May 28, 2003
Scared of Euroland?
to be fearful?
doubt at this very moment, in the manner of a BBC historical drama
about Appeasement, some brave-but-ignored Cassandra at, oh, the
Telegraph, is preparing to stub out his cigarette, pat the
cat, kiss his wife on both cheeks, put on his trilby and walk out
the front door for the last time. The next chiaroscuro scene is
in some dismal north London cemetery, and fluttering where the swinging
shadow hits the ground, is a newspaper's banner headline: ŚBlair
supports the Euro-constitution'. Chills
the blood, doesn't it?
no, it doesn't. Life appears to have continued much as normal in
the wake of the semi-government-endorsed Giscard convention draft.
But just about every Conservative there is ‹ militant Śphobes like
milord Ancram for instance ‹ are just convinced that Britain's doomed
should we sign up for any new European treaties in Rome later this
year. Is a cause that Michael Ancram has
attached himself to [http://www.tom-watson.co.uk/archives/000497.html]
one that should be endorsed by Tories, or is it more likely to be
typical, sub-civil service, opportunism, ineptly practised by men
who know one thing for sure: that they'll never have to account
in office for any of these policies? Yes of course it is, and it
only takes a moment's glance at the Śperils' to see that.
This starts being apparent with the
lies eurosceptic bastions like the Telegraph are willing
to tell. In its leader on the draft published by the Giscard
convention, the paper declared that Śthe substance of the constitution
. . . is that of a unitary state rather than a federation'. Where?
Or for that matter, when? Which is to say, at what point in all
of human recorded history has there ever been a unitary state
that resembles anything like what the Convention will end up as?
Chalk that up to frothing rhetorical inanity, but call the claim
in that same editorial that the Giscarded EU member states will
have less Śpower' than the States of the American union just what
it is: an utter and complete fib.
In fact, leaving to one side for the moment that the component EU
members as currently constituted are sovereign nation states, there
can be no doubt but that even the treaty-based structure as amended
by the Convention, affords rights to its subscribers undreamt of
by the provinces of the American republic. A notable one is ‹ and
my does this slay an old sceptical bogey ‹ the right to secede.
Try that in Texas.
It is plainly nonsensical to compare either the current relationship
between EU member states and the EU, or their possible future one,
with that which prevails between American ŚStates' and their federal
union. In the latter, the States are entirely dependent catspaws
of the centre. This has, fairly famously, been demonstrated in the
most conclusive manner possible. All sovereign power in the United
States reposes at the federal tier ‹ one people, one nation, one
super-dominant electoral voice ‹ whereas in the EU, there is next-to-no
ŚEU'. Compare the extent, scope, powers and constitutional legitimacy
of the EU (little more than a legal and bureaucratic secretariat
for a multi-lateral multi-member international organisation) versus
the American government. The comparison is risible, certainly in
terms of trying to somehow prove that Washington is far less intrusive
than Brussels, because we are patently not comparing like with like.
One is a state, the other is not. There are many points of
advantage for the American regime when compared to our own, that
is to say, to the British state, but there's nothing doing if you
contrast DC with the Commission, or for that matter, the Commonwealth
secretariat, or the ASEAN secretariat. Or whichever other palpably
non-state actor you wish, for whatever barmy purpose, to hold up
against the American central government. The Telegraph knows
this, but seemingly holding their readership in contempt, offer
up such pathetic deceptions. This is more than anything else, a
mark of intellectual desperation.
The Convention is there to be read
so sadly no opportunity this time for mewling claims that the sinister
foreigners Śduped' the dullard Saxon, by concealing their vile intentions
from witless us until it was too late to do anything about it ‹
but next to no one will. Perhaps we don’t as a nation deserve the
chance to exercise self-government? That, were one foolish enough
to attribute logic to them, would certainly be the inescapable implication
of most eurosceptic critiques. Especially given how consistently
the public decline to pay any attention to the many Ślast chances'
to save Britain they've been screechingly informed of. In an encouraging
sign, the newly dull-as-we-can-be Times forwent the pleasures
of panic, and told the story straight.
Never mind that dropping the
'F' word hardly meant that our wily agent Sir John
Kerr had presumably brainwashed the Presidium into accepting an
Anglo-Saxon agenda, The Times took against the Convention,
but managed to keep the whole thing in proportion. This disinclination
to hysteria meant that they could consider the
'good' prospects on offer for Britain from the new Europe.
Principally the fact that new boys like Poland are assumed to be
at least Blairite (if not as yet Duncan Smithite) in their outlook.
Indeed, the sanest way to look at the EU likely to emerge from Silvio
Berlusconi's attractive prison is: here at last comes an interesting
Śvariable geometry'. (The Italian Prime Minister has suggested that
EU heads of government should be confined inside the Villa Borghese
art gallery in Rome in the manner of a papal conclave, to be let
out only ‘when every issue has been resolved’). I say Śinteresting'
because the entire process by which the EU has proceeded since its
inception has always been one of multi-lateral diplomacy (i.e. negotiation
between sovereign states) ‹ as opposed to, for instance, the imposition
of trans-national dictats by a super-national authority. Yet this
was, thanks to the limited and static configuration of the players
involved, generally a very dull and predictable affair until the
British dream of a widened community started being feasible after
the end of the Cold War. The genuine federalists recognised this
very danger, and have of course tried to outrun this tendency by
Śdeepening' the institutions of the EU, before the wave of new accessions
inevitably Świdened' things out. The federalists have lost this
race (something, sadly, they didn't do in the United States).
