Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

I wish I could share the widespread joy at the great European 'No'. Yes, the word 'No' is good. Yes, I feel the normal human pleasure at the discomfiture of the politicians. I have enjoyed seeing Peter Mandelson trying to worm round the result and Neil Kinnock raging against his former friends on the French Left and Jean-Luc Dehaene telling France that it, not the EU, now has the problem, and the outside broadcast team sabotaging John Major, sounding like a Dalek on Valium, as he tries to tell us all over again about his wonderful 'opt-out' and the importance of 'variable geometry'. But I fear there is very little chance of any serious break with the European ideal that has dominated Continental politics since the Fifties. This is because it retains complete control of the relevant institutions. The Commission, with its power to frame legislation, is an unanswerable bureaucracy. The Council of Ministers, with its control of the levers of power, can almost always broker a deal. The European Parliament, with its lack of responsibility to member states, wants always to increase European integration. The European Court is mandated to give the European ideal the force of law and find all cases in favour of ever-closer union. These four will continue, and they will never relinquish power unless they are forced to do so by member states with an electoral mandate to reclaim power to themselves. Referendums can delay the worst things, but unless they produce new political leadership, that is all. In Britain, they are seen by politicians as a way of avoiding difficult questions about Europe, of sloughing them off. Already you hear people saying that the 'No' vote takes Europe 'off the agenda'. 'No' will only mean 'No' when people understand that it puts the subject on the agenda more than ever, when we begin to reverse what has happened, not just to throw a block in the road.

In a round-table discussion of post-election politics which will appear in these pages next week, I fear that, in the heat of the moment, I become rather rude to Michael Heseltine, who so ably dominates our debate. I accuse him of holding a view of Europe which you have to be over 70 to believe. I'm sorry for the impertinence, but I think the substance of the view is right. Sometimes there are ideas in politics which have a very strong hold on one generation, and almost none on the next. The European ideal, in its EU institutional form, is one of these. The overwhelmingly governmental and bureaucratic model which the Treaty of Rome began in 1957 now seems as old-fashioned as prices-and-incomes policy or bread rationing. Many younger people believe vaguely in 'Europe', but not in this form. In the French referendum, 57 per cent of the Michael Heseltine generation voted 'Yes' and 43 per cent voted 'No'. Among voters under 30, those proportions were more than reversed - 38 per cent 'Yes', 62 per cent 'No'. There is no longer a public language which can convince new voters to support the existing order. This does not persuade me, however, that the EU necessarily faces an immediate crisis. One of the great mistakes made by the pragmatic British has been to say that because something won't work, it will not happen. (John Major said this about the single currency after we fell out of the ERM. …

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