I am still a pro-European

Jon Worth - reluctant to be called a pro-European?

An interesting post by Jon Worth arguing that framing the debate about Britain and Europe in terms of pro-European and Eurosceptic is not helpful.

The European Union legislates everything from working hours to the price of potatoes, air quality to trade tariffs. There is no simple way to define whether you want more of that entire package or less.

And that’s right, but it is only half the story.  To be anti-European is not to want less of the package but to want none of it.  The package itself is not a set of legislation, but a set of institutions for deciding on legislation, and the anti-Europeans want out of those institutions.  They are open, they say, to intergovernmental cooperation on issues of common interest, but they do not like the commitment that membership of the EU entails.

If that’s what they want, we have to disagree.  We know that intergovernmental cooperation is less effective and less democratic than the EU method, and that EU method can be more effective and democratic still.  We are ready for the commitment of EU membership because we understand what different European countries have in common.  The EU treaties, and the principle of subsidiarity, limit the areas of EU action to those fields which the member states cannot manage effectively on their own: EU membership is not an open-ended commitment.

And the countries that are members of the EU are the ones that share those common interests.  It is no accident that the UK pools its sovereignty with France and Germany and not with Fiji and Guatemala.  The anti-Europeans think that our relations with other European countries should be no stronger than with those outside Europe: it is the fact that we see the idea of Europe as having a political significance and not merely a geographic one that makes us pro-Europeans.

But Jon is right to doubt that these are our preferred grounds on which to fight the political battle.  Few people will be inspired by the notion of Europe as such, more will be impressed by economic recovery, environmental protection and social justice.

¤ ¤ ¤

I was led back to Jon’s article by a tweet he posted about a new pamphlet from the Foreign Policy Centre, The new British politics and Europe: Conflict or Cooperation?  In that publication, the editor, Adam Hug, writes that:

Mainstream pro-Europeans must clearly show that they are committed to a Europe of nation states that pragmatically work together to face common problems. The federalism that remains the dream of some of the ardent core of British europhiles must be clearly set to one side, not only as an idea that is politically unfeasible in this country no matter how many times you explain it, but one that is in opposition to the objectives of the vast majority of those who see the UK’s future as an engaged member of the EU. Pro-Europeans must at all times show that they understand that sovereignty and legitimacy flow from the people alone, up to the various tiers of government and that the goal of politicians is to assess the best place to manage political issues on behalf of their populace. Subsidiarity remains as important a principle today as it ever has been and pro-Europeans must look for cases where it makes most sense for issues to be addressed at an EU level, whilst being prepared to argue for other issues to be dealt with at a national or local level instead when most appropriate.

Read the last two sentences of that paragraph again:

Pro-Europeans must at all times show that they understand that sovereignty and legitimacy flow from the people alone, up to the various tiers of government and that the goal of politicians is to assess the best place to manage political issues on behalf of their populace. Subsidiarity remains as important a principle today as it ever has been and pro-Europeans must look for cases where it makes most sense for issues to be addressed at an EU level, whilst being prepared to argue for other issues to be dealt with at a national or local level instead when most appropriate.

What in those two sentences justifies the claim in the previous sentence that federalism “must be clearly set to one side”?  What Adam Hug has described is federalism.

Any intelligent understanding of federalism knows that the existing national governments will continue to play a major role in the European Union and the shaping of European policies.  The Council of Ministers remains half the legislature.  To suggest that the existence of nation states is incompatible with federalism implies that federalism itself has not been properly understood.

About the Author