Magazine article The Spectator

Why Britain Should Beware of Being under the Influence

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Britain Should Beware of Being under the Influence

Article excerpt

His health failing, Helmut Kohl is said to be sunk in elephantine gloom as the German prosecutors dismember his financial dealings. But the former Chancellor should derive some consolation from recent developments. His reputation may be mouldering, but his ideas go marching on. President Chirac may claim to have doubts about federalism, while the entire French official class is alarmed at any hint of German self-assertion. But events have their own momentum, irrespective of politicians' will. It was Chancellor Kohl who shaped the events which are now shaping Europe. For obvious reasons, Jacques Chirac was unable to express himself in such terms, but his speech in the Reichstag was an endorsement of Chancellor Kohl's European ambitions.

As such, it has caused anxiety in the Foreign Office and in No. 10, and dismay among British Europhiles. The federasts and the Foreign Office share the same nightmare: that France and Germany will override British objections and create a European vanguard. This would leave us marginalised, condemned to membership of a European second division and - ultimate horror - to loss of influence.

In one respect, they are correct. It was inevitable that Britain's refusal to join the euro would change our relationship with Europe; it was equally inevitable that the euro would change Europe's relationship with itself. Herr Kohl knew exactly what he was doing by pushing for the euro: where monetary integration leads, political integration is bound to follow. Even if there is still a democratic deficit, and however much goodwill some of them may feel towards non-euro countries, the governments of euroland are bound to be brought into an ever-closer collaboration. So countries which are not part of that process are bound to lose influence.

But influence can be bought at too high a price. When they talk about influence, our Europhiles are either failing to think clearly or - as usual - indulging in intellectual dishonesty. They talk as if this `influence' would be a matter of horse-trading by sovereign governments, but that would only be true for an interim phase. Long years ago, when I first visited Brussels on journalistic business, I had a cross-purpose conversation with a senior Eurocrat. He referred to `juste retour'; I thought that this was a good idea which he was endorsing. But clarification came rapidly. `Juste retour' was a teen of opprobrium, used by Brussels to describe the Anglo-Saxons' obsession with their own petty concerns when we should have been happy to help build a united Europe by contributing to the acquis communautaire.

Exactly the same would happen over influence. If we joined the euro, there would be a rapid process of evolution, after which our government - or what was left of it - would no longer be exercising British influence vis-a-vis Europe, but British influence within an increasingly united Europe. That prospect should hold no fears for those whose political identity is European rather than British, who would be happy to see the Westminster Parliament become a glorified county council and who look forward to the day when the British people, on their own, will no longer be able to sack their government. Those who do not share those goals should not be deceived by talk of influence. This is not an argument about balance-sheets of influence, but about dreams, visions and national identity.

The Europhiles are not only being disingenuous when they talk about influence. They are also exaggerating, for there are limits to the potential loss of influence. …

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