Aiming for the Heart of Europe: A Misguided Venture
John Bercow MP
John Bercow's lecture on Britain and the European Union is a model of
clarity, comprehensive in scope and compelling in its logic.
There has been a fundamental change in the nature of what was the European
Economic Community when the United Kingdom gained admission. Like many others
who believed in European free trade and the argument that the European nations
should bind themselves by treaty to pursue free trade policies (such as an end
to state subsidies of industry) I campaigned for a yes vote in 1975.
My views on that have remained unchanged over the past twenty years but
during that time the EEC has changed, first to the European Community then to
the European Union. It never was - and by its very nature could not be ideally
suited to the interests, needs and ambitions of every member state, least of
all Britain which has always been more different to each of the others than
any of them to each other. None the less, we have over the years played our
full part. Despite that we have never succeeded in changing the Community in
any major respect to meet our needs and ambitions. The Common Agricultural
Policy remains as hostile to our interests as ever it was. Even Margaret
Thatcher's apparent success in securing a legal framework to deliver the
Single Market has been perverted by our partners' refusal to enforce its
provisions, and the European Court's rulings by which social legislation is
imposed on Britain under the pretence that it is needed to remove barriers to
As John Bercow explains, the Maastricht Treaty was a watershed. Until then
it was possible to argue coherently that the European Community could remain
an economic association of sovereign states. Since then - and even more since
Amsterdam - there can be no argument that it is heading towards political,
monetary and economic union or the birth of a state called Europe.
Once the provisions for monetary union become embedded in the Treaty of
Rome then the treaty could be nothing other than the constitution of that
state. It is Maastricht which gave enormous new energy to the continental
bacon slicer which remorselessly takes slice after slice, salami style, from
the remaining body of our right to govern ourselves. Always, we are told, it
is too thin a slice to notice and before long we will be told it is too late
to stop. What has gone, we will be told, cannot be put back and what is left
is not worth worrying about.
It is a tribute to the political logic of John Bercow that his lecture
leads the reader or listener inexorably to the key questions.
Is our present position so far along the road to provincial status that we
have no option but to march on to that destination whether we want to or not?
Could we stand firm where we are? Or must we seek to return towards a
relationship with our continental partners like that on which we embarked in
And what if our partners insist on taking the European Union on to a
destination to which we do not wish to go? What would be the consequences?
Could parliament renounce the Treaty - or would that be an illegal act of
John Bercow illuminates these questions which so much of the establishment
would prefer were kept in the closet. For that he deserves our thanks and our
I believe that for Britain to aim to be at the heart of Europe is a
misguided venture. I shall attempt to justify that view by considering five
factors: the conflicting views between Britain and her continental partners of
the aim of the EEC, now the EU; the impact of the European Treaties upon this
country; the political motivation for the single currency; the application of
subsidiarity; and the cost to Britain of her membership of the EU. On the
strength of that analysis, I shall suggest that there are alternatives to
deeper European integration which all democratic political parties should
The founding fathers of the Treaty of Rome had three objectives. First, to
achieve peace in Western Europe and the reconciliation of France and Germany.
Structures were to be created that would render impossible a repetition of the
wars of the 1780s, 1870, 1914 and 1939. Secondly, to form a customs union, and
importantly not a free trade area, with high external tariffs, facilitating
the emergence of a strong trade block in Western Europe. Thirdly, to build an
alternative superpower to rival the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Treaty of Rome called for "an ever closer union among the peoples of
Europe" but, beyond the goal of a Common Market, it provided for common
domestic policies only in the spheres of agriculture and transport. However,
the reference to ever closer union, the stated wishes of European leaders and
the passage of almost sixteen years before our accession meant that you did
not have to be Sherlock Holmes to sense what was in store for us. The Schuman
Plan, devised by Monnet and Schuman, aimed:
"to place the French and German production of coal and
steel as a whole under a common "higher authority" within the framework of an
organisation open to the participation of the other countries of Europe ... by
pooling basic production and by instituting a new high authority whose
decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries".
It added "This proposal will lead to the realisation of the first concrete
foundations of a European federation". Interestingly, in his memoirs, Monnet
recalls remarking at a dinner that "the British will not find their future
role by themselves: only outside pressure will force them to change".
