A French friend, puzzled by Britain’s behaviour in the European Community, recently resorted to an alarming metaphor. ‘It’s as if you had boarded the plane without checking where it was bound for – and now you keep trying to divert it, or jump out in mid-air.’
He could have been more scathing still. Had the British realised that it was a plane they were boarding? Or had they imagined it was a terminal building? ‘Thus far and no further’ has sometimes seemed their unspoken assumption. In the early Seventies, British ministers made much of the ‘larger market’ Community membership offered. Twenty years later, the ‘single market’ was the slogan – shorthand for the removal of non-tariff barriers among the member states, due to be completed by the end of 1992. What always appeared to be lacking was some coherent vision of the Community’s future beyond a perfected customs union – even, at times, any inkling that European integration was an open-ended process, not a finite product or a limited goal.
It was not that the Community’s spokesmen, advocates or analysts had ever disguised its ambitions. In 1962, when Edward Heath was first negotiating terms for British membership, one of his French interlocutors – later a minister – made the point in words reminiscent of a British Army marching song. ‘We don’t know where we’re going,’ he said. ‘All we know is that we’re going there together.’
‘Ever closer union’ was the nearest the Rome Treaty came to defining the Community’s objective; and for a long time every member state could interpret the phrase as it liked. Each was inclined to see a united Europe in its own image. Britain and France, highly centralised countries, feared a monolithic Community; Germany and Italy, with strong regional traditions, saw it as a congeries like themselves. The Benelux countries, some cynics added, looked on it in mainly mercantile terms. The Americans, meanwhile, seemed to believe that Europeans were enacting a slow provincial production of scenes from the early history of the United States.
Gradually, however, the Community’s incremental nature became clearer and its future shape better-defined. The European Parliament, once a mainly toothless watchdog, was soon directly elected and given more power. The independent Commission, whose main task is to propose policies for adoption by the national governments represented in the Council of Ministers, recovered with Presidents Roy Jenkins and Jacques Delors the degree of prestige it had had under its first President, Walter Hallstein. The Council of Ministers, in which General De Gaulle had tried to preserve the national veto, voted more often by majority – sometimes against British protests, but sometimes encouraged by Britain to outflank opposition elsewhere. And the European Court of Justice, always the most ‘fundamentalist’ of the Community’s institutions, continued to pile up case law which deepened the merger of national sovereignty.
The fact that the Community represented a process, not a product, was made more explicit in February 1986, when its 12 member states signed the Single European Act, beginning to streamline the Community institutions with a view to achieving the ‘single market’. It became more obvious still in December 1991, with the two new treaties signed at Maastricht and now in the process of ratification.
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Vol. 14 No. 8 · 23 April 1992
Richard Mayne (LRB, 26 March) sums up 35 years of Community history, hoping to crush those who might suggest that shuffling towards ‘an ever closer union’ is not an adequate agenda for the post-Cold War European Community. He raises seven key controversial issues about the EC: but why does he call them the ‘seven heresies’? The Maastricht Treaty has started debate on the big European questions in Germany, and even in France. Why not in the UK – traditionally the centre of sceptical and cautious analysis of what the ‘European idea’ is about? Mayne says that these ‘heresies’ are being put about solely in the hope of diluting or diverting the Community. Surely he does not wish to return to accepting quasi-theological maxims that should have died a death in the Sixties?
To take just one of the ‘heresies’ – ‘the end of the Cold War has made the Community obsolete.’ Mayne argues that the ‘subtraction of one superpower from the global equation makes no essential difference’. He says both that the end of the Cold War makes little difference to European integration, and also that this question should not be raised, as it is part of a ‘last-ditch effort to resist the movement that is already carrying the European Community well beyond the Single Market’, i.e. that it is politically-motivated. On both grounds, he is wrong.
The relationship between the Cold War and European integration raises complex and urgent questions for historians and policy-makers. France’s reconciliation with Germany may well have been possible only because she was cushioned by the knowledge that Germany was, by 1950, hobbled by the Cold War division of Europe. This division was overseen by the military might of the US. Did not the American military umbrella also provide the security blanket that enabled civilian integration in Western Europe to proceed, albeit haltingly and erratically, through the subsequent decades? If this is so, is it logical to assume that the Europeans will now have better luck with security/defence integration than they have ever had previously? Some federalists may respond that the Cold War played its part early on, but that other factors are now driving an integration process that is implicitly accepted as a good thing. This may be true: but we simply do not know if it is.
Mr Mayne’s ‘heresies’ are not Euroheresies at all, but a basis for open discussion. We do not need more transport analogies – climbing on unmarked aircraft, catching or missing European boats and trains. And subscribing to Maastricht by the back door without openly re-assessing our assumptions and goals can only be bad for British – and European – democratic accountability and debate.
St Antony’s College,
Vol. 14 No. 9 · 14 May 1992
Anne Deighton (Letters, 23 April) asks why I use the term ‘Euro-Heresies’ to describe seven British objections to ‘ever closer union’ in Europe. Partly, I admit, to provoke: but mainly because they echo, in a plausibly contemporary form, some of the fictions about European unity that were peddled in the Fifties, usually but not exclusively in Britain.
Take the ‘heresy’ which Anne Deighton singles out: that ‘the end of the Cold War has made the Community obsolete.’ One Fifties variant of this was that the Community was ‘the economic arm of Nato’. Another was that the unification of Western Europe ‘would perpetuate the Cold War’, True, fear of Soviet power helped encourage West European statesmen to seek unity. But equally important was their desire to avoid domination, however friendly, by the United States. The eclipse of the Soviet Union has made the United States still more dominant in the world scales – as well as increasing the relative weight of both Japan and China. So I was understating the case when I argued that the ‘subtraction of one superpower from the global equation has made no essential difference’. In reality, it should have given Europeans even more incentive to maximise their influence by uniting.
But parity with the superpowers (including equal partnership with the United States) has always been only one of the Community’s aims. Apart from the need to reconcile former enemies (achieved) and to curb economic nationalism (still a struggle), the Community’s founders saw it as a way of pioneering, on a limited scale, a new form of relations between peoples, based on peace, equality, and common democratic rules and institutions far more powerful, binding and intimate than in any previous international organisation. Its ultimate, very long-term goal is a peacefully united world. In this respect, too, unification in Europe is an open-ended process, not a finite product. Thanks to intensive debate in the last four decades, many continental Europeans understand this. Some people in Britain, a partly involuntary latecomer to the process and the debate, seem only now to have woken up to the real significance of the Rome and Maastricht Treaties.
As a veteran ‘European’ and assistant to some of the Community’s founders, I’m delighted if the British are now willing to discuss Europe’s future, as Anne Deighton is. I’m distressed only if they close off their options with ‘Euro-heresies’ whose subtext is all too plainly ‘Thus far and no farther.’