Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

State of the Nations

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

State of the Nations

Article excerpt

Thirty four years after joining the then European Economic Community, one might have expected Britain's membership of the EU to arouse greater enthusiasm at home. Markets have been liberalised to our advantage and the wilder dreams of the arch-federalists have been dashed, not least because the expansion to the east that British politicians always supported inevitably slowed the "ever-closer union" envisaged in the Treaty of Rome.

But we are still reluctant Europeans. Only in Britain is the reform treaty just agreed in Lisbon effectively the constitution that dare not speak its name. Gordon Brown must brandish his red lines and opt-outs to assuage the fears of those who see sovereignty ebbing inexorably towards Brussels; this despite the fact, as Vernon Bogdanor points out (page 4), that we submitted ourselves to the supremacy of European law when we entered the community in the first place.

Tony Blair's early ardour for the EU is long forgotten, as is the favourable attitude of the then European Commission president, Romano Prodi. The current incumbent, Jose Manuel Barroso, is one of the most pro-British holders of that office. Yet even he has grown tetchy at the constant exceptionalism shown by the one member whose people still consider Europe to be "abroad". Asked how long the red lines would remain in place after the treaty negotiations, Barroso gave a tart response: "Until Britain changes its mind."

Ministers for Europe have come and gone with alarming regularity under the Labour government. …

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