What we're going to end up with very soon is exactly what the small
country and federalist critics of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
allege that he has done: a Śbig six' stitch up. Those Śbig six'
countries being, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland.
And it's a structure that's going to endure for as long as there
continues to be an EU i.e. it can cope with the accession of both
Turkey and Russia, the only two other European countries that could
qualify this elevated status. The reason why this Śconstitution'
is going to stick is that there is nothing the smaller states feel
they can do about it: they don’t believe they can stump off and
exist outside the EU, and inside it, they simply don't have either
the individual or collective clout to resist the wishes of this
latter-day concert [http://www.bartleby.com/65/co/ConcertE.html].
It should be noted that they are almost certainly right that, to
be a small state, and to choose to sit outside the EU, is liable
to an uncomfortable and much-bullied lifestyle choice.
So to sum up our nonchalance about M. d'Estaing: the Convention
does not create a Śsuper-state'; the EU will remain essentially
an arrangement between sovereign states; EU states are sovereign
nation-states in the classical fashion; the EU (qua the EU)
is not a state, and is not about to become one. You will
notice some repetition there, and all I can say is, one can't slough
off decades of personal euroscepticism overnight. For whilst I do
believe that, as a supremely pertinent example, British Śsovereignty'
is compromised by our being in the EU, what's doing that compromising?
Why, our sovereign British state, that's what. It's something that
some fanatical theorists of the sovereign state don't appear to
be able to comprehend, but sovereign states, just like sovereign
parliaments, can do with their sovereignty things their fans really
don’t like. At the end of the day, this disagreeable business, being
in the EU, is evidently not terminal to either Britain, or anything
even approaching that level of political toxicity.
There remains one big eurosceptic ‹ let's not call it a Ślie' this
time, as good people believe it too ‹ contention about the
EU. It's predicated on the notion that, for Britain vis-à-vis
the EU, things are always getting worse. And it cuts dead against
my argument that we have nothing irrevocable to worry about in terms
of the EU (ŚEurope' being just one more wrong-headed political course
pursued by the British government, and with the right politics can
be changed as a public policy choice). Because, this apocalyptic
case runs, even if I've sketched out an EU-as-it-is, it's soon not
going to be: it's soon going to be that dreaded super-state. Which
is tautological excess for: soon the EU's going to at last be the
state, and all the former constituent nation-states are going to
be reduced to the level of sub-state actors. Poppycock. Moreover,
it's precisely the sort of poppycock that earns euroscepticism the
vote-losing reputation it presently has.
In democratic political discourse there are plenty of grounds for
hyperbole. It may well be that it is the best rhetorical media for
presenting a range of political alternatives to a mass electorate.
Then again, if sufficient sophistication is presumed of the voting
public, then so too should they be expected to know the Śrules of
the game', and that e.g. frenzied denunciations of the EU and all
its works, are simply dumb-show, with as elaborate and formalised
rituals as any Japanese play. The words in themselves are not to
be taken at face value, rather, it is what offering such squibs
are meant to suggest that influences the knowing demos. As I say,
heaps and heaps of ways to account for the characteristic bullshit
engaged in by British eurosceptic politicians. The most likely explanation
I fear is that eurosceptic politicians are those admirable primitives
who believe what they say. That what they say is incredible
in just about every instance is dismally obvious.
Take the Śsuper-state'. A super-state ruling, most probably, 25
previously independent nation-states? Never happened in the modern
era, such precedents as they are, are all pre or early modern assimilation
by European nation-states of non-nation states. In most explanations
of how that world-historical process came to pass, the explanation
generally given is that, the modern (i.e. the thing made manifest
in late C17th/early C18th) European nation-state proved to be irresistable
to all other agencies of mass human organisation then on the go.
And that's the way that things have stayed until today. The argument
about the EU is that either, a new predator has evolved, capable
of consuming even European nation-states, or that, well what? That
some or all of the extant European nation states, which have acceded
to the EU, are old and senescent and in the process of naturally
or otherwise dying off? That's liable to be true only in the sense
that any supposed Śnation' or community or people, or quintessential
non-state entity is capable of being subsumed by a modern
This is precisely the lesson of why the more than 300-year old European-model
state won the international Darwinian battle for survival and displaced
all its competitors. That's the truth that lies behind the ability
of the French state to subsume such Corsicans, Basques or whoever
are within it, or of the German to subsume Hanover, or Bavaria,
or of the UK to incorporate England and Scotland and so on. Racial,
linguistic, religious, Ścultural' and ethnic groups are merely abstract
political ideas, the state is concrete reality. So just as France
could tomorrow literally incorporate the former Belgium,
and all the ŚBelgians', this doesn't disprove either the sense of
French (or Belgian) sovereignty, still less the idea of the modern
nation-state itself. What it does it tell us that power in the contemporary
world is still most effectively exercised through the agency of
the, now traditional, state. What does that mean in terms of the
relationship between the European Union and its member states? Inescapably
this: the EU, unless it becomes a state, is constitutionally incapable
of overawing even the meanest member state. More exactly still,
the EU is not, by definition, going to be able to become a state
in its own right, until it has denuded its members of their statehood.
