramilitary security force come disaster
relief organisation she funded out of Avalon profits, through a charitable
foundation. Across Europe, every time there was a flood, a forest fire, or other
major disaster, EuroForce was there, sometimes ahead of the authorities,
rescuing people, providing emergency shelter, with its fleet of blue and gold EU
flagged helicopters, trucks and specialist rescue equipment. Avalon would be
there as well, being briefed by her uniformed commanders, with the media
always generously accomodated. She'd always make sure that local elected
officials were included in the coverage, with flattering images of local mayors or
MEPs or MPs being respectfully listened to, and praised by her for showing
leadership and working with EuroForce to get things done. When the flood
waters receded and the flames were doused, EuroForce always remained to
help with the reconstruction and recovery, sometimes contributing funds
towards the cost of rebuilding.
It left her with an ever-growing list of political chits to be called in at a later
date, especially as Avalon-owned media organizations were always quick to
highlight and praise local political leaders who cooperated with her.
Even at national level, presidents and prime ministers had to pay attention to
her. When key national or electorally sensitive companies got into difficulty,
Avalon Industries could always assist with some loans or equity shares.
Whether it was a major arms manufacturer in the French Prime Minister's
constituency that was in trouble, or a major motor parts supplier in Bavaria, the
phone could be lifted and Avalon would always provide a sympathetic ear.
Avalon media, whilst always supporting centrist, pro-European parties, was not
fussy about leaning left or right when it came to election coverage, if needed be.
It was no surprise when she appeared as a regular guest at Bilderberg meetings,
or at the annual Davos jamboree.
When the question of a new President of the European Council arose, following
the incumbent's need to return to his native Belgium to stop it from breaking up
in one of its ongoing huffs, her name was unable to be avoided, especially
considering she had made sure that key people in the chancelleries of Paris,
Berlin, Rome, Madrid and Warsaw were all made aware that yes, she wanted
the job.
The inital reaction had been negative. Was she qualified? Absolutely. But that
was the problem. Aside from footballers, actors and popstars, Valerie Patrica
Avalon was probably the most well known "European" across the continent.
Whether it was on the front of fashion and current affairs magazines (many
Avalon owned) or speaking at political events or on TV, she was, if not quite a
household name, certainly knocking on their door.
The leaders of the EU didn't like that, because, along with the huge resources
her enormous wealth brought, it meant that she would have the potential to
become a political force in her own right, claiming to speak for "Europe" where
they only spoke for individual member states. One objected to the constant
images of her around Europe, at every disaster site, surrounded by men and
women with EU flags on their uniforms, as if she were some sort of "President
of Europe".
The Italian Prime Minister, no stranger to the company of beautiful women
himself, objected to her pinching his backside in front of cameras at Davos, an
action which had caused much amusement across a continent (and behind the
scenes in the European Council) tired with his boorish behaviour.
They all agreed. They did not want her as President.
But how do they actually stop her?
Some of the small countries, whom she had assidiously courted with visits and
investment from Avalon Industries had formally placed her name in nomination.
Who wanted to actually oppose her?
Local political leaders in both the French President's party, and that of the
German Chancellor, were, at Avalon's suggestion, quietly reminding their
leaders of their high opinion of, and debts owed, to Avalon.
The Polish Prime Minister, in delicate negotiations about saving a large
employer in the country's south with Avalon, didn't want to rock the boat.
The Spanish Prime Minister had only recently attended a ceremony to open new
social housing partially funded by the Avalon Foundation, for people who had
lost their homes in a forest fire, so he was out.
The Italian announced that he would happily do it, and had to be persuaded
that the image of the other major leaders siding with the continent's Chauvinist
Pig in Chief against a successful, intelligent and capable female nominee would
open up a whole new source of woe.
As a result, after much frustration, the name went through, and she was
nominated by 27 countries, with only Italy opposing. In his home country, the
Italian PM was jeered in public, with suggestions that he opposed her because
she refused to sleep with him.
If the European Council had thought that she would quietly disappear into the
European infrastructure, they were to be very much disappointed. On her first
day in office, at a crowded press conference, she announced that she would
fund, from her own personal wealth, a large thinktank and media centre to
assist her in generating policies to help Europe. She also announced that her
business interests would be put under the control of a blind trust, but not
before announcing that Avalon Industries would put an Airbus 380 and a
number of large helicopters, all freshly branded in European Union livery, at her
disposal for official business. Avalon quickly invited both the Presidents of the
European Commission and the European Parliament to utilize the aircraft when
needed, knowing how fragile their delicate male egos were.
But the image was very clear: when she arrived in national capitals she looked
like the leader of a superpower.
Indeed, her systematic wooing of the European Parliament had been a
calculated and deliberate move. In most EU states, only Avalon owned
newspapers and TV channels gave constant coverage of the Parliament, going
out of their way to invite local MEPs and parliamentary group leaders on air. In
Brussels and Strasbourg she would religiously invite the bureaus of the
mainstream groupings in the Parliament to dinner and other events. When she
reached the Council Presidency, she had already ensured that the Parliament
was well disposed towards her.
In office, Avalon pushed the restraints of the office to its very boundaries. Her
thinktank, led by a clever and gregarious young Irishman who had cut his teeth
in the famous Centre for European Reform, began to generate policies which
she would then take on the campaign road. Not to the leaders of the EU, but
direct to the media in the member states.
