These aren’t the most encouraging of times for Europhiles – especially those on the centre-right; but they got a little boost last week from a speech given by the Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski at Blenheim Palace.
Sikorski begins by setting out his credentials:
- “I am Polish, from the Solidarity generation that helped bring down the Soviet empire. From Oxford I went to Afghanistan, to report on the anti-Communist resistance there. I have lived in the USA, working for the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. I am a fervent believer in free markets. Lady Thatcher – may she live forever – acknowledges me in her book on ‘Statecraft’… In other words, I tick every box required to be a life-long member of London’s most powerful Eurosceptics’ club.”
Yet a Eurosceptic he is not:
- “…please don’t expect us to help you wreck or paralyze the EU… Poland wants to be with Germany and France as partners, leading a strong, democratic European political-economic space. We do not want to be a buffer between Western Europe and a less democratic Eurasian political-economic space dominated by Russia.”
All perfectly understandable. However, for his part, Sikorski should understand that ‘at least it's better than Putin' doesn’t exactly sell the EU to a British audience. To be fair, he does try to construct a case that appeals to British interests. Unfortunately, it is, for the most part, surprisingly weak – reading like one of those desperate ‘myths about the EU’ leaflets that the European Commission used to fund (and probably still does).
For instance, there’s the old trick of comparing the small-ish size of the Brussels bureaucracy to those in various member states. Completely unmentioned, of course, is the fact that most of the work of implementing EU regulation is done through national bureaucracies – much as a virus commandeers the systems of a host cell in order to replicate itself.
Then there’s the claim that “Brussels diktats” don’t really exist because they’re “not the fault of the European Commission,” but the product of other EU decision-making processes. This argument is both wrong and irrelevant: wrong, because the Commission is hardly inactive in extending the bureaucratic reach of the EU; and irrelevant, because the question of membership is about the EU as a whole not about particular EU institutions.
There’s a lot more ducking and diving of this sort, but also some plainly laughable inducements like “a British commissioner runs our diplomatic service”. Yes, hooray for unelected Labour peer Cathy Ashton! However would we cope without her?
After much messing about, Sikorski finally comes to the point:
- “By replacing membership with a negotiated free trade agreement, they argue that the UK will be better off. Because Britain’s market is too valuable for the rest of the continent to ignore, they say, the British government could negotiate a trade deal that would preserve all the advantages of membership in the single market, without any of the political and financial costs.
- “My answer to that is: don’t count on it. Many European states would hold a grudge against a country which, in their view, had selfishly left the EU.”
So, there we have it. The real nub of the argument: Stay in, or else…