Thursday, 7 December 2017

A non-beneficial addition


It is not often that I agree with Mike Galsworthy, but he is right when he describes Martin Schulz' intervention today, calling for a constitutional convention on the formation of a United States of Europe, as helping 'flailing Brexiteers'. Actually, maybe 'flailing' is not the correct term. Some of the ultras are steadfast and know, in their world at least, exactly the way forward. The headbangers are already running with these comments, treating them as if they have effect tomorrow.

It is for this reason that Martin Schulz made a mistake today. He revealed his hand and did so just when Brexit was proving impossible to deliver. Of course, he has not revealed anything extraordinary. Veteran Leavers have been warning against bold steps towards further and irreversible integration for years. Schulz is merely communicating the essence of the EU's raison d'etre. For Leavers, this was always a matter of 'when' and not 'if'.

A few years ago the coalition government legislated to ensure that any updated European constitution is greeted with a domestic referendum in Britain. In the same way that Lisbon was. Or rather, wasn't. I make this point a lot because it signifies that at some point, even very soon, we were going to have to confront the question of our place in Europe. Lisbon propelled the project forcefully in one direction but it could not have been the end. There is still so much to coordinate and harmonise. 

Our handling of the whole withdrawal process has been amateurish. If anything it tells me that this is all happening too quickly and we never conducted sufficient planning. The root of this problem lies with the Cameron government's lazy and arrogant assertion that winning the referendum would be a forgone conclusion.


What we are likely to end up with is exactly what Schulz refers to: a two-tier Europe. Or perhaps a three-tier Europe if we factor in the surrounding EFTA states. It is difficult to predict what the European reaction to Schulz' call for full unity will be. Some states, like those relieved of the chains of communism, are still finding their feet as distinct constitutional entities. Others, like Denmark, are happy simply to pick and choose which aspects of membership suit them most.

I rather admire this obstinate attitude. It mirrors that of my own country. In fact, quite a number of parallels can be drawn between Denmark and Britain, certainly in the context of EU membership. Both countries joined together and have for many years enjoyed substantive opt-outs. Both countries surrendered successful fishing industries upon acceding to the Union. Both countries share a unique distaste for the idea of a European Army.

Eurosceptics at home will be buoyed by this news. I am glad too in that it will help to stave off second thoughts and may act as a reminder as to why we voted out in the first place. What is worth remembering, though, is that often it is the integration by stealth we should be most worried about. At least this pronouncement came publicly and directly, with no room for misinterpretation or a kicking into the long grass.

Of course, despite Schulz' view being widely-held in the corridors of Brussels, turning his ambition into reality will not be easy. In the current climate this new proposal is largely unworkable because there are too many imbalances as far as how interwoven each member is into the fabric of the EU. Ever closer union has taken place at different speeds and for different reasons. There may well come a time where member states face a simple 'stay or go' choice. A test of commitment.

A test, incidentally, I think the UK has failed. We don't want to be in the EU because we don't care for its aims or institutions. This is really the nub of it. We braved the leaving process before anyone else because it was destined to be this way. Even the most ardent Remainers know that we are a little different. Uncaring is perhaps too cold, but out of place certainly paints an accurate picture. I am happy we are on our way out, even if I refuse to believe that Schulz will get exactly what he wants.

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