This irritated the Council greatly, leading to angry remarks from the Italian
Prime Minister that "she should know her place", a comment to a woman that,
coming from him, caused the German Chancellor to choke on his glass of water.
Avalon kept her response in check, but took other steps. The Italian was
shocked when a brilliant and tough Italian businesswoman announced she was
forming a new party specifically to remove him from office. That wasn't the
shocking bit: it was the fact that he, a media mogul who had used his wealth
and media interests to win elections and thus defending his often suspect
business interests, was now being attacked by a woman who seemed to have
equal access to resources as he. He immediately denounced Avalon, who openly
supported the businesswoman, and who was financially assisted by Avalon’s
Italian division using all the loose campaign finance laws that the Prime Minister
had enacted to assist his own high spending campaigns.
The businesswoman, speaking in Milan, warned the state broadcasters that if
they continued to support the Prime Minister as shamelessly as they did, if she
won, she would sack every single one of them on day one. All she wanted, she
said, was equal access to the media, and not just for her party, but all parties.
Given the impact her party was having on the polls, where it now was within
mere percentage points of the Prime Minister's party, the state broadcasters, to
his horror, started doing their job.
The Elysee Palace and the Federal Chancellor's Office looked on, shocked, as the
votes were counted in Italy, and "the Avalon candidate", as Der Spiegel had
called her, defeated the outgoing Prime Minister and assembled a working
coalition in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The magazine was very
blunt about the result: President Avalon (as more and more media across the
continent began calling her) had just shown the European Council that she was
not their employee anymore, but a seperate political power in her own right.
Her office became the epicentre of a constant flow of ideas and proposals for
dealing with the challenges facing modern Europe. A dedicated polling unit,
again privately funded by her, constantly weighed and measured the opinions
of ordinary Europeans, allowing her to adjust her policy options to ensure, if not
popular approval, at least not popular dismissal.
She almost made sure to keep both the centre-left and centre-right sides of her
coalition engaged. For the left, she focussed on the issue of corporate taxation,
pointing out the difficulty of sovereign states pursuing multinational
corporations for tax when those states were both limited by their own legal
jurisdictions, but also, in many cases, considerably smaller and less resourced
than the companies they were pursuing. She suggested that the EU should
create a voluntary federal tax based on the sales turnover of those companies,
with the European Commission setting the nominal fee. The companies could
then negotiate that fee. Companies that wished to avoid paying the fee would
instead find a new special EU-wide VAT rate applied specifically to their
products sold in the EU, and the EU would collect its taxes that way. She
softened the pain by pointing out that the revenue raised would be distributed,
on a population basis, directly to the member states. Both member states and
companies objected, but the idea caught the public imagination, as she pointed
out that for all the accounts fiddling companies could do, the fact was that they
had to sell their products to 500 million Europeans, and if there was one thing
European countries could do well, it was collect VAT.
The policy, accompanied by Commission raids on selected company’s
headquarters, sat particularly well with centre-left voters. When some
commentators pointed out that the companies were merely passing on their tax
liabilities to customers through higher VAT, she pointed out that the companies
that did comply would have lower VAT rates, thus making their products more
competitive. Reluctantly, some of the larger companies quietly opened
discussions with the Commission.
On Turkey, she rode deliberately into controversy, telling an audience in Berlin
that there was no popular support for Turkish membership of the EU, and so it
could not proceed. She would instead propose to fly to Ankara and negotiate
with the Turkish Prime Minister on the creation of a new form of associate
membership specifically tailored to Turkish needs.
“Europe needs Turkey,” she said. “We need a strong friend, a model Muslim
democracy, a mutual partner. I propose not a union with Turkey, but certainly a
marriage, a strong pact of mutual respect and friendship and benefit, and as
long as neither of us asks who the wife is, we can make it work. Enough talk. Let
us do the deal.”
The speech was not well received in the national capitals, which were tied to
the never-ending negotiations with Turkey. But opinion polls showed that her
clear ruling out of Turkish membership was popular. Avalon media outlets were
also quick to show, nevertheless, that a strong relationship with Turkey was
vital for Europe’s security, and so her suggestion that an alternative path be
found also found support amongst voters.
When she then unveiled her proposal to manage immigration into Europe, it
was a global story. She proposed the leasing of a large tract of land in North
Africa to create a new city, built from the ground up, to be called
Schumannville. It would be run directly by the EU, and policed by a European
Union Defence Force, and would be the legal entry and processing point for all
claiming asyum in the EU.
It would be very expensive to run, she admitted, especially as the EU would
have a moral obligation to ensure a safe and decent standard of living for all
those kept there. But it would permit the EU to block extremists, and educate
and train possible refugees for work and also about what was expected of them
when they eventually reached mainland Europe. Their childen would be
educated, by law, in modern European schools, not religious madrassas, and
religious freedom would be protected within the city.
The proposal caused a huge and furious debate, as she expected. But that was
the point: here was a politician who recognised that immigration was not a
national issue but much wider, and proposing a radical approach to its
challenges.
The hard left attacked her for wanting to open a "concentration camp" in Africa,
nicknaming it Auschwitz South.
The hard right attacked her for not stopping immigration all together.
Both responded exactly as she had planned, leaving her in the calm middle
proposing a possible solution to an issue that featured daily in European life.