Initially, Conservative statesmen perceived the federal or centralised
Europe that was in prospect and wanted no part of it. Churchill, in his 1947
Temple of World Peace Speech, emphasised that the Temple would have four
pillars: the United States of America, the Soviet Union, a United Europe and
the British Empire and Commonwealth. He radiated goodwill towards the idea of
a United States of Europe but saw the future of Britain as being outside
In 1962, Anthony Eden foresaw the direction in which the EEC was intent on
travelling. He said,
"The experiment of the Six cannot succeed without
federation and I think it most probable that if we join the Six we shall be
faced with that decision in a few years time. I am sure that it must be
federation in the sense of one parliament, one foreign policy, one currency
etc. So far as I can judge events in the continent of Europe, I do not want to
become a part of such a federation".
Despite Eden's prescience, Conservative Prime Ministers from Macmillan
onwards sought to place Britain at the heart of this process. Variously, they
either believed, or simply conveyed the impression, that they could halt the
process of European integration and instead replace continental ideas with an
Anglo Saxon model for the new Europe.
Harold Macmillan personified a generation of Conservatives who accepted the
inevitability of the end of Empire and realised that Britain could no longer
afford an imperial role. To Macmillan, and like minded fellows, a new role for
Britain would be found in the European Economic Community. We could provide
the Europeans with political leadership due to our diplomatic experience,
special relationship with the United States and skills in negotiation. Britain
would have a new Empire on her doorstep.
Macmillan misjudged the determination of the founding fathers of the
European Communities to achieve their federal goal. That goal was incompatible
with the British vision of a Europe of sovereign nations dedicated to free
trade and co-operation. There could be only one winner in the battle over the
future of Europe and it would not be Britain. The first rebuttal came with de
Gaulle's veto over Macmillan's application for British membership of the EEC.
De Gaulle said:
"England, in effect, is insular. She is maritime. She is
linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most
distant countries. She pursues essentially industrial and commercial
activities and only slightly agricultural ones. She has, in all her doings,
very marked and very original habits and traditions. In short, England's
nature, England's structure, England's very situation differs profoundly from
those of the Continentals."
The agenda and tactics of Edward Heath were different. He simply misled the
British public until he achieved British membership of the EEC. The 1971 White
Paper, proposing Britain's entry to the Community, a copy of which was sent to
every household in Britain, emphasised that there was "no question of Britain
losing essential sovereignty." Heath dismissed fears of a loss of independence
as "completely unjustified" and was at pains to reassure the doubters that
Britain would keep control of her own affairs. "No nation" in the Community
would be able to "over-ride another", the vital interests of Britain would be
guaranteed and, above all, she would keep her own Parliament, courts and legal
systems, it said. On the strength of this propaganda blitz, you may think that
Mr Peter Mandelson and Mr Alastair Campbell have been wrongly credited as the
inventors of "spin" and that Edward Heath had mastered the technique some 25
years earlier. I could not possibly comment.
Of course, Heath was not acting alone. In 1972, his Solicitor General, Sir
Geoffrey Howe, said that a common market was at the heart of the Community and
added "The impact of the Community law is, by definition, confined to
essentially economic matters."
In practice, Community law has extended far beyond such matters but it is
only fair to record that in order to secure Britain's entry to the EEC Heath
gave in on the "essentially economic matter" of Britain's fishing rights,
notwithstanding repeated pledges by his chief negotiator, Geoffrey Rippon,
that the Government would not do so.
Given Heath's pre-entry assurances, and the remarks of Geoffrey Howe, it is
interesting to note that in 1990, when asked by the interviewer, Peter
Sissons, whether, when he took Britain into Europe, he really had in mind "a
united states of Europe, with a single currency", Heath replied "of course,
yes". Whether Heath confided in Sir Geoffrey at the time, we do not know. I
think we should be told.
(A) SINGLE EUROPEAN ACT (1986)
As we have seen, signing the Treaty of Rome committed Britain to a common
market, common agricultural and transport policies and the significant but
unelaborated goal of "ever closer union amongst the peoples of Europe".
