N. 32 April 2004 | The illusion of the Franco-British-German directorate

It is in the UK's interest that Europe won't be politically unified, as well as making sure that the Union remains a weak free trade area in which british and american politics can more easily prevail.

In the wake of the Brussels fiasco, and influenced by the spectacle of the European Union’s impotence over the question of the war in Iraq, the British, French and German governments, realising that neither an active European presence in the world, nor even a semblance of governability of the European Union, can be guaranteed by the Union’s present institutions, have laid the foundations for the birth of a pilot-group of states that should be in a position to achieve a minimum degree of coordination among its members – albeit in harmony with NATO plans – and to adopt a common position on the most important aspects of European policy. This move appears to extinguish all the hopes previously raised when France and Germany attempted – by deepening their friendship and seeking to draw the governments of Belgium and Luxembourg into a joint project – to affirm Europe’s independence from the United States.

What is emerging therefore is an EU “triumvirate,” which is feared by the governments of the medium-sized and smaller states; in other words, an alliance, intended to become stable, of the Union’s “big three.” It has to be said that this solution seems, at first glance, to represent the only possible way out of Europe’s current paralysis – if, that is, the EU is to retain its current institutions and a twenty-five member framework. But the solution only looks like a way out. The “triumvirate,” too, will prove to be incapable of making decisions, both because it is merely another version of the intergovernmental method, and also because the views of its members on all Europe’s main political questions are, and will continue to be, irreconcilable. The “triumvirate” will also continue to be unacceptable to the medium-sized and smaller states that have been left out of it. These states have already reacted angrily to their exclusion from the pilot-group and they are bound to press to be admitted to it. As a result, the “triumvirate” will inevitably and gradually come to be reabsorbed into the present Union.

Some see the Anglo-Franco-German alliance as a vanguard capable of restarting the process of European unification. In truth, it is no such thing. Any genuine re-launch of the process of European unification must set its sights, ultimately, on abandonment of the intergovernmental method, but the presence of the United Kingdom in the “triumvirate” makes it inevitable that this objective, and the roads that might lead in the direction of this objective, will not even be taken into consideration. The government, the political class and the overwhelming majority of public opinion in the United Kingdom are firmly opposed to any evolution of the Union in a supranational sense. After all, it must not be forgotten that the seeds of the crisis that is now emerging so dramatically in Europe were actually sown in the process at precisely the time the United Kingdom joined the European Community. Britain has always sought to put the brakes on the movements towards political unification that the process has, from time to time, generated, thereby allowing Europe to drift and enlarge, the objective function of enlargements being to undermine the cohesion first of the Community and latterly of the Union, and to render increasingly remote the prospect of Europe making the federal leap.

This observation certainly does not stem from any anti-British feeling. On the contrary, it has to be acknowledged that the United Kingdom, despite being in historical decline, continues to be a country that enjoys the strong support of its citizens, that is governed by democratically healthy institutions, and whose “special” relationship with the United States allows it to go on playing a role – albeit in a subordinate capacity – on the international political stage. For this reason, the United Kingdom, unlike continental Europe’s most closely integrated states, whose historical decline is now so advanced as to render them almost ungovernable, has no need of European political unity. The United Kingdom’s interests would indeed be best served if political unification of Europe were not to come about at all, the European Union continuing to be nothing more than a weak free-trade area in which British, and American, policy might more easily be pursued.

In truth, the problem that must be faced, because this is the only step that can get the process of European unification going again, is that of creating a European power. This cannot be achieved by forming alliances or designing complex institutions that leave the member states’ sovereignty intact, but only by forming the nucleus of a European federal state, which would have a proper army that would replace the armed forces of its member states and whose citizens, whether they come from large or small states, would all enjoy exactly the same democratic rights. This project, too, is initially feasible only within the framework of a very small group of states, a group which would later be increased. And membership of this initial core group cannot extend beyond those countries that, under the guidance of France and Germany, first started the process of European unification.

While it cannot be denied that the governments of these nations have still not matured the necessary willingness to relinquish their sovereignty, it is also true that there exists, within the Six founding countries, a receptiveness to the hypothesis. This is because these states are strongly dependent on one another, share a longstanding European tradition, and all have a public opinion that is open to the idea of political unification. Until now, the federal core has been an idea, not a concrete proposal. But the degree to which this idea is now, like an unseen force, penetrating  the chancelleries of Europe is reflected in the determination with which the continent’s Eurosceptic governments are seeking to exorcise the question. Nevertheless, it is an idea that can be translated into a concrete initiative only when events come to head and provide the necessary opportunity, and only if, at that point, there emerge leaders with the capacity to seize it.


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