She stressed that nobody would ever be forced to stay in Schumannville, but
neither would anyone have the right to enter Europe without proper
authorisation, and this would be where the people of Europe would decide that
all those claiming asylum within the EU would be processed.
Most of the European Council came out against the idea, but that wasn't the
point. She had now created a radical policy proposal which centred political
debate upon her, confirming her as a major political force across the continent,
which had been the intent from the beginning.
Polls taken, in both Avalon media and elsewhere, showed both strong support
and opposition to the Schumannville Plan, and the European Council dragged its
feet on progressing it when she presented it formally for discussion. But one
thing was certain, commentators from The Economist to Le Monde to ABC
remarked: she did not have the power to implement it.
VPA moved to address that.
Part II: Avalon in power.
The news that a new party, funded indirectly by Avalon funds, was to contest
the European Parliament elections was met with certain indifference. United
Europe, unlike previous attempts at cross border parties, was not only well
funded, but immediately unveiled well-known candidates, in many cases,
existing centre-right and centre-left MEPs, national MPs and local politcians.
Avalon was calling in her political chips.
Whereas the initial response was to dismiss the new party and the elections as
being of minor concern, given their traditionally low turnout across Europe,
advisors in national chancelleries across the union began to look nervously at
the treaties that governed the EU.
In particular article 17 of the Treaty on European Union was dusted off, which
required them to take heed of European elections when they nominated, for
European Parliamentary approval, a candidate for the Presidency of the
European Commission.
This suddenly became relevent because United Europe announced, along with
support for the federalising of member state debt, support for ECB quantative
easing, the creation of both the EUDF and Schumannville as proposed by
Avalon, a call for the office of Council and Commission President to be merged,
and for Valerie Patricia Avalon to be elected to that combined position.
As polling day approached, both United Europe and Avalon ran two parallel but
complementary campaigns. In the south she advocated support for reflation,
and the printing of money by the ECB.
In the northern states she recognised the nervousness this caused, and insisted
that only nations that ceded the right to borrow money could avail of any such
funds.
The first polls started to appear, shocking cynical pundits, showing that
specifically in European Parliament elections, United Europe, or in some cases
national parties that had affiliated to it, were now in first or second place in
most member states. Avalon crisscrossed the continent, supporting the new
party, with only the far right and far left candidates really expressing anger at
her.
As the votes were counted across the continent, the elections received more
attention than the Parliament had ever received since its inital election in 1979.
United Europe, winning 40% of the seats in Parliament, emerged as the single
largest party, taking votes almost equally from both the centre-right and centre-
left. Given that each party had formally nominated a candidate for President of
the Commission in the run up to the election, it now meant that Avalon was the
formally nominated candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission.
Phones vibrated furiously between Paris, Berlin and the other capitals, as their
legal advisors pored over the treaties. There was certainly no obligation to let
her hold both positions, they agreed. The problem was that United Europe,
whilst lacking a majority, almost certainly stopped any other coalition of parties
supporting an alternative candidate. The eurosceptics, nationalists, and the far
left would never support the same nominee, even if the Christian Democrats,
Socialists, Liberals and Greens could, and without them there was no majority.
There was also the problem, party leaders in the national capitals were
discovering, that many MEPs in the centre parties actually did want to support
her. Unlike their own national leaders, Avalon had visited them, listened to
them, and made sure that her media organisations had given their work in
Brussels and Strasbourg coverage. Indeed, in some member states, as some
MEPs pointed out, it was Avalon media alone that communicated that there
were any MEPs at all.
The crisis added to her profile, with every major newspaper across the western
world giving the issue front page attention. The Economist ran the headline "If
not her, why not? And if not her, who?", pointing out that not since the days of
Jacques Delors had the Presidency of the European Commission actually
engaged popular discourse.
After a month of haggling, and the rise and fall of one suggested compromise
alternative after another (most of whom were met by the media going "who the
hell is that?"), the Council bowed to the inevitable, and nominated her, an
action which was strongly endorsed by the Parliament.
On taking office, Avalon moved quickly, with her appointment of European
Commissioners also breaking with established practice.
Traditionally, member state governments have nominated political figures to
get rid of them from the national political scene, with only a modest amount of
negotiation with the incoming President.
This time, Avalon supplied each government with lists of candidates from which
she would like them to consider their nominee. The candidates had been
carefully chosen, over half being women, and nearly all eminent in their field,
with attention paid to the political requirements of the relevent government,
which meant that in many cases, the governments were happy with the
nominees. Some governments, on the other hand, objected to her action on
grounds of national sovereignty, or purely out of a desire to nominate some
yahoo backwoodsman to pay off a domestic political favour.
Avalon played hardball, and publicly warned that if a government nominated a
candidate she felt was unsuitable, and refused to compromise; she would create
a Commission job where they could do as little harm as possible.
Her official spokesperson told journalists that she would deliberately create a
number of low-level Commission posts to "dump" candidates forced on her by
national governments.
When the Hungarian Prime Minister insisted upon nominating a crony fleeing
corruption charges in Budapest, instead of the Nobel Prize-winning energy
scientist Avalon requested, he found himself nominated as the de facto
Commissioner for photocopying and waste paper baskets.
The spectacle nearly toppled the Hungarian government.
