A Eurosceptic thinktank, Global Vision, is holding a conference today to press the case for Britain to remove itself from the heart of the EU. They want a trading relationship, they say, but not much more than that. And anything that is agreed more than that must be agreed unanimously by intergovernmental methods. (Read about Global Vision here.)
They do not elevate opposition to the EU into a moral crusade, as do some of its critics; they do not make a fetish out of national sovereignty. It is not in Britain’s interests to take part in an integrated Europe, they say, but if other countries wish to do so, that is fine. In fact, given the evident wish of many other European countries to do exactly this, the negotiation of arrangements for Britain to leave should be perfectly possible. The fact that the EU is based on mutual and unanimous consent gives the UK a power over the rest: it can prevent the others from developing the EU further, if it wishes. Agreement would provide a welcome release for both parties, they say.
And in that light, it is only natural that they should find as allies advocates of an integrated Europe, integrated without Britain if need be. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former chairman of the European Convention that produced the first draft of the constitutional treaty, is lending his name to their efforts. He would prefer to see progress made in European integration, and is ready to sacrifice British membership in order to achieve it. (Read a report in the Daily Mail here.)
There is a logic behind this argument and, if British politics goes the wrong way, it is a logic that might come to fruition. But I disagree with both Global Vision and their foreign guest.
I don’t share Global Vision’s view of the EU, nor their view of what will become of a medium-sized country in the future when the world is dominated by four or five major powers, whether large countries or regionally integrated groupings. To watch such a world come to pass and deliberately opt out of membership of one of those regional groupings seems to me to be a mistake. The world desperately needs new rules to manage the relations between those major powers, and writing them is one of the pre-eminent tasks in politics today.
And as regards Giscard d’Estaing, I don’t think that Europe can achieve as much as he would like if Britain were not a member. Its economic and military clout would be reduced and its influence around the world diminished. On the other hand, there is a great deal it can do if Britain remains a member.
The biggest tasks facing the EU, such as adapting the economy to its ecological limits whilst maintaining competitiveness and social protection, maintaining democracy and social cohesion while its social, ethnic and religious diversity increases, and engaging in the international rule-writing I referred to earlier, are all tasks where Britain has something to offer the rest of Europe. When it comes to the UK, Giscard is choosing the wrong allies.