During the late phases of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, no Iraqi government figure was more admired in the West than Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. As the invasion proceded, he consistently and optimistically declared that the Iraqi army was winning the war. Even as the tanks rolled into Baghdad itself, gunfire could be heard across the city, and tank colums were visible to journalists assembled before him on the roof of the Palestine Hotel, he declared:"There is no presence of the American columns in the city of Baghdad at all. We besieged them and we killed most of them…Today, the tide has turned. We are destroying them." His only speculation about tanks was that perhaps some Americans were coming in their tanks to surrender. This level of shameless, straight-faced denial made him a popular figure in the West, earning him the nickname "Comical Ali" and his face adorned many a t-shirt.
It is in this spirit, I think, that we must take Philip Collins' remarkable article in today's Times - "How weird is this Tory sovereignty obsession?" – in which he says Conservatives "cannot fathom that, as a political project, European federalism is dead", that a "superstate" is "inconceivable", and that the public will think of Conservatives as "mad as a box of frogs" if they claim otherwise! Like the Iraqi Information Minister, Comical Collins denies what can be seen simply by looking out of the window.
As with the Coalition invaders of 2003, Euro-federalism has already claimed all key strategic points. There is a civil service (the Commission), a legislature (Parliament/Commission/Council of Ministers), a foreign diplomatic service (including foreign minister Baroness Ashton), a central bank, a supreme court, a currency union, a common trade policy, a common external tariff, free movement of people, capital and goods. Indeed, under the Lisbon Treaty the EU even has a formal status as a state, acceding to international Treaties in its own right. An EU military command and control structure is scheduled to be introduced, under existing provisions.
Now, the final few remaining fastnesses of sovereign states are being taken, as in response to the Eurozone crisis multiple senior policy-makers, including ECB president Jean Claude Trichet, and multiple bankers and economists have called for the establishment of a Eurozone treasury, probably accompanied by a Eurozone finance minister. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have called for "economic governance" for the Eurozone, including very significant curtailing of the discretion for individual Member States to borrow. And yet, as the Euro-federalist tanks are cheered with flowers into the final streets, Comical Collins declares that "European federalism is dead" and a "superstate" is "inconceivable"! One can only admire his resolution in the face of the facts.
Furthermore, we are long past the point at which any form of Eurozone arrangement that does not involve even greater political union than the plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face union there already is can survive. In this sense, matters are a little different from Baghdad 2003. If the Eurozone does not integrate further, it will almost certainly collapse, very probably bringing down the European Union with it. UBS, in a somewhat emotional piece a few days ago, claimed that this would lead to a 20-25% drop in GDP even for stronger states such as Germany, and contends that no paper currency union has ever broken down without civil war or the introduction of an authoritarian state. Personally I don't go that far, but there would certainly be significant short-term consequences for the UK – probably a 5-10% further recession (as bad to twice as bad as that we had in 2008/9). And I agree there would be some risk of civil war or authoritarianism in some states (especially Greece).
Euro-federalism is not dead. It is nearing its peak. If it does not soon collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, it is about to be totally victorious. And, of course, the public knows this perfectly well. In the nicest possible way, Philip, though many of us might enjoy your Comical Ali impersonation, the person the public are going to think as "mad as a box of frogs" after this article is you.