Published in November 2003 issue of Prospect Magazine
The poison of Europe is being drawn from British politics. It is an odd time to make this claim as wrangling resumes over the draft EU constitution. (Click here to download Prospect’s published version of the constitution.) But in form if not content the constitution represents the dying light of an earlier, more federalist, stage of development: Europe as a substitute state, with anthem, flag and constitution. Recent events – divisions over Iraq and Sweden’s decisive no to the euro – remind us again that the EU is in fact a coalition of nation states with some pooling of sovereignty. There will (and should) be some further pooling and there is still plenty to absorb and get right from earlier stages. But in an enlarged union of 25, new integrationist projects involving all member states will be rare.
A messier, looser Europe suits Britain and will reduce the level of domestic rancour on the issue. The euro will not return for five years, not even then if the British economy is still outperforming Germany’s. And if Michael Portillo, speaking at our roundtable on Europe, is right, Tony Blair will comfortably ride out demands for a vote on the constitution – while several of his opposite numbers struggle against a rising tide of anti-Brussels sentiment.
The constitution itself is hardly Philadelphia 1787, as John Kerr points out in his foreword to the copies we are giving away. It is neither poetic, nor clear, nor is it a constitution at all in the sense of deriving its legitimacy from the people. (It also includes the ludicrous claim that Europe brought forth civilisation.) It does not solve the “democratic deficit” problem, but then that is a myth based on the false premise that Europe is a state with a single polity. What EU-rope needs is transparency, legitimacy and better connections between decision-makers in Brussels and national parliaments. On those scores, some progress is made.
Quiet progress is also being made on European defence. A chastened America is unlikely to pick a fight on that right now. Indeed, America’s current predicament is what many people (including some in the British government) hoped for before the war: Saddam is toppled but the postwar difficulties rule out further US adventures and strengthen Washington’s multilateralists. Not such a bad outcome – although nasty transitional times for the Iraqis: see our report on Baghdad’s health service.