Once again, this week, Britain’s refusal to renegotiate stands in the way of the success of the European Project.
The point of the European Union is, and always has been, to create a Single European State. Other than for a brief period from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s, as well as being true that has always been clear and explicit. It is also a splendid idea, something that British Conservatives should support.
Those Conservatives that believe it has always been regarded as in Britain’s interests to prevent Continental unification suffer from the dangers of a little knowledge. Britain historically had a Second Power Policy – we sided with the second-most powerful country/empire on the Continent against the first. Another way to think about that is that we sided with the second-most powerful country/empire geopolitically relevant to us. Since the US is today manifestly the most powerful country relevant to us, the modern application of the Second Power Policy would be to side with either the Single European State or China — probably the former. In other words, the modern version of this historic policy suggests we should favour and support a Single European State, not oppose it.
During the 1990s, the European Union developed and implemented its euro project. The euro could only succeed if combined with fiscal and political union. Everyone knew this – including its architects as well as its critics. The correct approach should have been to follow up the creation of the euro with rapid moves towards greater political and fiscal integration. The great boom of the era made this eminently feasible. Why didn’t it happen?
The expenditure of political capital and treasure in Germany on reunification was doubtless a factor. And the process of delivering referendums even on Maastricht was doubtless bruising. But overwhelmingly the most important reason more rapid political and fiscal integration did not proceed was that more rapid progress in these areas would make it politically more difficult for Britain to join, and the European Commission, Italy, and Germany were keen for Britain to join.
So political and fiscal progress was retarded within the EU. In Britain, we vacillated. Even the Conservative Party refused to say “never” through the 1990s and early 2000s. Labour stated that it would join as soon as economic conditions allowed. This vacillation gave the European Commission, Italy and Germany reason to hope, and they waited…and waited.
That failure to embrace the logic of monetary union and do what was necessary to make it work has had disastrous consequences — for which Britain and the Conservative Party must take our considerable share of the blame. Had we been clearer at an earlier stage that we were happy for the project to proceed, but would not be involved ourselves, history might have been different. Had we been straight with our EU allies — our excellent friends and neighbours, whose main desire has been to draw closer to us and learn more from us — that even the powers we had granted to EU institutions would not be sustainable for us in the long-term, and we needed to renegotiate, then it would have been clear to our friends that they needed to construct their state without us as part of it. We could still be deeply economically and culturally integrated with them, and engage in other forms of deep cooperation. But we could not and would not take the extra steps — though we wished them well in their endeavours.
This week, David Cameron’s approach to the Summit extends Britain’s Long Error with regards to the EU. Part of making the Eurozone work from here will be systems of oversight of national budgets. The best institutional mechanisms available for such oversight, constructed and improved painstakingly over decades, are the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. The new Treaty, developing fiscal and political union to make monetary union work, should proceed through the institutions of the European Union. That’s what they were built for. David Cameron's suggestion that he might veto an EU27-level Treaty, potentially forcing an EU17 Treaty which would need to create its own new institutions, is sheer vandalism. If he were threatening such a veto in order to deliver repatriation of material powers to the UK, that would be one thing. But his position is that the EU27 must remain as it is, that the fundamental nature of the arrangement at EU27 level must not be changed by the need to adapt to the Eurozone crisis.
This is sheer destructiveness. The European Union cannot proceed to its deeper fiscal and political integration whilst its relationship with the UK remains as it is. We should not want to preserve the status quo, and the EU cannot afford for it to be preserved. The UK now constitutes the main blockage to the success of the project. That has probably been so for around 20 years, but not so obviously so as now.
This is not sustainable. Most of the EU10 currently outside the Eurozone aspire eventually to join. Most of them will get in in the end, if the project survives. Why should Britain be able to stand in the way of the overwhelming majority of the EU doing what it takes to make their project able to deliver what it was always designed to achieve? We have frustrated progress on this for too long already. We need to be straight with our excellent friends, neighbours, and allies, as we have not been with them in the past. We cannot participate in the Single European State. We should not be holding it back. Our only way forwards are either to renegotiate our position within the EU, leave, or retard its development further creating the risk of its total disorderly collapse.
I am a fan of the Single European State project. I always have been. I am also a fan of Britain’s membership of the European Union. Therefore, I want us to renegotiate. Whilst our senior policymakers continue to fail to comprehend that renegotiation is the Europhile policy, they will continue to drag us towards either damaging necessary development of the Single European State, risking its total collapse, or towards our departure.