For 1,000 Years, Many Have Tried to End Our Way of Life. Now, Incredibly, a British Prime Minister Wants to Do It for Them

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON HEFFER

YESTERDAY was meant to be a historic day for Europe. Ten mostly former Eastern bloc countries set to join the EU in May next year formally signed their accession treaties, which means that soon it will be 'The 25', not 'The 15'.

This final burying of the postwar divide between East and West Europe was accompanied, however, by evidence of the new division that has rent Europe in two these last few months.

Outside the hall in Athens where the ceremonies were taking place, the stench of Molotov cocktails and tear gas filled the air as an antiwar protest let rip.

With Europe split between those countries that backed the recent action in Iraq and those that did not, Tony Blair could have chosen a better time to propound his latest theory about the future of the EU.

Mr Blair wants a president of Europe with greater powers and sees this as part of his support for the proposed EU Constitution.

To anyone who values this country's independence, however, it is a horrific prospect.

Under the arrangements for the EU made at Maastricht in December 1991, certain matters such as foreign and security policy or criminal justice were left to nation states.

However, in June, the Convention on the future of Europe will report and recommend the pooling of sovereignty on these and other matters, and the creation of institutions - such as the enhanced presidency - to help ensure a centralised, bureaucratic, state.

Federalism would be bad enough, but the vision is not a federal one, where certain rights would remain with sovereign nations. This is about giving powers to a central, and unelected, administration to do many of the things that the British have long believed is their elected government's job.

Lord Blackwell, who ran John Major's policy unit in Downing Street and who is no rabid Eurosceptic, recently described this plan as having potentially 'the most fundamental influence on the future shape of Britain since the Norman Conquest'. He does not exaggerate.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights would be incorporated into the EU constitution, by which we would be bound.

Defence and foreign policy would fall within the competence of the EU. The Commission-president, who might be appointed rather than elected, would have more powers than the Council of Ministers.

In a speech last November, Mr Blair argued against such details. However, as always, he wants to have it both ways. He offered greater integration of Britain into Europe, saying he wanted to end the 'nonsense' of 'this far and no further'.

Equally, he claims to believe that with Britain taking part in the discussion and exerting its 'influence', we can arrive at a single European constitution to please everyone. Such an idea is preposterous and, in his heart, even Mr Blair must know it.

We are but one voice in 15; soon, one voice in 25. The idea that a constitution would be tailored to our requirements is mad. We could not sign up to it then simply negotiate opt-outs on those parts we dislike. For, if such a constitution is to have any sense, it cannot be one from which the diners eat a la carte.

Having seen, over the issue of Iraq, how it is impossible for Europe to have a single defence, security or foreign policy, it is insane for Mr Blair now to seek to drive this process forward.

Of course, he can say, truthfully, that it is not a federal programme; for it is even worse than that, with its centralised and antidemocratic institutions.

Nor is it a project in which we can participate without being part of the single currency: but then Mr Blair, unlike most of the rest of the country, has always believed that we shall indeed soon join that. …