Accession to the European Communities also entailed the primacy of Community
law over our own. Despite the professed aim to create a common market, the
Community concluded that it had not been achieved. Hence the need for the next
major milestone in the development of the Community, the Single European Act
of 1986. Margaret Thatcher was herself a driving force behind the Act and some
of her Ministers positively fizzed with enthusiasm about the Single Market
which it spawned. She and they believed that the Act achieved the
Thatcherisation of Europe through the furtherance of free trade. Perhaps the
fact that the then Commission President, Jacques Delors, an avowed socialist,
was a passionate advocate of the Act and the Single Market should have sounded
the alarm bells to British Conservative leaders, but it did not.
The Act provided for a major extension of qualified majority voting. There
are 87 votes in the Council of Ministers, weighted loosely according to size
of population. 62 are required to pass a proposal and 26 to block it. The UK
has 10. The Act not only reduced the use of the national veto it also
substantially increased the number of European Union competences, notably in
environmental and social policies. It also conferred new powers upon the
European Assembly, now the European Parliament.
The European Commission ruthlessly used the Single Market programme to push
through a determined harmonisation programme. This entailed no fewer than
1,368 directives, and a mass of attendant regulations, that were binding upon
Britain. As a result, a uniform, heavily regulated Europe emerged, instead of
what Britain had envisaged: a diverse, freely trading Community in which
products would be mutually recognised.
Ludicrous examples included carrots being defined as a fruit when applied
to jam made from the vegetable and laws being proposed on the noise made by
lawn mowers. British industries were hit particularly hard when having to
comply with the harmonisation legislation. All firms had to comply with the
Single Market legislation even if they had no intention of exporting their
products. Yet only about 30% of our output is sold abroad, under half of which
goes to the European Union. Despite this we had to suffer the triple torture
of more red tape; the burden of harmonisation on businesses, making it harder
for many of them to export; and the fact that many countries ignored the rules
of the Single Market, continuing to protect and subsidise their own
While the Market may now be functioning effectively in some industries and
parts of Europe, it is a disservice to the debate to pretend that it is an
unqualified success. It is not.
Examples abound of the damage done to our businesses by a number of
directives. 400 smaller abattoirs, half the total number of slaughterhouses
in the UK, have been forced to close because they could not afford the cost of
compliance with new EC export standards - which they had to satisfy even if
they did not export. The Recreational Craft Directive, coming into force on
16th June 1999, will require thousands of small boat builders to comply with
50 new safety standards, most of which have yet to be agreed. It is expected
to raise the price of yachts, motor cruisers and other pleasure craft by up to
15%, forcing many small boat builders out of business. The Taxation of Savings
Directive, imposing a withholding tax, will raise costs; and plans to compel
the payment of royalties on all sales and resales of works by artists still
alive and for up to 70 years after their deaths have already dealt a swingeing
blow to the London art market which hitherto yielded Britain £2 billion per
annum in foreign earnings. These effects are a far cry from the rhetoric of
removing barriers, boosting trade and increasing opportunity which accompanied
the launch of the Single Market.
(B) TREATY OF MAASTRICHT (1992)
If the Single European Act was significant, the Maastricht Treaty was if
anything still more so. Sadly, the tendency of successive Prime Ministers to
claim that they were winning the argument in Europe, and that Britain was
punching above her weight, applied to John Major. He was the master of this
genre and returned from the Maastricht summit to proclaim that Britain had won
game, set and match in the negotiations. Scrutiny of the Treaty, and events
since, show that in fact he suffered a straight sets defeat.
It confers on Community institutions a breathtaking raft of new powers in
respect of a range of subjects from roads to consumer protection, from
training to the environment. The number of areas in which the European
Commission has the sole right of legislative initiative increased from 11 to
20 and the Treaty provided for 111 increases in qualified majority voting.
There are more powers for the European Parliament too.
You might question whether there is enough common ground between the member
states to facilitate a common foreign and security policy but moves towards it
were made. The policy allows "joint actions" which, we are told, "shall commit
the member states in the positions they adopt and in the conduct of their
John Major did win consolation prizes of "opt outs" from the Social Chapter
and the single currency. With a cavalier disregard for the potential costs to
British industry, the present Government has thrown away the first concession
and signed the wretched Chapter. The second opt out is valuable, but it is
only from the single currency itself. Britain is still committed to the first
two stages of economic and monetary union.
(C) TREATY OF AMSTERDAM (1997)
The Amsterdam Treaty continues the onward march of the federalists. The Treaty
extends qualified majority voting to 16 new policy areas. Few of them relate
directly to trade or competition which were the original pretexts for QMV in
the Single European Act. Employment, equal opportunities, research and
development, public health, "social exclusion" and statistics all form part of
the EU's agenda.
