STOPP, or carry on?

François Mitterand and Helmut Kohl at Verdun (picture German Information Center)

I haven’t posted on the blog lately – the reason is that I have just become a father and have been taking some paternity leave. I can start to ease my way back to normal service, or rather what baby Rosa will permit to be normal service, from now on.

Among the messages that were sent to me after the arrival of the baby, one friend asked whether she would be a new member of the Young European Movement. Of course, in the end, what she thinks and does will be a matter for her, but I stopped to wonder whether pro-European politics would still exist in a generation’s time. Would there still be a need for it?

If the initial motivation behind European unity was to end the possibility of war between France and Germany, that has undoubtedly succeeded. Three successive generations of French and German soldiers fought each other; current French and German soldiers fight alongside each other, and can even serve in each other’s armies.

The single market has been substantially completed, although still missing in some important areas; the single currency has been launched and covers as many as 16 member states; and the framework of parliamentary democracy is now in place in Brussels. What more is there to do?

Can the European Union establish its relevance in dealing with the next generation of political issues to confront Europeans? Climate change, adapting to a multicultural population, the economic and political rise of China: is there a role for Europe? Maybe the member states of the EU will make a comeback, maybe there will be a search for some other kind of international forum through which to act. Perhaps the G20 or a League of Democracies will come to matter more.

I am reminded of the Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment, a pressure group that took the positive decision to wind itself up having achieved its objectives. (Read about STOPP here.) Will pro-Europeans be able to award themselves the same satisfaction?

Two thoughts present themselves. First, that international cooperation creates new institutions through which to act. If so, the demands of federalism that those institutions should be strictly limited in their powers and democratically accountable in the way they exercise those powers remain as valid as ever.

Secondly, I should not be blithe in my assumption that the pro-Europeans have won. There is in Britain a strong and active political argument that membership of the EU is a mistake and that Britain should leave. The nineteenth century delights of national sovereignty are being invoked for the present. As long as that souverainist line of argument continues as a credible force in British politics, there will be a need for the pro-European alternative.

Whether my daughter chooses to be a pro-European will be up to her; whether there is still a need for pro-Europeans is up to us, and what we do now.

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