Posted by Jason O on Jul 9, 2014 in British Politics, eNovels & Writing, European Union, Not quite serious. |
Note: this is a very long bit of fun I wrote in June 2013. It is obscenely long, so you might want a biscuit and a nice cup of tea. Alternatively, you can download it here as a PDF for enjoyment later.
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.”