I went to an interesting discussion this morning on the achievements of the European Union over the past 20 years. There were many of them mentioned: enlargement; the euro; some developments in CFSP; and, interestingly, the creation of a European policy on mergers and competition. The speaker was Lord Brittan, who had been competition commissioner when this new policy was established, so it is fair enough for him to declare it one of the main achievements in Europe.
It is worth looking at this policy more closely. It was a Conservative government in Britain at the time, with figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Nicholas Ridley responsible for British policy. How come such dedicated Eurosceptics agreed to such an extension of the power of Brussels?
The answer is that it suited business. Streamlining the regulatory process and creating a common set of rules for the whole single market were important steps to take in improving European competitiveness, and even for Tory Eurosceptics, competitiveness trumped sovereignty. Maybe the next government will draw the same conclusions: we live in hope.
Behind this analysis is the assumption that the enactment of policies is as much an expression of European integration as the creation of institutions. Federalists argue, naturally, that the institutions are necessary – that is how the policies can be guaranteed – but simply creating those institutions is not sufficient. They have to work well, too.