by Lord Dykes
A few weeks after the PM sadly refused to attend the Nobel Peace Prizeaward to the European Union in Oslo, I had the chance to ask my noble friend Baroness Warsi, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, what further opt-outs we would now seek in Brussels. She very kindly stated that “the Government always seek outcomes that are in the national interest … our priorities include … the single market and … fair competition”.
I spend a lot of my time in France and have the opportunity to observe public life and politics there at close quarters. It is interesting that such a proud, indeed, sometimes overly patriotic country, sees absolutely no contradiction between its own direct interests and those of the European Union. It considers them intimately connected and pursues one as an expression of the other. As in Berlin and Madrid, and most other EU capitals, the EU flag flies proudly in Paris alongside the national tricolour. They do not feel the one cancels out the other. The UK is the only major member state where government buildings never, ever fly the European flag. Why are we so nervous about the EU? Why are we so immature?
It is very self-defeating if leading Conservative Ministers and politicians refer to the over-repeated phrase “the British national interest” as if that were wholly different from our membership of the European Union and in opposition to that of all the other member states.
The explanation for the use of such language is simple; an unusually large number of old-fashioned nationalist Conservative MPs, like the UKIP folk, have a notion of national sovereignty which is, literally, at least 100 years out of date.
The fundamental premise upon which the European project is based is one which argues that pooling sovereignty by way of signing EU treaties, achieved by unanimity, is not a loss of real sovereignty, it is a means to protect it and enhance it. We have done so through other international treaties and membership of international organisations like the UN, WTO, NATO, even FIFA, all over the world, to no ill effect.
It is quite extraordinary that the blind commitment in our so-called “special relationship”, which has led us to go into rather questionable military adventures in the not so distant past (which we usually later regret), is rarely questioned, while we suffer hot flushes when confronted with a perfectly sensible measure of consensus-based EU co-operation.
Mr Cameron is now launching a risky plan which is designed to appease these wilder anti-EU MP colleagues, and which could quickly get out of control.
His wish to renegotiate our terms of membership, in effect to get Britain out of its Treaty commitments, which have been voluntarily agreed and dully ratified by our own Parliament, can only cause resentment across the EU and raise questions among our international partners about how committed we are to our membership of the biggest economy in the world.
It comes after Mr Cameron made himself unpopular through a series of tactical mistakes.
The bitterness felt by the European Popular Party, the biggest, and incidentally, right-wing political family in the EU, about the Conservatives deciding to set up their own group in the European Parliament still lingers.
Vetoing the Fiscal Compact and complicating efforts to address the sovereign debt crisis in certain parts of the Eurozone has not been forgotten either.
As Peter Ludlow said recently “The argument that the rest of Europe will simply acquiesce in whatever kind or arrangement (we) opt for, because … our partners need us … more than the UK needs them, is a total illusion”.
What is needed is a vision for the EU, one that is not based on the narrow national interest, but one that caters for the wider and common interests of the European Union and all its members. One that seeks to build on the successes of EU co-operation, but does not try to reduce it, discount it or compromise it. The best way to achieve that is through partnership andconsensus, rather than ultimatums that risk a potential exit of the EU.
Author : European Movement UK