If Charlemagne and Napoleon Couldn't Do It, What Makes Maastricht Think He Can?
With the approval, a few weeks ago, of ten new members into the European Union and the possibility of a new executive position called the "President of Europe," the political definition of Europe creeps closer to coinciding with the geographical one: one unit, from the Atlantic to the Urals, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Yet, in-Europe bickering and lack of cohesion over events of the last few weeks have left the little chaps down at my morning coffee bar confused about what "united" Europe might ever mean.
"It's pie in the sky, if you ask me."
"Right. That Maastricht didn't know what he was doing."
"Maastricht. That Dutchman that started all this. You know—the Treaty of Maastricht."
Silence. It's a good thing I have done my homework on this. For starters, Maastricht [pictured] is a place, not a person. What's more, it was uniquely suited as a site for that 1992 treaty on European unification in that it was (and still is) geographically equidistant from Brighton and Bern; from Reykjavik and Moscow; from Prague and Verona; from Murmansk and Tobruk; and from Winnipeg and Ulan Bantor. It is also just down the pike—or autobahn, as some like to call it—from Essen, Germany, the only city in the world named for the verb which, in the language of its inhabitants, means, "to eat". I mean, who ever heard of Mangiare, Italy? Trogo, Greece? Yemek, Turkey? Poest, Russia? Wait, you say —what about Karnah, the Sanskrit word for 'to eat' and the name of an ancient city on the Indian subcontinent? I remind you that speakers of Sanskrit are all dead, just like speakers of Etruscan and Manx, none of whom voted 'yes' for the Maastricht Treaty, either. Coincidence? Sure. Just like it’s coincidence, I suppose, that Maastricht is exactly 666 kilometers from Pinerole near Turin in northern Italy. 666! "What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Maastricht to be born?" Just what Europe needs—a beast with bad posture.
Looking at some of the details of the Maastricht Treaty, the Germans made a generous concession to the rest of Europe on the matter of the new All-Europe Unification Day. It will be called "Oktoberfest," true, but each country will be free to celebrate it in the month of its choice: i.e., a January Oktoberfest for the French, a February Oktoberfest for the Italians, etc. There was that delicate point of what would happen when more countries signed the treaty than there are months in the year—as has now happened. Speeding up the rotation of the moon would produce more months in a year, but that idea came from a visiting group of Californians who confused being "in" Europe with being, "into" Europe. Also, slowing the rotation of the earth by everyone in Europe dragging their feet on this thing might do the trick. The recent agreement in Athens has produced a very satisfactory interim solution, allowing each additional nation beyond twelve to declare war on existing member states over disputed months.
The introduction of the Euro may have solved the currency problem, but there are still problems. Some still favor just going over to gold, but it is clear to me that gold bars will ruin most pockets on Giorgio Armani jeans; they don't fit in phone slots; and they’re so heavy that when you flip one in the air to make a decision (such as whether to vote for or against a treaty), you damn near break your wrist.
The Big Mac might work as a currency. Gastronomic Chernobyl though it may be, MacDonald's is nevertheless a world-wide (and that includes much of Europe) fast-food chain, and the burger is a solid economic unit. We know, for example, that a Japanese has to work 10 minutes to buy one Big Mac; an American 12 minutes; and your average Ivan on a Russian assembly line almost two days (!) for the same item. ("Would you like fries with that, sir? Your daughter doesn't really need that operation, right?") Alas, I foresee a War of the Spanish Succession-sized fight breaking out over the spelling of 'ketchup' versus 'catsup'. And getting the stuff off the inside of a billfold would be an insurmountable problem over the long haul. Hauling the condiments shorter distances might work, but I'm afraid that if the euro flops, there will be no choice but to go back to the universally recognized and practical exchange system: barter. This, you recall, is the way they carry on commerce in places like Nepal. There, you get a yak or something in exchange for your labor. True, the critters don't fit in pay envelopes very well, but still, as beasts of burden they're a pretty stable commodity. You can keep them in a stable, too, which makes it even more convenient.
What else, quick… (I think I hear footsteps outside my cell. The guardians of New Europe are coming to confiscate my word processor.) Yes, unrestricted travel within Europe! No passport required. Just DNA fingerprinting, urine samples and a perfunctory polygraph test every time you cross one of those silly things they used to call "national boundaries".