Bonjour, ou peut-etre buongiorno.
Tricky to know, really, in the part of the world I'm in just now.
Yesterday, I looked up through the banal office and tower-blocks of Nice into an Yves Klein sky to see a half-moon at noon, beneath which, by a hotel pool, sat an 18-month-old Korean boy playing on an iPad. I can best describe this conjunction of images as "way Ballardian" – only that annoyingly slangy intensifier and that peculiar, prescient writer quite convey the surreal conjunction of some of the 21st century's dominant themes.
Then I drove less than 80 kilometres, though the even more vulgar absurdity that is Monaco, and arrived in a medieval Italian village on a hilltop near the border of Liguria and the Piemonte, with one shop, two bars, and no wi-fi or television in the house. It might be 1950.
I went to church, which, though it did not follow the universal Latin Rite the Pope is sensibly trying to re-introduce, was still recognisably more or less in the same form which Communion is conducted in all episcopal churches, with the same words in the Creed.
Were I to drive in any direction, not much more than a tank's worth of petrol could take me to France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia or Austria.
All this is Europe. It's not one place, and it never will be. I had brought, to read on the plane, an excellent short book by the Eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan, entitled "A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe", published last week.
Dan – who, in the interests of full disclosure, I had better say is an old friend – is extremely unusual amongst EU parliamentarians in that he has devoted his career to derailing the gravy train in Brussels and Strasbourg, rather than sneering at the populace from a seat in First Class.
His splendid dissection exposes the extraordinarily brazen way in which the European Union's subversion of democracy is not an unfortunate, accidental function of an otherwise admirable project, but an intrinsic flaw.
Not only are the EU's 27 commissioners – the only body which can propose most legislation – unelected, but so is its president, José Manuel Barroso, who in 2002 cheerfully declared: "Decisions taken by the most democratic institutions in the world are very often wrong."
But the euro crisis has also brought into sharp relief the degree to which this assumption that unelected bureaucrats know better than the citizens of Europe now infects national governments.
It's not just that most laws are made in Brussels – the EU now decides who gets to sit in government, and disregards popular votes which go the "wrong" way. In referendums in Denmark (on the Maastricht Treaty) and Ireland (on the Nice and Lisbon Treaties), the voters had to have another go so that they could give the answer Brussels wanted. By the time France and the Netherlands voted against the European Constitution in 2005, the EU simply ignored the results.
The prime ministers of Greece and Italy, George Papandreou and Silvio Berlusconi, were deposed for failing to ride roughshod over the verdict of their electorates and implement the diktats of Brussels instead. They were replaced by, respectively, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank and a former European Commissioner, neither of whom had ever been elected to any public office.
Indeed, Mario Monti, who has taken over the reins in Italy, has managed to exclude from his Cabinet any elected politician.
As Daniel Hannan points out, perhaps the most shocking thing about this state of affairs is that no one seems to be shocked in the slightest. He argues, convincingly, that almost all of the political and bureaucratic classes in EU nations have effectively been bought off to the point where they can no longer understand economic or even political arguments, so unthinkingly tribal is their allegiance.
This is perhaps less surprising than it seems when one realises that all EU employees are exempt from national taxation, and that the lobbying groups and NGOs which support pro-EU policies are almost without exception funded by the EU.
The euro crisis has exposed the folly of fiscal union comprehensively enough. But even the argument that Europe is our principal trading partner is flawed. Although more than 40% of our exports go to the EU, that figure includes everything which goes through Europe en route to another destination.
Until we joined in 1973, we ran a trade surplus with the then-EEC countries; ever since we have been in deficit. Meanwhile, Britain has a trade surplus with every other region of the world except the EU, to which we have paid in more than we have received every year except 1975 (which was, no doubt coincidentally, the year in which we held a referendum on withdrawal).
Yet during this time, the share of the world's GDP accounted for by the western European nations has plummeted, from 38% when Britain joined the EEC to less than 24% now. By 2020, it is projected to be 15%. Meanwhile, our natural trading partners in the Anglosphere and the Commonwealth have surged ahead; this year, the latter's economy overtook the Eurozone, and the IMF estimates its growth over the next five years at 7.2%.
Hannan's preferred solution is to devolve power downwards, and simultaneously cast our trading net towards the wider world. He describes a debate in which Denis MacShane, the former Europe Minister, declared, as if it were an argument in favour of the EU, that "we sell more to Belgium than we do to the whole of India". That, as Hannan points out, is precisely the problem.
The arguments for localisation and grass-roots democracy, particularly Hannan's demonstration that, with the exception of America, almost all the world's most successful countries (measured by GDP per capita) are small, are rather reminiscent of optimistic claims for an independent Scotland. It made me wonder why the SNP should be so unthinkingly in favour of a Union that is designed to shackle together nations with little in common, and is financially catastrophic, protective of special interests, hostile to the developing world and profoundly undemocratic – yet is opposed to one which is not.
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