Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Europe: best when you don't notice it?

A Fistful of Euros has this article on the slow progress and near-zero profile of the European intergovernmental conference that is currently struggling to agree the final text of the EU's new constitution. According to another blogger quoted by Fistful, EuroSavant, a tougher and more power-political approach to the Constitution might have been more effective - for example, agreeing the text between the 15 current members and presenting it as part of the accession terms to the 10 new members. I can't say I agree - apart from the obvious implications in terms of democracy and fairness, nothing could have strengthened the hand of the various, more or less nasty Europhobes like Andrzej Lepper in Poland or Meciar in Slovakia more. People in the candidate states are worried enough about the terms of entry being dictated by the west without it being any more true than it already is.

Further, I was moved to leave a comment to the effect that European integration had always been deliberately low-key - a process founded on practical and incremental measures of concrete co-operation. Like electricity supply, it's one of those things that's working when you don't notice it. I don't think it would have lasted if it had been more politically dramatic, and I have the strong impression that the EU is at its least effective when it's at its most demonstrative. The fanfares tend to be followed by farts. Recall M. Jacques Poos's pronouncement that "The hour of Europe is at hand!" immediately before the union failed to do anything of use about Yugoslavia, or the lavish ceremonies attending the renewal of the Franco-German treaties this year while the union was tearing itself apart over Iraq, constitutional reform and agriculture. Closer to home, British prime ministers tend to make grand statements about Europe just before collapsing into the latest crisis with a burst of evil-smelling tabloid gas. The historic event of Germany being represented at a European Council meeting by France was somewhat devalued by the fact that nothing was decided at the meeting.

To return to the constitution, I am moving towards the view that perhaps the mistake has been to organise it like this. The two-stage process always presented the danger that the "conventionnels" (the conventionists? the convened?) would deliberately fudge or work in bad faith in the knowledge that national and institutional interests coul be re-asserted in the IGC, as well as the prospect of a workable draft being hacked to death or drowned in waffle once the diplomatic circus of an IGC got going. It might have been better to beef up the convention with more elected members and make its final document the final text. The ratification could have been national or perhaps by referendum. More drama, I know, but perhaps more simplicity.

By the way, who is this?
"Minister," you see, implies a sovereign state - and we don't want to give any support to the notion that this Constitution will in any way create a sovereign state."
You might be surprised. It's the Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda talking about the proposed European foreign ministership. Remarks like this, of course, are what keep High Euroscepticism going - the enduring fantasy that a Tory government could somehow create (just like that!) a Eurosceptics' Europe without any real institutions by allying itself with (the exact allies change under pressure) "the Scandinavians" or "the new members". Remember Iain Duncan Smith's "Prague Declaration" earlier this year. Of course you do. Go on. What, you don't remember? The problem is, of course, that the new members want to join the EU. They don't want to join some second-class outfit on the fringes - it looks far too much like the various ideas put forward to stall them in the 1990s. (the European Confederation, anyone?) And in fact Mr. Svoboda's position is far closer to Tony Blair's than anyone in the Conservative Party but (perhaps) Ken Clarke. It's not the thing he objects to, note, but the name.

Not that it will put the backbench Bismarcks like David Heathcoat-Amory off their pipes, though. Now, I suppose, they like this idea even more because Don Rumsfeld has made it sound American and exciting.

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