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Taking to the boats?

Posted by Richard Friday, May 20, 2005

There is a particularly stupid comment piece from Bruce Anderson in The Times today, who discusses the "state of play" on the constitution in the "Thunderer" section.

Says the clever-dick, in the context of the prime minister relying on the French delivering a "no" vote to get him off a rather uncomfortable hook, "Messrs Straw and Blair should beware. Anyone intending to rely on the French would be wise to have a Plan B, involving rapid withdrawal to the Channel ports and lots of little ships. The French might still vote 'yes'".

Anderson then concludes that, whatever the French do, "one outcome is certain. In Mr Blair's vacillation, future historians will find further evidence that Jacques Delors was right. The British are allergic to Europe."

I am not sure whether Anderson is parodying the Eurosceptic position, or merely seeking to reflect it, or whether I have missed the point all together. Either way, it totally misrepresents the sentiment which, at the risk of inducing tedium, must be repeated again and again.

We are not against Europe; we have no fear of Europe. And when it comes to the French, I am with the correspondent who wrote in the Telegraph yesterday, who observed that, when you met the ordinary people (Parisians and French motorists excepted) they were friendly, courteous and kind.

That is certainly my experience, to the extent that my loathing for the French must always be taken to mean their politicians (or most of them) and the political élites – a loathing, incidentally, shared by most French citizens.

The essential issue, therefore, remains that we are not against “Europe” but the European Union, a form of government characterised by the single word, "supranational". Meaning, "above the nation", it is best explained as a form of government which has the power to impose on us laws to which we object and which are against the national interest – viz, the Working Time Directive.

Emphasising this word "supranational", in my view, shots the fox which the likes of Mr Douglas Alexander, our new Minister for Europe, likes to set running. According to The Financial Times, he is today addressing a City meeting where he will praise the constitution, stating that: "It recognises that the union is one of free and sovereign nations, sharing our power where that makes us stronger."

More accurately, and truthfully, the union is one in which the political élites of formerly free, sovereign nations – largely without the informed assent of their peoples – have given power to a supranational government which then exercises it without effective restraint, often against our national interest.

This brings me to yesterday’s posting, which sparked a lively discussion of such length that the comment system eventually shut down.

There, I advanced the thesis that the alternative to the "supranational idea" was "intergovernmentalism", inviting questions as to what precisely that meant.

Frankly, at this stage of the debate, I do not know. It is a measure of how "Europe" has stymied thinking, that very little effort has gone into working out credible alternatives. This must be one of our tasks in the months to come, one which the Eurosceptic community has been remiss in not addressing.

For the moment though, we await the results of the referendums in France and The Netherlands. I would not even begin to predict the results – or the consequences. Maybe it will mean that we are deprived of an opportunity to have a referendum, but whatever the outcome, taking to the boats is not the answer. The debate must continue.