Avalon then had her MEPs and allies in the European Parliament reject the
Hungarian nominee, leavng it empty until Budapest nominated a more suitable
candidate.
This time, the government did actually fall, plunging the country into a general
election. Other member states took the hint, and after negotiations with the
new President, the Avalon Commission, with just over half its members women,
took office under a Financial Times headline: "Europe's first Federal
Government?"
Throughout the build-up to her nomination, and the European Parliament
elections, Avalon had continued to build pressure on national leaders, as they
faced their own political pressures and elections.
Whether it was pressuring the Irish government by pledging new job creation in
Avalon businesses, or openly turning the company's media operations in favour
of one party over another, by the time the Commission had taken office, nearly
half of the members of the European Council were either pro-Avalon or
unwilling to oppose her.
It meant that when she unveiled the Commission's work programme, including
Schumannville and the creation of an EU Defence Force, these were no longer
just ideas.
These were now active policies under negotiation.
Part III: Europe steps up.
As President, Avalon was careful not to overstretch, meeting one on one with
national leaders, and being willing to compromise. Southern leaders were won
over with pledges of jobs for their unemployed in building the new city, whilst
Northern leaders were given guarantees that the large civil engineering
contracts involved in the process would be targeted towards their companies. A
French company won the contract to build a nuclear reactor to power the city.
German companies won the contracts to build the road and apartment blocks
needed for housing. The Dutch were to build the light rail system within the
city.
Within months, the plan began to change from a policy statement made by an
ambitious candidate to the agreed policy of the European Union.
Large demonstrations by left wing and immigrant groups were a weekly
occurence in Brussels, but polls showed broad support for the concept across
the continent. Avalon stressed that no person would be detained in
Schumannville against their will, but that access for refugees would only be
possible for people processed through it.
"Europe," she said, "must show generousity towards those seeking shelter and
safety. But it is the right of Europeans to decide how we do that."
Avalon led the EU delegation into negotiations with Algeria, to lease (for 999
years) 800 square kilometres in the country's interior, with a dedicated coastal
zone linked to the city by high speed rail (another French company).
The Daily Mail ran with a front page story about “Yet another European leader
obsessed with 1000 year reigns!”. It also gave away a free “Battle of Britain”
DVD.
As part of the negotiations, she agreed that there would be a fixed quota of jobs
maintained within the city for Algerian citizens, provided, she insisted, that the
final treaty was put to a free and fair referendum of the Algerian people.
She was not, she told reporters on the flight back on Unity One, her Airbus 380,
“going into the colony business.”
When the Algerian people voted by 69%, in a UN supervised vote, in favour of
the treaty, things moved fast. The President of the ECB announced that the
central bank was raising a bond for 900 billion euro to fund the project, along
with the EU Defence Force needed to police it when it was running.
Construction started almost immediately, with over half a million workers from
Europe crossing over to live in "the European Zone" as it became known. Across
the EU, huge contracts began to be issued, and work began.
Six months in, Europe posted a projected growth rate of 2.1%, and falls in
unemployment across the union as workers moved to the zone.
The newly commissioned EUDF took over responsibility for intercepting illegal
immigration into Europe through its Eastern borders and across the
Mediterranean. Detained suspects were offered a choice: they could work in the
zone, or return home.
As the zone took shape, journalists from across the world travelled to it,
fascinated by what it could represent. There was no doubt; it had the potential
for terrible stories. As with any large development, stories of drugs, crime and
prostitution began to emerge. On top of that, the zone began to exercise a
magnetic draw to immigrants from across the African continent, some under the
misapprehension that entry into Schumannville automatically gave access into
the European Union.
Early failures of the city's administration, led by a former British prime minister
held in higher esteem outside his country than within, led to cries of disaster
and failure from the plan's critics. The power and clean water supplies, for
example, were later than promised, and the housing and transport systems
struggled to keep up with demand.
Yet like a vast Olympic park, systems gradually came online, and began to work.
Many of the immigrants began to open businesses, appreciative of the rule of
law and uncorrupt judges and EUDF troops that maintained law and order.
Female refugees in particular were shocked at the way the law within the zone
treated them equally, with female soldiers and government officials willing to
listen to them.
In the schools, boys and girls were educated together to a European curriculum
of respect for democracy, equality and religious tolerance. Parents who
objected were given a clear choice: their children could attend the schools
(attendance was mandatory) or the families could leave the zone. The vast
majority accepted the requirement.
Gay and lesbian refugees were stunned to discover not only that EU officials
welcomed them, but even assigned gay EUDF officers to liaise with them and
introduce them to gay groups within the city, resulting in Schumannville soon
having the most vibrant and certainly most free gay quarter in Africa.
The former British prime minister appointed as chief administrator became
known throughout the zone, in the vast array of newspapers and radio
broadcasts that took advantage of the zones freedom of speech laws, as “The
Commissioner”. A devout convert to Catholicism, he took particular pride in
showing visiting dignitaries Alfred Dreyfus Square, where synagogues, mosques,
temples and churches all faced each other, and where, not without some
tension, religious groups interacted under the watchful eye of the EUDF.
Given its rapidly growing population, (it exceeded one million people within 18
months) it was not without problems. Attacks by Islamic extremists began
within months of construction, and became a regular feature of life.