The European Parliament also received a significant boost at Amsterdam.
This is no cause for good cheer amongst Conservatives or other supporters of
British national sovereignty. For many federalists hanker after a more
powerful European Parliament as the basis for a supposedly democratic European
state. That is why they have consistently pressed for the extension of
"co-decision", the one form of European legislation which, instead of giving
the balance of power to the Council of Ministers, accords the Parliament and
the Council equal status.
The Amsterdam Treaty extends co-decision to 27 new areas of policy
including employment, equal opportunities, social policy and transport. This
will do nothing to enhance competitiveness and could well be used in such a
way as to undermine it. Yet the Prime Minister, far from being a bulldog on
the subject, has been a poodle of our European partners, uttering not a word
The Treaty establishes a new Employment Chapter, which gives Brussels a
role in co-ordinating the employment policies of the member states. Health and
safety at work, working conditions, information to and consultation of
workers, the "integration of persons excluded from the labour market" and
policies on sexual equality will all be determinable by qualified majority
voting. Furthermore, the Treaty moves further to a common foreign and security
policy and a common defence policy.
The Amsterdam Treaty is not a recipe for diversity but a menu of
uniformity. Centralising power, reducing the veto and deepening integration,
it flies in the face of the Conservative vision of European cooperation. It is
clear enough now why Jacques Delors, speaking to the European Parliament in
July 1988, predicted that by 1998 the European Community would be the source
of 80 per cent of our economic legislation and perhaps even our fiscal and
social legislation as well. He was not merely celebrating the 1986 Single
European Act but planning the next moves on the chessboard of Community
What is the effect of successive Governments' quest to be at the heart of
Europe? We are now signed up to a European Union which has a Parliament, a
passport, a citizenship, a flag and an anthem and which wants a single
currency, a single army and a single foreign policy. Of these, a single
currency is the most imminent prospect.
This is not the occasion for a detailed study of the arguments for or
against Britain's entry to a single currency. However, as support for entry is
high on the agenda of most of those who advocate that this country should be
at the heart of Europe, it is as well to look at some of the economic and, in
particular, the political considerations.
British membership of a single European currency is not an obviously sensible
economic proposition. Our business cycle has long been out of step with that
of continental Europe and there is no evidence that convergence, if it
happens, will be more than a meeting of ships which pass in the night.
The start up costs for business will be enormous, hitting small firms and
retailers the hardest. We could no longer use the exchange rate to absorb
shocks, be they rises in prices or the impact of natural disasters. Moreover,
membership of a single currency will prevent Member States taking policy
decisions to react to asymmetric shocks e.g. the collapse in confidence in the
Russian economy. The UK's pattern of trade is global, not continental, and
that pattern is set to continue. Sterling does not move with the European
currencies but is influenced also by the US dollar. Changes in the European
interest rate would affect this nation of homeowners far more directly than
those of other EU member states. This country has funded its pension
arrangements - others have not funded theirs. A single monetary policy will
need to be accompanied by a single fiscal, i.e. tax policy, as the President
of the Bundesbank has freely acknowledged. Unlike the United States, the
European Union does not have the labour mobility that is a prerequisite of a
successful currency union. The unemployed of Lewisham will not shift to
Luxembourg to get a job. As the Governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George,
has observed "it's less likely that people will be able to move to where the
work is because of language and cultural differences".