This has not happened. It isn't happening. And it's not going to
happen. What is happening is that, despite itself, British European
policy - which is a species of our foreign policy ‹ is in
imminent danger of coming right despite itself.
to win without really trying
To illustrate that the infrastructure of the British state is not
about to go away ‹ the key precondition for the transferral of true
sovereign power inside Britain from London to Brussels ‹ all that's
needed are a few easy questions. How will the ŚEU' (and I'm sorry
to keep using scare quotes, but the EU constantly described by eurosceptics
plain doesn't exist, and to use their language to mis-describe the
world as it is doesn't make any sense to me) compel a subsidiary
political entity (e.g. the former UK) to do something it absolutely
doesn't want to? Patently, because Britain hasn't ceased to be,
it can't. As there are no plausible grounds for saying that the
British state is about to go away, the EU's elevation to casual
nation-state crusher won't be happening for a while.
Again, what would Śthey' do if we (Britain) decided to resile from
some supposedly pan-EU policy? What should reach out and grab anyone
who has read a solitary word about any state or combination of states
outside or before the European Union is that, there is no Śthey'.
There's the Commission in Brussels, but the idea that this sub-state
actor has the real stuff of power capable of superseding that of
the British-state-in-Britain is ludicrous. To say, Śbut what about
France and Germany acting together?' well doh! That's the
reality of power as well: it was always thus, and will always be
thus. The greater combination of nation-states will overawe the
lesser combination or singularity. This is hardly a state of affairs
unique to the advent of the EU.
The relevant comparison here is with the Irish Free State. Eurosceptics
claim that the UK is outgunned on all fronts by a political behemoth
aiming to curtail our sovereign independence, and if necessary to
achieve this juridical primacy through brute economic coercion,
and, who knows, one day possibly though military action. This is
exactly the set of circumstances that southern Ireland found herself
in, inside the inter-war British Commonwealth, save for two things:
they really did find themselves in this pickle, except for the fact
that it was, from the point of view of Dublin's sovereignistes,
a hundred times worse a pickle than that. The constitutional threat
wasn't looming: it had already happened, for even post-statute of
Westminster dominion status did nothing to alter the fact that the
fount of constitutional legitimacy was the Crown (and not as the
southern Irish wished it to be, which was themselves alone); the
economic threat was real and deadly ‹ the Free State both lacked
its own currency, and was, through its own fool fault, subject to
a trade war by the world's largest trading bloc; and, the territory
of Eire, from independence until 1938 included unwanted, non-Irish
military bases, and then, during World War II, the Free State several
times faced the very real threat of military conquest by its Commonwealth
partner Britain, solely because Dublin wasn't going along with the
Empire's common foreign and security policy, to coin a phrase. What,
then, is the excessively silent dog when one substitutes Britain
and the EU for inter-war Eire and her relationship with the Commonwealth?
There is, in the current set-up, no ŚLondon'.
There's no comparable political centre seeking to set collective
political goals for the periphery, there's no-one benignly shepherding
the sheep towards a common sets of goals. To claim that ŚBrussels',
the mere location of a bunch of politically under-capitalised secretariats,
is performing this role is infantile nonsense. The nearest we get
in this game to a ŚLondon', to a player all the other players have
to relate with before they individually relate with each other,
is, of course, you-know-where. Actually, if you're a British Conservative
eurosceptic you're likely to be so sodding silly that you don't
know where: Washington, DC, dimbo.
The EU has worked because it has not been a racket run by
one power. And prior to the EU, the EEC worked because the Franco-German-American
axis was irresistible. The marvellous danger to the project is that,
entirely falsely, a personified EU presidency will crystallise and
publicise what is presently diffuse and obscure. A larger EU is
going to be run much the way Europe has always been politically
Śrun', by the big powers making the decisions, and the little ones
going along with that. Giscard's convention sets that in stone.
But if the EU gets a Śpresident', this, and this alone, has the
power to suggest something totally wrongheaded to the British public:
that rather than being a competing power in the European system,
we will have become a province of a European empire. That, however
inaccurate a diagnosis it will be, is the condition in which we
will leave the EU. Or just when circumstances far removed from being
the consequence of our inept diplomacy have finally rendered the
EU into being something we could cheerfully stay within, it might
make itself rhetorically intolerable. Our lesson from this? In democracies,
rhetoric that the public appreciates is the only thing that matters.
What they apprehend is the reality they act under, everything else,
even the truth, isn't worth a bucket of warm spit.