But it was the reaction within the city's new populace that focussed the world's
attention. Speaking in a consultative council set up by The Commisssioner,
leaders of various communities and faiths pleaded with him to create a
volunteer security force to assist the EUDF in fighting the terrorists.
"This is our home too," one moderate Islamic leader told him. "This place,
where respect for diversity is the one rule over all others, this is worth
defending."
Indeed, the Schumannville Volunteer Defence Force played a vital role in
gathering intelligence and combatting terrorism in the city. In one specific
incident, a group of Muslim volunteers fought and died putting up a staunch
defence of a synagogue from Al Quaeda terrorists, holding out for half an hour
in a furious gun battle until EUDF reinforcements arrived, an event which made
the front of The Jerusalem Post and even made Fox News's Bill O'Reilly weep
live on air.
Within Europe itself, Schumannville became shorthand for European
regeneration. Immigration was now processed almost entirely through the
zone, which meant that the steady stream of immigrants coming into Europe
from the zone were legal and processed, and in many ways coming into jobs and
housing already provided by employers recruiting direct from within.
When Avalon arrived for her first formal visit, two years in, she was met mostly
by cheering crowds. Travelling journalists were stunned to find many of the
city's residents kept pictures of both Avalon and The Commissioner in pride of
place in their homes.
"Empress Valerie l?" a satirical French magazine asked.
The other major policy initative pursued by the Avalon Commission was
defence. With Britain outside the EU and therefore unable to pursue its weird
obsession about whether EU flags would appear on British soldiers' uniforms,
the President unveiled a plan to create a European Union Defence Force.
Stressing that the purpose was not to replace national armies, which she knew
would not be acceptable to most countries (The Luxembourgish, Maltese and
Belgians were open to discuss it. As were the Irish if someone else was going to
pick up the tab.) but to create a parallel volunteer professional force to act in
situations of common EU interest, such as replacing European national
contributions in Afghanistan.
Yes, it would be funded by taking a chunk of national defence budgets, she
admitted, but it would also, through sheer scale, free up national defence
ministries of spending pressure.
As she repeated in country after country: "Europe spends 40% of what the
United States spends on defence. Is there anyone who believes we have 40% of
American military capability?" The US Government, tired of carrying the burden
of the West’s military capabilities, enthusiastically endorsed the plan. A
suggestion by Avalon about a combined EU/US military procurement market set
off alarm bells in London, especially as they found that they couldn’t even
attend the meetings, and had to beg the Dutch to keep them informed.
Some eurosceptics objected furiously to the concept, suggesting that Avalon's
plan to create an army was the first step in creating a fascist state. England's
foreign secretary, Nigel Farage, had to apologise after making a remark at a
rugby club dinner about "the Waffen EU".
President Salmond of Scotland, on the other hand, welcomed the proposal,
offering Avalon use of Scotland as a base for the EUDF.
"Preferably near the English border," he suggested.
One by one, the member states came onboard, the economic logic winning
them over. The integration of military transport alone was a huge area for
better value, extending the current Franco-German arrangement across the
entire military. The fact that the EUDF would assist and in some cases take over
securing the union’s huge border was another factor which increased support. It
was also noted by some more cynical military affairs writers that such was the
distance between the EU and its ordinary citizens that most Europeans would
not see EU troops being sent abroad as “their” sons and daughters, at least not
until the body bags started coming home, instead seeing the EUDF as a form of
European Foreign Legion.
From Gibraltar to Helsinki, over 100,000 young men and women, including many
pre-cleared refugees from Schumannville who would receive EU citizenship
after their five year tours of duty, began signing up.
As her first two and a half year term ended, the European Council felt it had no
alternative but to renew for a second term, given her sheer dynamism and high
profile, and the economic recovery which was, to some degree unfairly,
associated with her.
The provocative speech by Israel's hard right foreign minister, suggesting that if
Europeans love Palestinians so much perhaps they should take them all into
Schumannville presented Avalon with a new challenge.
When she announced that she had accepted an invitation from the Palestinian
President to visit Gaza, Israel vetoed it.
It was therefore a considerable surprise when Israeli Navy ships reported the
brand new EUDF ship “Margaret Thatcher” anchoring off the coast of Gaza, and
a helicopter carrying the President and her advisors into Gaza. IAF fighters
scrambled and issued a threat to shoot down the helicopter, but Avalon ordered
the pilot to continue, and the IAF backed down.
The media, quietly tipped off just as the Thatcher steamed into Gaza waters,
were covering the drama as the helicopter landed to a cheering Palestinian
crowd. Avalon was greeted by the Palestinian President, and both met for talks.
Afterwards, Avalon announced that the EU would soon unveil proposals to bring
about a Palestinian state whilst also ensuring Israel's security.
Media eyes rolled at yet another lofty diplomatic goal.
The Israelis refused to participate, leaving Avalon to negotiate solely with the
Palestinians, so it was without much expectation that the European Council
turned to the issue when presented by Avalon at one of its regular meetings.
The meeting was staggered when her presentation was finished.
The problem, she said, was this. Europe needs to be taken seriously in the
world, yet even on our own doorstep, in Palestine, we are ignored as minor and
ineffectual players, an economic giant but strategic eunuch. Today, she told the
Council, that ends.