Above all, the single currency entails a "one size fits all" policy. A
single interest rate would apply to every member of EMU whatever its economic
situation. That rate would usually be either too high or too low. The single
currency would be the permanent form of the Exchange Rate Mechanism of which
Britain was a member from October 1990 until September 1992. In barely 23
months, unemployment went up from 1.67 million to 2.85 million, interest rates
were artificially high for too long and rose briefly to 15 per cent, thousands
of people saw their homes repossessed and many others were driven into
I hope the ten economic considerations cited above give cause for
For me, the political objections to British entry to a single currency are the
most compelling. Yet I was reminded recently that the political implications
are not always recognised. An intelligent lady, whom I like and respect, came
up to me and advanced the most common "economic" argument for the single
currency. "I would like such a currency", she said, "because I wouldn't have
to change money when I go abroad in Europe". I said that if that was all the
single currency were about, I would agree with her. "Isn't it ?", she
Let us be clear. We are not talking about a common currency, but about a
single currency. Whilst some opinion polls have been seemingly ambiguous on
the subject of the single currency, these polls, without exception, have not
mentioned that Britain's joining the single currency will entail the abolition
of the pound and the re-calculation of everything into euros, from shop prices
to pension entitlements. Those polls that have mentioned the obligation to
abolish the pound have all recorded a significant majority against Britain
joining a single currency. The most recent Gallup poll, for example, showed
that 65 per cent of respondents were against British entry to a single
currency on this basis and only 33 per cent in favour. Amongst Conservatives,
the figures were 76 per cent and 23 per cent respectively.
The legal framework is clear. Under the single currency, the European
Central Bank will be responsible for monetary policy. It is prohibited by
Article 108 of the Treaty of Amsterdam from seeking or taking instructions
from any other body, even a democratically elected body, about its conduct of
monetary policy. Equally, member states undertake not to seek to influence the
Bank. So the Bank, comprised of people whom we will not elect and cannot
remove, will be empowered to make decisions affecting millions of British
Yet their elected representatives have foresworn any attempt to influence
those decisions. Stripped of the verbiage, that is the brutal reality of the
single currency project. It will be no use electors complaining to the
Government, let alone their local MP, about the effect of the ECB's policies.
We should be mindful too that the Bank intends to regulate member states'
borrowing and deficit levels and to bring about economic, as well as monetary,
union. In short, a single currency means a single monetary policy, a single
budgetary policy, a single fiscal policy, a single economy, a single
Government and a single state. This is the federal European state which many
member states want, which has long been developing by stealth but which
virtually every British democratic politician except Sir Edward Heath and the
Liberal Democrats claims to oppose. Politics has long been the driving force
of the architects of the single currency. That is why the convergence criteria
have been fudged - economics plays second fiddle to politics. Let the
politicians speak for themselves ...
Chancellor Kohl, speaking in the Bundestag on 13th March 1991, said
pithily: "however important the completion of economic and monetary union it
would remain mere patchwork unless political union were established
simultaneously. These two undertakings are, in our opinion, inseparable."
Yet the prize for candour must surely go to the former Prime Minister of
Spain, Felipe Gonzalez, who wrote in May 1998:
"the single currency is the greatest abandonment of
sovereignty since the foundation of the European Community ... It is a
decision of an essentially political nature ... We need this united Europe ...
we must never forget that the euro is an instrument for this
(A) ARTICLE 3B
Even without a single currency, the powers of the European Union over member
states have increased exponentially over the last decade or so. John Major
understood the growing public anxiety that Community diktat was becoming ever
more widespread. In an apparent effort to allay concern, the Maastricht
negotiators produced the so called "subsidiarity" principle. Actually, it was
not novel and had been espoused by the Vatican in Rome when Mussolini was in
power. However, Community leaders enshrined the concept in Article 3B of the
Maastricht Treaty and said it meant that decisions should be taken at the
lowest possible level. What does the article say and what does it really
"In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community
shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if
and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently
achieved by the member states and can, therefore, by reason of the scale or
effects of the proposed action be better achieved by the Community."
Two objections to this immediately arise. First, the article is not saying
that action will be taken at the lowest level, as its supporters claim, but
rather that the Community shall act if it judges it necessary to do so.
Secondly, if there is a dispute between the European Union and a member
state as to which should be empowered to act, it is justiciable by the
European Court of Justice. It is not an impartial arbiter but a body which is
committed to European integration and which prides itself on a "dynamic"
approach to EU law. In the Court's hands, application of the law has often
been replaced by its invention. This hardly inspires confidence in the likely
robustness of subsidiarity. Moreover, it can be argued that the notion of
subsidiarity, far from being a tool of decentralisation, is in fact an
admission that powers rest with the European state and that it will decide
which of them it delegates. Suffice it to say that the wording of the article
fully warranted the description of it by Lord Mackenzie Stuart, a former
President of the European Court of Justice, as a "prime example of
gobbledygook". He averred that to regard it as a constitutional safeguard
showed "great optimism".
