June 30, 2014
The game is up. No one will now believe that the United Kingdom can deliver a substantively different deal in Europe. The FCO's ploy of doing a Harold Wilson -- that is, making some piffling changes and presenting them as a significant new deal -- has been discredited almost before it began. If David Cameron couldn't prevent the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission, no one will believe that he can deliver a more flexible EU, with more freedom of action for its member nations.
I suspect this is one of those situations where normal people get the point more easily than Westminster journalists. For those inside the bubble, it's about personalities: Juncker's supposed drink problem; Merkel's supposed treachery; Cameron's supposed humiliation. But the rest of the country will, I think, see the bigger picture. We have just discovered, in the most brutal way, how lightly we weigh in the counsels of the EU. If anything, Britain's opposition to Juncker's appointment -- which was common to every political party -- served to rally other governments behind him. Our influence in Brussels, in other words, is not just nugatory; it is negative.
As recently as ten days ago, I thought that a compromise would be found. Surely the other members wouldn't actively drive Britain to exit, would they? In the event, they could hardly have been clearer. First, the new Finnish prime minister hectored us, telling us to 'smell the coffee' and realize how dependent we were on the EU, whatever form it took. Then Angela Merkel, coming out of the meeting, gave a press conference in which she said that ever-closer union must apply to all 28 member states, that 'reform' in her mind applied to economic liberalization, not to any repatriation of powers, and that the process whereby European political parties nominated the Commission President, as if the EU were a single federal electorate, would henceforth be normal.
To talk now of a looser EU, a more comfortable EU, an EU in which powers can be returned to the national capitals, is preposterous. A British leader who tried to take such a line would be laughed out of office. The EU has just entrusted its political direction to a man who has spent his entire life campaigning -- perfectly honestly, to be fair to him -- for a United States of Europe. Among other things, he wants a common EU citizenship with reciprocal voting rights in national elections; a pan-European minimum wage; a unified EU diplomatic corps; a federal police agency; and EU-wide taxation. And this is the man whom 26 out of 28 governments have just voted to appoint.
Even at this late stage, the PM could carry out a graceful and wholly justified pivot. He could come before the cameras, his brow furrowed with indignation, and say something along these lines:
You can all see that I tried my best. I think the EU as a whole needs more decentralization, and I made that case as persuasively as I could. Ultimately, though, it's not up to me to tell the Finnish or German or Romanian governments what to do. If they want to follow Juncker and his vision of Europe, fine. But no one can seriously expect Britain to trot along behind them. We will need a different status, one based on free trade and intergovernmental co-operation, not on political merger. You can call it "privileged partnership" as Jacques Delors does. You can call it "associate status", as the Union of European Federalists do. You can call it EFTA-plus, or renegotiation, or country club membership or anything you like, provided we can all agree on the substance, namely that we accept the free movement of goods, services and capital, but we no longer accept the primacy of EU over UK law on our own territory. Some other member states might wish to follow us into such an arrangement -- that's obviously a matter for them. Some EFTA and EEA states might want to do the same, and possibly other non-members from the Balkans or South-Eastern Europe. We could end up with a deal that benefits the whole of Europe: a pan-continental free market, stretching from Iceland and the Faroe Islands to Turkey and Georgia, encompassing 40 or 45 states, within which there would be a tighter grouping of maybe 20 or 25 countries with a single currency and shared political institutions. Wouldn't that leave everyone happier?
So far, though, the PM shows no sign of taking such a direction. Au contraire, he has just announced that, having opted out of the European Arrest Warrant, he now wants to opt back in.
We will, then, end up with a straight In/Out referendum on the current terms. No nonsense about better terms, no pretense of a meaningful renegotiation. Rather the opposite, in fact: we can now see that remaining in the EU will drag us along the federative road down which 26 of the 28 governments have just started.
So, all you government ministers who have been saying that you'd vote No to the current terms but would wait to see whether they could be improved; all you MPs and columnists taking the same line; all you sincere, decent people who hoped that substantive reform might be possible -- you have your answer now. Let the campaign begin.
Daniel John Hannan is a British politician, journalist, and author who is a Member of the European Parliament, representing South East England for the Conservative Party. He is also the Secretary-General of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists. An advocate of localism and a Eurosceptic, Hannan came to prominence after making a speech in the European Parliament criticizing Gordon Brown.
This article was originally featured in The London Telegraph. Refer to original article for related links and important documentation.
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