The proposal suggested that the EU recognise a Palestinian state provided the
new state met certain criteria. Alongside the usual democratic, civil and human
rights norms of a modern state, Palestine would agree to the creation of a
secure facility, operated by the EUDF but with both Palestinian and Israeli
oversight, to detain militants. The EUDF, again with unarmed Israeli advisors,
would head up a permanent security unit based in Palestine specifically tasked
with fighting anti-Israeli terrorism. The Palestine state would formally recognise
the right of Israel to exist and defend itself, and the entire plan would be put to
the people of Palestine in an independently verified referendum, including
inserting Israel’s rights into the Palestinian constitution.
If they rejected it, the EU would walk away from the problem. But if they
accepted it, the treaty would not be activated until Israel signed up, and the
issues of settlements, borders, right to return, Jerusalem and other issues were
agreed to by both sides.
It was at this moment she paused, looking at her fellow council members, all
looking distinctly bored at listening to yet another noble Middle East peace
plan.
However, she said. If Israel refuses to cooperate, the European Union should
embark on two specific tracks. The first is that we will ensure the ability of both
Gaza and the West Bank to freely trade with the EU, by military escort if
possible. Secondly, if Israel refuses to negotiate in good faith, the European
Union will cease to trade with Israel.
“We will ban all Israeli citizens from entering the EU, all aircraft, all products,”
she said calmly.
The Council erupted in shouts. The German Chancellor glowered at Avalon.
"Germany," he said, "will never agree to this. You're asking us to put the Star of
David on goods and businesses and people again. No. No. No."
"I am asking you to respect your history. The memory of a victim of Nazism is
not worth more than the actual life of a Palestinian," Avalon said. "This will
protect Israel and free Palestine. If the Israelis have fears and concerns, and I'm
sure they do, then let us deal with them in genuine negotiation. But it is not
acceptable to just refuse to even negotiate. This plan does not dismiss history,
but it does not trap us by it either."
"The Americans will never wear this," the Dutch Prime Minister said.
"But what will they do? We're not Cuba. We're their biggest trading partner,
and they know it too. Sure, Congress will grandstand and pass motions as only
the United States Congress can do, but that's all they can do. If anything, the
United States will put pressure on Israel to at least engage with us."
The debate raged for over three hours, breaking up without a majority in favour
of Avalon's proposal. But it did determine one thing.
The Council was adamant that she would have to be removed when her term
ended with the European Parliament elections.
Part IV: Superstate.
In the run up to the European elections Avalon spoke in member state after
member state on the plan. The most obvious question asked to her at pretty
much every every public meeting was "what has this got to do with us?"
She confronted it head on. This was, for her, a moral issue. Palestine as an issue
had to be resolved, and Europe had the power to do that.
Polls showed ambivalence on the issue, save for one factor that made leaders in
France, Germany and the Netherlands shift uneasily in their seats. Muslim
voters loved the issue, and their community leaders were encouraging their
followers to vote. Extremists still condemned her over her liberal social views,
and her hardline on religious freedom in Schumannville, but moderate followers
of Islam rallied to her, Palestine giving them an excuse to openly support her
and face down the zealots.
In Palestine, rallies waved the EU flag and the flags of European nations, as
details of the plan were revealed. Hardliners in the Israeli government, not
surprisingly, dismissed it out of hand, with the state's foriegn minister
announcing that "Europe did not matter. They could barely defeat Gadaffi and
his camels."
In Washington, the Israeli lobby mobilised members of both parties, with Fox
News suggesting that Avalon had fascist and anti-semetic tendencies, which
certainly came as news to her Jewish husband.
Nevertheless, the Council had a problem. Polls showed that most Europeans
regarded Avalon as the outstanding leader in Europe, and United Europe was
still the favourite to win the most seats in the parliamentary elections.
Schumannville, Turkey, and her war on corporate tax evasion had united
enough moderate left and right voters to keep her party in the lead.
Most of all, voters liked her, the polls said, because she actually did things.
"We need an alternative," the French President said, scowling at polls showing
the solid votes Avalon was winning in France on all sides, with conservatives
liking Schumannville as a solution to immigration, and the left liking her turning
capitalism on itself, and that was before the solid bloc of Muslim votes. Her
proposal to the Turkish question was winning her votes on left and right too.
The German Chancellor agreed, and pointed to a study done by his political
staff. The European Parliament, the ugly sister of the Union, had been thrown
bones every time there was a new treaty throughout the 80s, 90s and early 21st
century, as a faux tip of the hat towards democracy.
But no one in the member states had actually given serious consideration as to
what happened if that Parliament went rogue, using its mandate to actually
plough its own course.
She had, and by co-opting the best and brightest from the centre-left and
centre-right from under the noses of national political parties, Avalon had not
only established her own power base across the Union, but had hollowed out
the other main parties, who were struggling to compete against United Europe.
The Dutch Prime Minister slipped a paper across the table.
"There's always this," he said, a hint of embarassment in his voice.
"You can't be serious," said the Polish Prime Minister.
On the sheet of paper, a poll revealed an uncomfortable reality.
Because United Europe had eaten into the centre, the only other political forces
which had any real viability were the far left and the far right.
The German rolled his eyes, and jabbed at the sheet.
"The Commies might do ok in Italy, France, maybe Spain and certainly Greece,
but nowhere else. If there's anyone to worry about, it's Goldilocks here."
The poll said that the most likely second place winner was the hard-right
European Nations Party, headed by a charismatic Danish demagogue.
