Magazine article The Spectator

White Knights Galloping to the Rescue Too Late

Magazine article The Spectator

White Knights Galloping to the Rescue Too Late

Article excerpt


by Peter Shore

Duckworth, 18.99, pp. 244

The Eurosceptics need a Burke. Perhaps in Peter Shore they have found one. Few are better equipped for the role. As Labour's shadow foreign secretary, shadow chancellor, trade minister in 1974-79, and the bright young man who briefed Gaitskell on Europe in 1960, Shore has lived and breathed Europe for the last 40 years. He has also read, which few have, all the unreadable official documentation, and he has been through the cabinet papers of the 1960s. Few leading men, save Kenneth Clarke, have modified their views so little over two generations. As an analysis of the policy issues relating to the European Union and their historical context, this is an inside job whose expository skill and zealous demystification will not easily be bettered.

Shore presents the European question as from first to last essentially a French one. It is so, because France has different needs, sees matters differently, has tremendous political will. For France, until recently, the containment of Germany always came first. Even now, writers in Le Monde still fret about `Germany reaching from the Atlantic to the Urals'. For France, therefore, Europe was above all a political cage in which to put Germany. As Germany grew larger with unification, therefore, the cage also grew larger, to become Europe plus EMU plus, perhaps, a European Army.

If Shore's method has a fault, it is that he thus applies the language of pure realpolitik to events within a Europe where the great powers are always at war', yet where the wider Anglophone world is concerned a very generous allowance is made for all the sentimentalities.

Shore has little or nothing to say on Germany's role in Europe. The view from Berlin is missing. In this, of course, he is far from alone. He makes too much of the addition of the five East German Under, not a great thing in itself. More important, the end of the Cold War has willy-nilly brought Berlin an informal empire of influence in the East which further enhances its political predominance. Above all, the fact that we have grown used to an absence of political will in Berlin does not mean that we should regard that absence as more than the product of temporary circumstances, now largely past.

Shore is at his best when exploring the inexorable logic by which the Treaty of Rome grew into the central institutions of today which, taken as a whole, amount to a quasi-state. What he emphasises is the extraordinary cleverness of the process of British entrapment, the deeply political ambushes lurking in neutral-looking clauses of treaties, and the utter helplessness of a British public which had not the slightest idea what was really going on.

The classic case is that of Lady Thatcher who had a huge extension of Brussels powers foisted on her by having dangled before her the supposedly free-market scheme of the Single European Treaty (1985). If Lady Thatcher could be led up the garden path, what hope was there for lesser mortals?

With apparently unstoppable logic, the cause of ever closer union has gained success after success. Shore relentlessly piles on the agony, the better to enhance the dramatic effect of the alternatives to supranationalism that he proposes in the second half of his book - for he is politician enough to have a solution in his pocket. But literary art apart, Shore is genuinely angry, with the political class for its ready abandonment of parliamentary democracy and (perhaps even more) of the contracyclical Keynesian finance they all swore by when young; with the lawyers for too readily dancing to the tune of Brussels and EU law; and with Europhile dirty tricks, such as nobbling the Today programme and Heath's media breakfasts at the Connaught Hotel. Such things probably still go on for instance Shore himself, as the senior Labour anti-integrationist, is rarely allowed on the air - but they are small beer compared to the central deception of selling submission to supranational integration to the UK public by means of a rhetoric of inter-governmental co-operation. …

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