The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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No more heroes

Robert Oulds

Soon our EU-sceptic dreams may become reality. Fault lines are emerging, cracks in the foundations of the House of Europe, divisions that could well result in a real split.

Even Jaques Delors has stated that the EU, because of weak leadership, is in "a state of latent crisis". This has helped allowing the discontent over the EU Constitution to fester and allowed the talks to founder.

But, to get to the heart of what is really going on in the EU one must look beyond the incomprehensible laws and rules in the EU treaties and acquis communitaire to the political culture. It is this that counts and there lies our salvation. Too often we think in terms of the EU versus vs. us (the guardians of the nation-state) and not in terms of the EU vs. the EU. The European Union is not a homogeneous block, in no way is it a monolith. It is a collection of different institutions, whose basis lies in different ideologies, all competing with each other for a larger share of the pie. The Franco-German axis belies a deep-seated contradiction in the EU. On one hand we have the supranational/bureaucratic model, supported by the French, which is realised in the institution of the Commission. On the other hand we have the intergovernmental model, supported by the Germans, which is realised in the institution of the Council and the pillar structure introduced at Maastricht. Both will progress at the expense of national parliaments but also at the expense of each other. Structural instability that, incidentally, is not redressed by Giscard's Constitution.

Let me give some examples.

The European Commission is set to clash with the important contributor member states over its £688 billion spending programme. The European Commission has also taken the bold step of taking their rivals for power, the Finance Ministers, to the ECJ over their failure to enforce the 'stupid' stability and growth pact.

And behind those two measures lies the desire for power, the desire to rule the continent. The internal contradictions have created tensions that are now spilling out into the open.

This all comes as Germany, the driving-force behind European economic growth, has officially gone into recession. This does not just mean that Bundes statisticians have woken-up to what we already knew. It means that Germany, the paymaster of Europe, may feel that today's feelings of guilt do not match the reparations being demanded. It also means that other EU states will have their economies put into reverse and there is nothing like a little economic depression to create a reawakening of national self-interest. And as we know, in Europe political crises always follow economic ones - lets just hope that this one will be a little more benign than those in the past.

What has probably prevented the European Union going the way of its defunct precursors is the endemic nepotism, fraud and corruption. Being in Europe's leading club is gravy all the way. According to Shore, the EU is governed by a self-serving and detached classe politique. It is transforming itself from a 'class in itself' to a 'class for itself'. But will future years be as bountiful? Surely at some point political pressure, especially in these lean times, will force an end to the practice where billions of euros go astray. How many more Eurostats, Santeresque Commission resignations and whistleblowers can be ignored until something is done?! And if and when it is...? Well, the good times will be over and then the self-serving Eurocratic class may realise that they do not have that much in common after all.

Yet the greatest (self-destructive) threat to the EU comes from Jack Straw's recently stated willingness to make Britain a part of the Franco-German motor. No Jack, if you are a true 'European' you should not try and join that elite club. You will only wreck the whole project if you do.

Joking aside, enlargement is regarded by Conservative EU-sceptics as the great white hope. I, however, do not share their optimism, at least not for the same reasons. It is hoped that New Europe will be more likely to see things in a fashion similar to us, but lets look at the facts:

    They do not understand the EU like we do, many believe that it is modern and western, even democratic
    The economies of Eastern Europe are dominated by German companies
    New Europe is currently dominated by social-democratic parties who are more than happy to take scraps from the EU's top table
    New Europe's barely reconstructed Communist parties also share the federalist dream
    And although there are some very sound centre-right parties in New Europe the example of Hungary's Fidész rings alarm bells. Their once sceptical leader Dr Victor Orbán now supports the euro and has called for the repeal of the Benes decrees

Instead the EU's economic decline will add to the already growing divisions. And a house divided against its self... will lead to a Europe where member states start to go their own way. This will enhance the structural instability and lead to its undoing. An undoing that is already prescribed by Variable geometry. An undoing that is inevitable if some member states form a core federation and others do not. This will lead to a parting of the ways.

But what must Britain do to help that process along? Britain must fill the vacuum that even Delors has noticed and supply leadership and opportunistically (just as the integrationists do) take advantage of each little crisis. Arguing, with others, that a reversal of power is the way forward, using the seductive language of progress.

When it does hit the fan, and it will, I just hope that the policy of the British Government will not be one of trying to curry favour with the Franco-German axis and its collaborators but to forge alliances with centre-right parties. Parties that may want to break-free from the dead hand of the EU elites Social-market economic policies.

The simple fact is that it will take a Conservative Government to do that. But first the Party should follow through with the suggested break from the EPP and start working in the European Parliament with those who in time may want to revolt against integration.

The opportunity is there after the 2004 Euroelections. The Conservative Party just has to be bold enough to take that step and divorce the EPP. We just have to remember that the integrationists are squabbling amongst themselves and a divided board is ripe for takeover.

This is from an article by Robert Oulds for The European Journal