February 26, 2003

What Europe Will Do to America's Friends


Has the plan worked? After forty odd years of struggle, are we finally about to end up with the Europe we've always wanted? Well that, obviously enough, would depend upon who, in this instance, we are, and what it is we consider 'Europe' to be, or about to be. A very credible case is being made, by natural sceptics such as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for one, that at the moment we, which is to say the consensual policy pursued by every British government since accession, are on the brink, thanks to the imminent influx of the Central Europeans, of the sort of Common Market/European Union we always wanted to belong to. This leads to a succession of other questions including: is this happy result by design or more by chance? if this has been our goal, has it actually been a sensible one? and most immediately important, are we really about to get the Europe we so often tell ourselves we signed up for in the first place?

I think we are, but that it doesn't matter overly much as, we always could have made 'being in the sort of Europe we wanted' the self-fulfilling condition of our membership (of the EEC/EU), thus nothing profound has changed as between our relationship with other European states. That is to say, the wider Europe is delivering us only from our fears, not from the reasoning that took us into European political institutions in the first place, nor from the fact of being in, nor from the dynamics that will still continue to count in the twenty/thirty/forty member 'Europe'. It is our being in the EU that determines the nature of our engagement with other European countries, not the existence of the EU, still less the fact of there now being more and more countries in there with us.

Part of the reason for this being the case is that we have always lacked a rhetorical purpose for being in the EU/EEC [anachronistically, and telelogically, just the 'EU' henceforth]. Whereas the French and the Germans, and in their separate and unimportant ways, all the lesser states too, have always known why, or rather, had available to their politicians plausible narratives as to, for what they were in the EU, there has, in Britain, been a fatal absence of purpose in this mission. At root, the arguments that one must believe were most convincing for both public and policy makers alike, were those that boiled down to, 'we don't have any choice but to enter/stay in'. The chief consequence of this has been diplomatic.

Once you have signed up to a political infrastructure such as the EU, the way you pursue your national interest is governed, in large part, by the rules of the competition you have entered. What this has meant in the context of the EU (and what it will continue to mean, now that we are being joined by all our former Warsaw Pact friends) is that the terms of reference are determined by those who can affect most convincingly to knowing what they're doing there – and so, what others should be doing there. Britain's basis for being in has been consistently crabbed and defensive (at base, we'd rather not be) and thus hasn't had much appeal as a narrative liable to being picked up by other states, however congruent their interests – especially prior to their own accession – might have seemed with ours. That means that the day after they get in, all the Central Europeans we've been getting so excited about will get down to thinking, we're in the club, what do we do now?

They all had varied and individual reasons for getting in (with memory of Soviet domination providing a common intellectual framework though), but once in, their perspective changes from applicants to members. As members, their goals become determined by what they see the point of membership being. The point of membership, unless the EU is transformed into what it is not, is as yet antithetical to goals Britain ought to be pursuing for itself. More simply: the new states are joining a quintessentially Franco-German 'Europe', their presence inside the EU won't change that, rather, their being in, will, on past performance (just look back to the claims we muttered for the Spanish and the Portuguese, or the Scandic states and the Austrians on entry), transform their outlook. What 'Europe' has always done, save for ourselves, and that's because we more plausibly have choices than the rest of them, is take unschooled new boys and learn them in the way of the EU. From the point of view of these other European countries, this has almost invariably been the best thing, from their limited and uncongenial range of options, that could have happened to them.

Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of all these countries joining us inside the EU, then, once in, subscribing to a communitaire mentalitie, as opposed to the Atlanticist/free-trading/sovereigntiste/flavour of the month outlook we had previously supposed them eternally to be committed to, has been that the walls of our prison, our depressing and limiting tale to ourselves as to why we are members, are built still higher. For with each new member, signing up in turn for all the notions of 'Europe' which we dislike, despite our membership, the force of this competing agenda (though, in truth, as already noted, it is the only one in town), the negative and restraining aspect of our own case for staying in appears ever stronger. If, after all, more and more European countries believe that the EU is the right thing for them, and patently it's the EU-as-is that they believe this of, then they express this by joining the EU. This inescapably means that our scope, on the grounds we have predicated our membership on (i.e. we're not strong enough to conceive of alternatives), for sustained dissent is successively reduced: what is it that we're against, if it's proving so irresistible to all these new states?

Now wait a minute you'll say, what bogus conceptual garbage! The plain truth of the matter is this: we're about to be joined by a raft of, for want of a better term, pro-American states like us, and you can hardly seriously deny that once in, they'll have an impact? that they won't oblige the EU to at least partially adapt to their presence? As I've said, I think the process of adaptation will be markedly more evident by the stronger factor transforming the weaker one – as each state joins individually the collective monolith of the EU, it strikes me as being a reasonable supposition that, the EU will have more of an impact on Bulgaria than Bulgaria will have on the EU. The new applicants are not joining as one coherent, united mass, quite the reverse. They won't have a collective impact because, basically, they're not a collective anymore; quite the contrary, what will inevitably happen is that, on them, the EU will have an uniform impact. My argument isn't much more complex than this: the new member states will not transform the EU, the EU will transform them. And once it has done this, once they have decided that the only meaningful language in which to conduct intra-EU diplomacy is the foundationalist one of France and Germany, Britain will be left with the same set of problems we have always had. These we will have for one equally simple reason: we made a mistake in joining, that decision remains the wrong one.

Practice (to Come)

Next time out, I'll attempt to apply this theorising to recent events in the ambit of the EU, from the pre-Christmas fuss over Turkish accession on. I'm going to do this, as opposed to wittering on about Iraq II for instance, because I think, the war will happen, it will be quick, and, in itself, it won't matter that much. In the longer term, we, Britain, will absurdly – given that it is not our war – end up with the first of a limitless series of commitments stemming from the Great Ally's incoherently expansionist imperialism (they really ought to be focusing on holding what they have). Which, of course, in turn will continue to be the way things work until such time as American foreign policy delivers to the United States a serious amplification of 11th September 2001. Yet even this will be a minor foreign policy concern as compared to our European strategy: America's wars are, in truth, theirs, and seen to be theirs – our participation is cosmetic and literally speaking, inconsequential. What fundamentally matters for the British national interest is the choice we are continuing to make by participating in the EU; what we do as parasites in American colonial campaigns is merely stuff for the television news. Footage, nothing else.

– Christopher Montgomery

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Christopher Montgomery is an historian who is currently writing a book on the historiography of the Suez crisis, and is publisher of ERO. He recently took some time out to run the Iain Duncan Smith campaign office, and for a while was working in the private office of the Leader of the Opposition. A young representative of the diehard tradition, he believes that Enoch Powell was right on everything apart from immigration. His column appears here on Wednesdays.

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