A crucial test of the robustness of the provision came on 12th March 1996
when the Advocate General gave his opinion on the Working Time Directive. He
said "in view of the fact that the objective provided for in article 118A is
harmonisation, there is no doubt that the aim of the contested directive can
be better achieved by action at Community level than by action at national
level". So those who hoped that we could preserve sovereignty over our
domestic working practices were to be disappointed. Subsidiarity had been
hyped and John Major had suggested that it could serve to scrap 25 per cent of
European regulations but Article 3B has not brought about the repeal of a
single directive or regulation. If anything, it has been a cloak for further
(B) PROTOCOL ON SUBSIDIARITY AND PROPORTIONALITY
The Treaty of Amsterdam makes a bad situation worse. It contains a protocol on
subsidiarity and proportionality. It states "the application of the principles
of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and
objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of
the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance; it shall not affect
the principles developed by the Court of Justice regarding the relationship
between national and Community law, and it should take into account Article F4
of the Treaty on European Union, according to which the Union shall provide
itself with the means necessary to attain its objectives and carry through its
policies". In other words, where the Union already has power, it will not
relinquish it. No net decentralisation can be expected. Moreover, Section 3 of
the protocol states that "Community action within the limits of its powers"
may "be expanded where circumstances so require".
The protocol does specify criteria which should be met before Community
action can be taken. First, an issue should be "transnational" in character.
Many would contend that the regulation of working hours is not a matter of
transnational concern. The Community, backed by the Court of Justice, insisted
otherwise. In truth, there is no agreed definition of "transnational" for this
purpose. Secondly, for Community action to be taken, it should be necessary
for the requirements of the Treaty to be fulfilled. This is no protection.
Those who want maximum Community action need only draft clauses that either
require or allow it. Thirdly, there should be benefits in scale or effect to
justify Community action. The disbenefits in scale and effect of the Working
Time Directive across the EU should have prevented its adoption but they did
not. The truth is that the Community has only to invoke the "general
provisions and objectives" of the Treaty to proceed as it wishes.
At the last count, in 1995, there were reported to be 24,000 regulations
having immediate effect and 1,700 directives to which member countries must
give effect through their domestic legislatures. Subsidiarity, which had been
claimed as a benefit from the "heart of Europe" approach pursued at
Maastricht, proved irrelevant as regulations increased by over 1,500 and
directives by 120 in 1994 alone. This panoply of measures is part of the tidal
wave of European law long lamented by our most celebrated judge, Lord
It is estimated that the annual cost of Britain's membership of the European
Union is £10 billion in gross budgetary contributions. Of that sum, a little
over half is returned in EU spending. The tendency of euro partisans to cite a
lower figure as the "net" or "real" cost of membership is a trifle cheeky,
however, as it erroneously assumes that EU monies are spent in Britain just as
we would choose. This point has been powerfully made by Norman Lamont.
The Common Agricultural Policy jacks up our food prices to the tune of £6
billion per annum, though about half of that sum is rebated directly to our
farmers. At a conservative estimate, therefore, our membership costs a minimum
of £8 billion per annum, or one per cent of GDP, and probably rather more than
that. This bald figure takes no account either of the costs of regulation or
of the loss of sovereignty we experience, though both are considerable. Those
costs and that loss are incurred in the name of under 15% of our output.
Despite these costs, those who insist on continued British membership cite
our trade with the EU as a benefit which alone outweighs the undoubted costs.
This thesis ignores a number of inconvenient facts. First, as Conrad Black has
reminded us, if we include exports which are shipped on through Rotterdam and
other European ports outside the EU and overseas investment earnings are
included, the EU takes about 40% of our total exports. As a proportion of our
total output, sales to the EU amount to less than 15% of our GDP. Secondly, we
currently have an annual trade deficit of £3 billion with the EU. Thirdly,
over the last ten years, direct net investment in the UK from the US and
Canada has been half as much again as we have received from the European
Union. Similarly, our net investment in North America has been more than
double UK investment in the EU. In view of these numbers, the knee jerk
reaction of Euro fanatics that life for Britain outside the EU would yield
untold economic devastation seems misplaced.
