Paris, 19 December, 2005
Dear Father Christmas,
I’m not sure if this is how I should address you - in French I could call you Père Noël or in German der Weihnachtsman. Even better, I could write Santa Claus, the term increasingly in fashion all over Europe. That, of course, is what the Americans call you, after the Dutch Sinterklaas, patron saint of New Amsterdam, known today as New York.
I was also wondering where to post this letter to. The Americans believe that you live in the North Pole. The Finns, who would certainly know, are of the opinion that you have set up camp in Lapland’s Korvatunturi. The Swedes, for their part, have you located in Dalarna, in the heart of their country. Either way, do Korvatunturi or Dalarna have post offices? And what on earth does postage cost? Since I’m not sure, I’m writing to you by internet. When the telephone cables aren’t frozen together up there, I have no doubt that you are always online reading café babel.
Sinterklaas, Père Noël, Weihnachtsman – you’re a real European, my dear Father Christmas. And that’s the reason I’m writing to you. We’ve had a pretty wretched year in Europe this year, which has really put our spirits to the test. That’s why we desperately need your help.
The whole humdinger started with one word: Non. The French rejected the draft constitution proposed by the European Union. Bang, just like that. How come? Allegedly, the draft constitution was too economically right-wing. In other words, Europe isn’t French enough for the French. This was followed by a Nee from the Netherlands, after which EU leaders decided in mid June that it was time to “pause for reflection,” before chucking the draft constitution in the bin. However, bickering continued as European leaders found themselves confronted with a major problem: the Brits did not want to part with their budget rebate, and the French dug in their heels on cattle and cheese subsidies…
I don’t know if you’ve been following these events. It’s quite possible that you spent the summer in a deck chair on the Italian Riviera, trying to get away from it all. The important thing is this: 2006 must be different! Someone has to calm the anxiety that pervades Europe. Someone has to inject the grey-faced EU jobsworths with something of the European spirit. “Think European!” – These are the Euro-generation’s magic words for 2006 to heal our anxiety, the joyous message that we want to spread to all the countries in Europe.
Only you can do it, Father Christmas, for you are a true European! Pull on your red jacket, grab your bobtail cap, get on your sleigh and make your way to Vienna. Getting there from the North Pole should be fairly easy for you. Our lovely continent has almost no more border controls. Once in Vienna, please pay a visit to Dr. Wolfgang Schuessel, Austria’s current Chancellor. From January to the end of June, he will be the EU’s boss as Austria takes over the reins of the EU presidency. You should have no problem converting Schuessel to the European spirit as he is a staunch Catholic and believes in Father Christmas.
Then on to Paris. Park your sleigh in one of the suburbs (careful, you’ll find cars burning here and there) as you’ll never find a parking space in the city centre. Certainly not in front of the Elysee Palace where you’ll find Chirac, the President of France. One could say he is a colleague of yours, a sort of Father Christmas in his way. Whenever there’s a problem in France, all the newspapers write lots of wish-list letters to the President in the form of articles. Then, two weeks later, he goes before the cameras and tells everyone in sonorous tones that we will fix the problem, make everything better and what a wonderful country France is. Altogether a very nice job.
Please persuade Chirac that there is no point pushing a 1950s agricultural policy at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and that it’s time to say goodbye to EU agricultural subsidies! That will be a hard nut to crack, as the French are a thoroughly godless people. But I’m sure you can manage!
Then kindly take your sleigh on to Warsaw, where the Kaczynski brothers have taken the reins. They are not exactly known to be friends of Europe, so a little lesson on the elements of the European spirit wouldn’t do them any harm. Then you can take another little trip to London, Rome, Prague and all the other lovely capitals of our continent, to bring us the light. I have no doubt that after your Christmas journey, the great and the good of this continent will have grasped that Europe is not just about service directives, measuring the curvature of bananas and agricultural subsidies. And when that’s accomplished, I’ll have no more worries about 2006.
Dear Father Christmas, I must now sign off. My colleagues have told me I can’t write more than 5,000 characters, and I’m already at 5,259! Nevertheless, briefly: we want to thank you. Our website, café babel, has nearly 150,000 readers! And if I had one final wish to ask, it would be…could we have even more readers next year?