Over the past decade the EU has become far friendlier to British interests, both economically and politically. Yet over the same period Euroscepticism in Britain has gained ground. The EU's constitutional treaty codifies the new pro-British EU, but few people seem happy to vote for it. What's gone wrong?by Anand Menon / November 21, 2004 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2004 issue of Prospect Magazine
It is barely six months since the prime minister made his dramatic Commons statement announcing a referendum on the European Union’s new constitutional treaty. Yet one could be forgiven for thinking that this was nothing but a bad dream, given the deafening silence about Europe since. The referendum campaign, it would seem, has been put on the backest of back burners. The government can win this vote, but to do so it must start to make its case. And that case must be one based on the fact that the EU, now more than ever, serves Britain’s interests well.
The excesses of popular Euroscepticism are well known to Prospect readers. The sometimes uncritical views of parts of the pro-Europe lobby are less often remarked upon. Yet Europhile approval of anything the EU does, and its constant desire to see it do more, have reinforced national anxieties about the nature and development of the EU. It is Europhiles, after all, who popularised the “bicycle theory,” according to which integration must be continually deepened if the endeavour is not to collapse. This has raised the spectre of a ceaseless draining of power to Brussels from national capitals. Europhiles can even outdo the Europhobes when it comes to spreading speculation disguised as fact. Thus while the Sun claimed that 2m British jobs were at risk if Britain signed up to the constitutional treaty, Europhiles were busy proclaiming that non-entry into the euro would cost us 3m jobs.
The dialogue of the deaf between Eurosceptics and Europhiles does little to enlighten the many people who are uncertain about the purpose of the EU and the nature of Britain’s relationship with it. But the case for membership is actually rather prosaic. It is based on the need to address both a very old and a relatively new problem of international relations.
The former problem is interstate conflict. The EU provides a legal and institutional framework for the resolution of conflicts between its member states. Without the EU, the only responses open to Britain for dealing with the unilateral ban imposed by France on British beef exports would have been either to retaliate in kind, raising the prospect of a mutually damaging trade war, or to pursue a lengthy review of France’s action before the WTO. As an EU member, Britain had swift recourse to a court with the authority to force the French to back down.