The EU needs us for trade at least as much as we need it. Under the
auspices of the World Trade Organisation, the Uruguay Round of trade
liberalisation agreements has cut the EU's common external tariff from 5.7 per
cent to 3.6 per cent and the drive for freer world trade should bring about
further reductions. At least as important, both commercially and
psychologically, is the evidence that other European countries outside of the
EU happily trade with it. For example, Swiss exports to the EU have grown
faster than those of Britain. Norway can tell a similar story. Outside of
Europe, both Japan and the United States enjoyed faster export growth to the
EU than Britain in the 10 years from 1983-1993. Moreover, the proportion of
Canadian output exported to the US is four times that of Britain but Canada
sees no need to share a court, a parliament or a currency with the
The reality is that Britain is a global trading nation. We sell our wares
wherever we can and our success, especially since our economy was restored to
health under Conservative Governments, has been conspicuous. That success is
not contingent upon the EU. Our trade surplus until recently with every other
continent bar Europe is testimony to the fact that we provide goods and
services of a quality people want and at prices they can pay. That is why in
telecommunications, in oil, in civil engineering, and in financial services,
to name but a few, our trade is soaring. Politics forms no part of the
equation save in so far as it creates a framework of open markets.
Two further reasons are adduced as to why we must stay in the European
Union at all costs. First, we are reminded of the huge inward investment that
we receive, notably from North America and Japan. Indeed, Britain attracts
approximately 40 per cent of the total, more than any other member state.
Europhiles present a doomsday scenario in which there would be an exodus of
this investment if we were outside the EU. Access to the European market may
be important to those inward investors but trade liberalisation agreements
mean that access is not at risk. Surveys of foreign direct investors into the
UK suggest that several other factors are uppermost in their minds when they
choose Britain. Our costs and taxes are lower. Our labour market is more
flexible. Our industrial relations are better. Our inflation is low. Our
language has global reach. Our public administration is honest and we enjoy
political and social stability.
The political argument for our EU membership is that we carry more weight
as part of a block of countries than if we act alone. This is what might be
described as a political economy of scale. Yet it is persuasive only if and in
so far as club members share a common goal. In the recent round of trade
negotiations Britain had to play along with the French line which was much
more protectionist than our own. A prime example is trade in the audio-visual
sector in which French brinkmanship put up barriers to United States products.
Given a free hand, and taking account of our strong trade relationship with
the United States, it is doubtful that we would have pursued such a course. We
were, in other words, obliged to uphold a position directly in conflict with
our own national interest. This is an inevitable consequence of being jammed
into a common position - a consequence met especially often by Britain, whose
interests tend to diverge from the Continental mean far more than do those of
Conflict situations do not make a cogent case for the EU's indispensability
to us either. In the Falklands, we gained practical help from the United
States and much vacillation from a number of our European partners. In the
Gulf, the meeting of minds with our American allies was palpable and the
prevarication of the EU equally so. As for the imbroglio in Bosnia, the less
said about how the EU acquitted itself, the better.
De Gaulle long ago pinpointed the Franco-German relationship as the key
fact in European politics. He said "there is an interdependence between
Germany and France. On that interdependence depends the immediate security of
the two peoples. One has only to look at a map to see this. On that
interdependence depends the destiny of Europe as a whole". The partnership
between France and Germany is akin to what is known as an open marriage. The
partners row and are sometimes even unfaithful but they always return to each
other because they need each other.
It is a rarely observed fact that some of the most fervent advocates of
closer European integration pride themselves on being traditional
Conservatives or, as they often prefer to be called, Tories. A hallmark of a
traditional Tory is an innate suspicion of grand schemes, over-arching
theories and elaborate constructions of any kind. He is more comfortable with
institutions and power that are rooted closer to home. He is a pragmatist who
wants to see that an idea works. His is a natural scepticism which befits a
Tory but there is sometimes scant evidence of it in the attitude of a number
of my Euro enthusiastic colleagues. The mantra that "there is no alternative"
to the ratchet of Euro integration will not wash. Neither will the attempt to
induce the public to sleep-walk to federalism by telling them that it is
"inevitable". Such an approach is disingenuous and a counsel of despair. There
are alternatives. Parliamentarians owe it to their constituents honestly to
Before doing so, let us remind ourselves of the situation we have reached.
