What does it mean to be a pro-European?

9 March 2005

I annoy a lot of my opponents in debates by calling them “anti-European”. It is a description they reject, but that does not stop me using it. I don’t do it to annoy them, but because it explains something rather clear about the political debate we are in. And for that reason, I am not going to stop. The point is this.

The term “pro-European” is a short-hand for the political view that favours (1) the democratic unity of Europe and (2) the steps which the EU is taking towards it. An anti-European, therefore, is someone who opposes this.

Now, there are some people who support (1) above but not (2), 1 suppose they are pro-Europeans of a sort, but they are not really engaged in politics at all. It is a sort of dreamworld to imagine that Europe can unite all at once, in a single bound. No, it will happen by stages. The case for each stage has to be made independently on its own merits; the endorsement of each stage does not necessarily imply and does not necessarily lead to future stages. People who say that in 1975 the UK voted for membership of a common market are correct but also neglect the other steps towards European integration that have been agreed to since.

And what of the anti-Europeans? Many of them claim that there is a difference between Europe and the EU (indeed there is) and that the term “anti-European” does not therefore apply to opponents of the EU. But I disagree.

I am using the term as a short-hand, don’t forget, and in the long-term I think that there is no meaningful difference between Europe and the EU. The EU was set up with the clear willingness to include all those European countries that wish to be members and the clear potential to encourage the other countries to join. And, in fact, that is what is happening. Think of the position of the new Ukrainian government, for example.

To say that it is possible to be pro-European without supporting points (1) and (2) above is to remove from the term any political meaning whatsoever. In that view, Europe is nothing more than a geographical expression. To be in favour of Europe is no more meaningful than to support the Sargasso Sea or to be passionate about the Limpopo River.

I think that the debate we are now engaged in needs a clearer political response than this. We need ways to describe the two competing sides in this debate: pro- and anti-European are terms that fit the bill.

This blog entry first appeared on www.yes-campaign.net. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.

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