John Stevens is a former Conservative Member of European Parliament who stood at the last general election as an independent candidate
Tim Montgomerie wrote a very important article in the Times earlier this week. For the first time, a leading Conservative thinker has placed the European debate within the context of “the rise of the East and the decline of the West”. He admits we are now in “an economic swordfight with India and China and other rising nations” over jobs and growth. This is an analysis all serious pro-Europeans would share. Where we differ, of course, is that he sees Europe as the barrier to, whereas we see it as the basis for, addressing this epoch-making challenge.
The details of our dispute are often complex. Tim would, I think, be surprised that people like me agree with many of his criticisms of EU regulations, and of the complacent anti-competitive, decadent and self-serving attitudes of much of the European professional political and bureaucratic class (including its representatives in this country). But the big picture is surely clear. European civilisation is in danger. This civilisation has a range of values, in particular towards the individual, which need to be protected. That is only compatible with our prosperity and our power if we are more united, not less. Not just for the economies of scale, for securing a great, fully integrated internal home market, more than equal to the emerging Asian giants. The Right knows that material performance is ultimately determined not by technical factors alone (as the Left believe) but by self-belief, and this is now only credibly generated in defence of an entity larger than the European nation state, even one of the largest.
Debates about the future of Conservatism are always really debates about the nature of patriotism. Nothing is more difficult than recognising a different, larger, sense of belonging than that which has been hallowed by history. Nothing is also more essential for the survival of all those elements, material and spiritual, which make us truly what we are. So let the debate be joined. I am confident then when all the options are rehearsed – fifty-first state of the US, the Anglosphere, the global super Singapore, whatever – Conservatives will conclude that Europe affords the framework which best allows us to hope that our future can still be better than our past. There is such a thing as European civilisation. It is at risk. We, who are amongst its greatest ornaments, must now become, again, one of its greatest champions.