Philip Norby Christensen was tall, handsome, and wanted to tear down
mosques, burn Korans and deport Muslims.
He regarded Schumannville as a liberal madrassa.
"He hates her Palestinian plan too," the Dutchman suggested.
"I'd expect a Mossad agent to feel that way," the Frenchman said.
"No!" the Dutchman said in surprise.
The President nodded.
"A Nazi who loves Israel. Only in Europe," the Chancellor remarked, pouring
himself another coffee.
"We can't have him as President, for God's sake," the Pole said.
"Of course not. We just use him to beat her in the election, then after the
election announce that the whole thing is a farce, and abolish the Parliament,
and go back to appointing the Commission President over mints."
"We'll overturn the results of a democratic election?" the Pole asked.
The Chancellor shrugged.
"Normally, no. Of course not. But this is different. We're faced with a choice
between Denmark's Jorg Haider and Avalon, who has systematically carved an
imperial presidency out of the European Commission. She has carefully played
on every pressure point in the European architecture, from the Council
Presidency to the Parliament. She has toppled the Italian prime minister."
"Not the hardest thing in the world to do, to be honest," the French President
quipped.
"She has toppled him, and by a mixture of charm, pressure and bribery brought
half the Council on board, as well as the Parliament. We are on the verge of
creating not quite a dictator, but certainly the most powerful single person in
Europe since Eisenhower. This election is about Valerie Patrica Avalon, and
whether Europe wants her to run this continent, and do not underestimate that.
If United Europe is the clear winner in the elections, she will have a greater
democratic mandate than anyone in this room. She will have received more
votes than any of us have people in our countries. That means that when she
comes back with her Palestinian Plan or anything else, it's no longer a
suggestion. It's her opening bid," the Chancellor said, jabbing a finger on the
desk to emphasise his point.
"How do we overturn the election of Norby?" the Pole asked.
"We've done it before. We overturned the French and Dutch referendums
without almost any public outcry. When it comes to Europe, the public's eyes
just glaze over, and if we have to, we'll reveal the Mossad connection," the
Frenchman suggested.
"Why not just overturn Avalon if she wins?" the Dutchman asked. The German
shook his head.
"She's different. Norby's prone to self destruct, and everybody knows it. We
have polls showing that many of the people who may vote for him detest his
political platform, but will vote for him to prevent Avalon's federalist agenda.
Indeed, if we subtly brief the media that a vote for Norby will be taken by The
Powers That Be as merely a vote against Avalon, we send a signal that it is
acceptable for moderate eurosceptics and nationalists, and people who don't
share his disgusting views to vote for him. Avalon, on the other hand, we'd
never get her dismissal through the Council, never mind the Parliament. Her
media operation would tear us apart, even in our domestic political landscapes.
Don't forget, she's built up friends in all our parties. I suspect if I refused to
accept an Avalon victory, the Bundestag would move to impeach me. We have
to beat her in the election. It's as simple as that."
The election took shape very quickly, becoming an effective two horse race in
most member states, with Avalon and Norby transforming the leaders of the
other European Parliamentary Parties into also-rans.
Norby, much to his own surprise, found himself suddenly becoming the banner
holder for not just his ususal hard right voters, but also voters who normally
would never dream of casting a ballot for a candidate like him. He was equally
surprised to find that he was now receiving donations from sources that
traditionally would have steered clear of candidates of his persuasion, and was
rapidly gaining ground on Avalon.
For years after, conspiracy theorists speculated that the events in Gaza had
been part of a cunning plan to manipulate the outcome of the election. Indeed,
when the rally, swamped with the flags of the EU and European countries came
under sustained machine gun fire, killing 37 people including twelve children,
the default position was that Avalon had arranged for a rogue Israeli soldier to
initiate the massacre just days ahead of the European Elections.
As it happened, the gunman, killed by Israeli soldiers, was eventually identified
as a Palestinian extremist who objected to the idea of European influence, with
its secular and feminist traditions, contaminating Palestine and in particular
Palestinian women, who by now made up the vangard of the pro-Avalon
marches in Gaza and the West Bank.
The massacre changed everything. Israel got the blame, triggering a wave of
anti-Israel and anti-semetic demonstrations across Europe, which then resulted
in Norby making a series of anti-Islamic speeches which delighted the far-right
but sickened moderate voters.
Two days before polling, Avalon made a very public visit to the Chief Rabbi of
France, where she delivered a speech condemning attacks on Jews and
declaring that any European voter that regarded a vote for United Europe as an
attack on Jews should take their votes elsewhere. She then flew to Berlin to
meet his German counterpart, and delivered a similar speech.
When the votes were counted, the result was clear. United Europe won 53% of
the votes across Europe, and 57% of the seats in the European Parliament.
Much to the discomfort of Europe's national leaders, global media were
universal in its assesment. Europe had clearly and democratically elected a
president.
The new President of the European Parliament, a Finnish United Europe MEP,
was very clear in her statements. Parliament demanded, in accordance with the
treaties, that Avalon be given a second term.
The Council, short of causing a massive constitutional crisis, and lining yet
another European institution, the European Court of Justice, up against it, had
no choice but to agree.
Following her clear triumph, Avalon was clever enough to recognise the need to
build new alliances with the national leaders, who were the de facto European
senate, with the power to delay or block her proposals.
