WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- When someone asked Prince Metternich what he thought about unifying the squabbling city-states of the Italian peninsula, the Austrian statesman tossed back that Italy was merely "a geographical expression."
A century and a half later, the European Union is giving that famous rejoinder -- and the insight behind it -- a familiar ring.
Had Metternich's contemporaries heeded him better, northern Italians would have been spared the relentless drain of tax dollars into the pockets of southern Mafiosi politicians. Southern Italians would likewise have been spared the drain of their children's blood in the pointless wars northern politicians were always drumming up.
Today Italians are relievedly seizing upon the excuse of European unification as a graceful way of liquidating the enterprise, which in its post-1945 version might be termed history's first benignly failed state. Britons might well be concerned over losing their fiscal independence to the European Central Bank; Italians have no more qualms about letting the Germans guard their currency than they do about letting the Swiss guard the pope.
What greater travails might yet be avoided if Metternich's political descendants understood the parallel truth today: that Europe, as well, is only a geographical expression. Nothing is more absurd than the habit, amazingly still considered by some a sign of modernity and forward thinking, that all of the peoples and nations of Europe have more in common with each other than they do with others elsewhere.
This would all be harmless and mildly amusing (witness, for instance, the squabbling among European leaders as to where the new food safety bureaucracy should be located), were it not for the fact that this folly is leading to the extinction of real civil rights that have been guarded for centuries.
The alchemists of Brussels have a peculiar talent for turning gold into lead; nowhere is this more evident than in their approach to human and civil rights.
The events of Sept. 11 were shamefully used as an excuse to implement a measure European bureaucrats had been seeking for years -- the pan-European arrest warrant. This measure permits a public authority in any one member-nation of the European Union to issue a warrant for the arrest of a person in any other member-nation, and have them extradited to face trial for crimes whether or not the act in question was a crime in the nation where the person was arrested. Furthermore, the extradition is automatic -- there is no chance for a hearing to determine the validity of the charge.
This development is alarming for several reasons. Most particularly, it erases the critical protection of habeas corpus from British law for persons accused under this system. English, or common, law and Continental law are fundamentally different. Since medieval times, English law has required that an arrested person be taken promptly before a judge, where the authorities must make a reasonable case that the person has actually committed a crime.
The onus is on the government to demonstrate there are good reasons for arresting and trying him. The accused has the right to reasonable bail, unless the government can prove that it should be denied. In contrast, in Continental, or civil law systems, a person can be held for long periods of time before charges need be filed, and the onus is on the accused to prove his innocence.
The simple provisions of common law have been an effective and powerful constraint on executive, prosecutorial and police misconduct in England, and subsequently in America and the rest of the common-law world, for centuries. They still are today. In contrast, throughout that time period, civil law states in Europe and their former colonies, such as Latin America, have frequently suffered abuse of executive and police powers.
The European Union is constantly manufacturing "rights" in the sense of various benefits their governments must tax and regulate their citizens to provide. These include things like the "right" to a full night's sleep, which recently seemed to threaten the abolition of overnight flights in Europe. Yet in pursuit of such "rights" they seem intent on eradicating the most effective set of real rights humankind has known.
The British and Irish now face the prospect of being dragged from their own soil without a hearing to face trials without juries or presumption of innocence for violation of laws made by foreign parliaments, for acts which are not crimes in their own lands. This effectively makes the least democratic European state the legislator for all the rest.
Ironically, the Europeanists deny that they seek a centralized European superstate. Yet even after 200 years of federal union, American states continue to retain the power to protect their citizens from arbitrary extradition to other states. No person can be extradited from one American state to another to stand trial for a charge that only exists in the other state. Yet Europeans are now losing this protection.
Thus in Britain and Ireland these rights of gold are being transmuted into rights of lead. Everything that is known about humans and how they respond to incentives suggests that these leaden rights will be worse than useless the next time a crisis truly challenges freedom there.
Certainly during the 20th century, continental Europe and much of the rest of the world reeled off-kilter. The Germans and Japanese went mad with aggression. In the face of that madness, the French sunk into the depressive lethargy of the Third Republic, and then picked up the in the Vichy regime. Liberal Scandinavia and the Netherlands stood like frightened deer until the Nazis ran them over.
Their citizens trusted naively in their treaties of neutrality, just as they vainly trust in the International Criminal Court and treaties banning unconventional weapons today. Of all the world, only Britain, America and the Commonwealth in the end kept their heads.
Human nature has not improved since those days. We will need the strength of the Anglosphere approach to civil rights, now and in the future.
In the United States, the challenge is to meet the current crisis while preserving constitutional rights, just as has been done for the past two centuries. In Britain and Ireland, the challenge is to prevent the alchemists of Brussels and their domestic allies from working their perverse enchantments and turn the gold of their hard-won and valiantly maintained system of rights into the lead of European pseudo-rights.