Magazine article The Spectator

Little Europeans

Magazine article The Spectator

Little Europeans

Article excerpt

I THINK I finally understand where these Euro-zealots are coming from. The moment of gnosis came when a pro-European colleague asked me to sign some declaration or other against French beef. Now I, like other Tories, have spent the best part of five years arguing that, regardless of BSE, British beef is safe and wholesome. I couldn't see how raising new doubts about the issue would help our farmers, and I told him so.

He looked at me incredulously. `But you're a Eurosceptic!' he said, jabbing an accusing finger. 'I had you down as a definite supporter. I mean - it's against the French.'

And then it hit me: Europhiles really do believe that we sceptics are slightly xenophobic. The accusation is not, as I had always assumed, a debating point, but a sincerely held conviction.

Looking back, I realise that this is by no means the only occasion that federalists have imputed strange opinions to me. MEPs usually assume, for example, that I support the proposal to make English the EU's common working language. In fact, the idea fills me with horror. The right of every European citizen to deal with Brussels in his national tongue is one of the few remaining signs that the EU is an association of nationstates. Take that entitlement away and you simultaneously remove the largest obstacle in the path of full integration.

Similarly, I am forever being expected to intervene on behalf of British citizens seeking professional recognition on the Continent. In some cases, the country concerned is in flagrant violation of its treaty obligations. But, more often, I am being asked to tell a sovereign government to change its domestic employment legislation.

It's the same with state aid to foreign companies. We understandably object when Brussels tells us how to administer our economy. So why should we complain when, say, the French government firehoses money at Air France? If French voters, who are also French taxpayers, choose to prop up their own airline, that is their loss - and, indeed, our gain, since every time we fly Air France, we are effectively receiving a subsidy from the French exchequer. And yet, on all these questions, I and other sceptics are routinely expected to adopt the most inconsistent and parochial position possible.

In part, of course, this is clever politics. Supporters of European integration have conducted their focus groups. They know that hostility to Brussels, although certainly broad, is not particularly deep. Many people oppose the euro without really knowing why, and fret that their opposition may be based on ignorance. By constantly going on about 'Europhobes' and 'isolationists', the 'philes are working on this sense of unease. `Look,' they are saying to the undecided voter, `these anti-Europeans are little better than football hooligans. You're not like that, are you? Well then, you must be in favour of EMU.'

I can't say I blame them; it's an obvious tactic. In fact, it is an exact mirror of the sceptics' charge that the 'philes lack patriotism: unfair, but probably effective.

But there is more to it than that. When bien-pensant Europeans attack their critics as blimps, they are not just engaging in name-calling. They are also asserting what they see as the moral superiority of their vision.

This was neatly illustrated by this magazine's interview with Neil Kinnock in December. …

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