Much to the surprise of many of her closer advisors, she had no issue with that,
accepting that a form of federal European government needed a clear system of
checks and balances. The smarter leaders recognised the new reality, indeed
some becoming aware, with close elections due in their own countries that
Avalon was more popular in some countries than their own national leaders,
and her support or endorsement could well be a political asset worth trading
for.
When Avalon next formally launched her Palestinian policy, both Tel Aviv and
Washington DC were stunned to see her bracketed by the German Chancellor
and the President of France. She met with the President of the United States to
request the US to host the talks jointly with the EU.
Media observers noted that, unlike previous US-EU meeting where US
Presidents treated the EU officials with at best mock politeness, Avalon's visit to
Washington (in her Airbus, escorted by Typhoon Eurofighters) was treated as a
state visit. President Clinton pledged to raise the issue with the Israelis, who still
believed the EU leader was bluffing.
Even when EUDF forces began provocatively carrying out exercises in Cyprus, in
particular combined landings on a contested coastline, the Israelis still didn't
back down. Defence specialists in the media were very quick to point out that
the Israeli Defence Forces were far more experienced than the EUDF, better
integrated, and most of all, motivated to defend their homeland. Unlike most
EUDF pilots, Israeli Air Force pilots had actually flown live combat missions.
They also pointed out that Israel had access to the most advanced US military
technology available. European military technology, whilst advanced, was not,
in many instances, at the same level as its US comparables.
Despite all that, Avalon gambled on one key issue. After four months of non-
engagement, she moved decisively.
On a Monday morning, an EUDF task force moved towards the Eastern
Mediterranean, with the stated intention of landing in Gaza. A fleet of medium
lift helicopters and Airbus XM400 troop transports, escorted by EuroFighters,
headed towards both Gaza and the West Bank.
At a synchronised event, the Palestinian President, speaking at the United
Nations in New York, formally invited the European Union to deploy troops in
both Gaza and the West Bank to assist in counter-terrorism actions, and in the
defence of the Palestinian state.
Israeli fighters were scrambled to intercept the incoming EUDF aircraft. The
Israeli defence minister, live on televison, warned that if the EU aircraft entered
Palestinan airspace, they would be shot down.
Avalon’s spokesperson pointed out that the EUDF was invited into Palestine by
the elected government. She also suggested that the EUDF units were being
deployed to supress terrorism, that the EU respected the right of Israel to
defend itself, but that an attack on EUDF units would result in the immediate
severing of all economic ties with Israel. She then suggested that the European
forces and their presence would certainly be up for discussion in the talks the
Americans had offered to host in Washington.
CNN started reporting rumours of an Israeli plane being shot down, and
crashing in the sea.
Within minutes, EUDF's commander on the scene, a Spanish admiral, reported
to Avalon that a EuroFighter and an Israeli F16 had collided in mid air, and both
pilots were believed lost. The admiral asked for further instructions. Avalon
confirmed the existing orders.
The Elysee Palace, German Chancellery and the White House were in contact, all
calling on Avalon to back down and order the EU aircraft and ships to turn
around. Avalon refused, and suggested to President Clinton that she contact the
Prime Minister of Israel and asked him to participate in a three way telephone
conversation.
Fifteen minutes later, Avalon was sitting at her desk with the US President and
the Prime Minister of Israel on the line.
An EUDF colonel wrote on a whiteboard facing her how many minutes before
the EUDF planes would be on final approach.
The Israeli Prime Minister warned her that not only would his aircraft shoot
down the EUDF aircraft, but that Israel was willing to take casualties.
"I suspect the people of France or Germany are unwilling to give their sons or
daughters lives for Palestine," he remarked.
"Perhaps they aren't, prime minister. But I am. And regardless of how they feel
about me, the reality is that if you interfere in our relations with Palestine, and
engage the EUDF in combat, Europe will be burying its young soldiers across the
continent and Israel will be responsible for putting those young men and
women in the ground. Sanctions will be imposed within hours, I assure you."
"Will the United States support us if this happens?" the Prime Minister asked.
"Of course we will Prime Minister, but bear in mind one thing. If the United
States and the European Union get into a trade war, people in the United States
will start to query what exactly the US gets out of its strategic relationship with
Israel? You are asking Americans to sacrifice their jobs so that Israel doesn't
have to bother attending a summit."
"A summit where the US will no doubt stand for Israel and where Israeli
membership of the European Economic Area will be on the table" Avalon
added.
The EUDF colonel marked the board at two minutes.
"Let me redirect my planes to Israeli airbases, and let my troops be escorted in
by the IDF," Avalon suggested.
"Provided I have the prime minister's word they won't be interefered with?"
she added.
There was silence on the line.
"You have Israel's word."
"That's good enough for me," Avalon said, snatching up her phone and speaking
directly to the admiral.
The incident dominated global news coverage, with criticism of Avalon being
muted by scenes of Palestinian crowds cheering as EUDF vehicles cross the
border.
The summit iconography was clear, with pictures of the Palestinian President
and Israeli Prime Minister each with Avalon and Clinton standing behind their
de facto proxy.
The New York Times titled the image: “Suddenly, Europe matters.”
The End.
“Superstate” was written by Jason O’Mahony, who blogs on everything from politics to television
on www.jasonomahony.ie
Jason O’Mahony asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work, which is a work
of fiction.