Continental leaders have long shared a federal or centralising agenda which
British leaders either disbelieved or denied. The succession of European
treaties has increased the powers of EU bodies and steadily reduced the
spheres in which nation states can act alone. Our partners do not view a
single currency as merely an economic device but as either a handmaiden or a
tool of political union. Subsidiarity has proved at best an empty gesture and,
at worst, a cloak for legislative expansion. Our EU membership imposes heavy
costs on taxpayers and the Union's ambition to be a growing world power makes
it a safe bet that those costs will rise.
What can Britain do? We should seek a renegotiation of our relationship
with the EU. That renegotiation should start from the premise that we will
stay in the EU if we can strike a deal that is in our interests and pull out
if we cannot. It is in that spirit that we should look at the alternatives to
the status quo.
(a) The European Economic Area
We could opt out of the EU, but remain within the European Economic Area. It
comprises the 15 members of the EU as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and
Norway. It offers four freedoms of the single market - of goods, services,
capital and people. Its members must adopt single market legislation but they
are free of the CAP, the CFP, the fiscal and monetary policy, home affairs
policy and foreign and security policy of the EU.
Its advantage is that Britain would not join in further political
integration but would maintain access to the single market. However, we would
have only a right to be consulted about future single market directives but in
disputes about the interpretation of such legislation we would be bound by the
jurisprudence of the ECJ. We would also have to pay into a number of cohesion
and structural funds. There are merits in the EEA option but given the
jurisprudential ambition of the ECJ and the ballooning budgets of the EU there
would be significant burdens too. There are probably better deals on
(b) The Swiss Option
There is the Swiss option of a free trade agreement with the EU. Access to the
single market entails more paperwork but the obstacles are not insuperable.
Swiss exports to the EU constitute 63 per cent of its total exports and 15 per
cent of Swiss GDP - much higher figures than ours. Growing trade for the Swiss
has not required political integration and, importantly, they are not bound by
single market legislation. What are the debits on the balance sheet? There are
two. In trading with the EU, the Swiss have to adhere to preferential rules of
origin to distinguish products sourced from the free trade area and those
which originate outside it. In practice, these can be complex and burdensome.
Secondly, the Swiss option provides only for free movement of goods - not of
services, capital or people. This would jar with many British people and
businesses. As an existing EU member, we could well obtain a different and
A third option would be to seek to join the North American Free Trade
Association. It is already negotiating with the European Free Trade
Association and with Chile. Its culture, distinctively Thatcherite, fits more
neatly with Britain's experience than the corporatist dirigisme of the EU. The
combination of low taxes, restrained public spending and labour flexibility in
the United States and Canada has created 2 million more jobs per year than the
European Union for 15 years. Moreover, measured over the last 25 years and
allowing for German unification, the USA has created almost five times as many
jobs as the EU. Newt Gingrich has signalled enthusiasm for British involvement
in Nafta and as US anxieties about a fudged single currency and EU
protectionism grow the link becomes daily a more serious proposition.
(d) No Agreement
The other alternative is not to confine ourselves to one agreement but to use
our position in the EU and our influence outside it to secure our interests.
They are served by the widest possible free trade and international
engagement. We have nothing to fear from global free trade, towards which the
world is gradually moving, and everything to gain from it. William Hague has
been right to challenge the EU to stop addressing the problems of the 1940s
and to start addressing the challenges of the next millennium. The most
central of those challenges for Britain is to build her trade relationships
with North America, the Asia Pacific and China.
Allied to a crusading internationalism in trade and diplomacy is the self
confidence to preserve our own institutions. Where other countries have
suffered dictatorship, civil war or foreign occupation the British experience
has fortunately been different. What some see as insularity by Britain is a
justified attachment to the way in which we run our affairs. Napoleon said
that a nation's policy is determined by its geography. If that is so we do
well to remember that Britain is not at the heart of Europe but on her western
Policy needs also to be determined by successful history and present need.
In the spirit of liberty, democracy and the pursuit of prosperity, we need for
the second time since 1945 to reverse a ratchet. Keith Joseph and Margaret
Thatcher identified the socialist ratchet that undermined our prosperity at
home, lowered our esteem abroad and sapped our faith in ourselves. They set
out to reverse that ratchet and they succeeded. Today the task is to recognise
that there is a ratchet for European integration. As the federalist juggernaut
speeds ahead, ever more power is taken from the peoples of Europe and handed
to unelected bankers, bureaucrats and judges.
The people of Britain will never knowingly consent to be governed by those
who do not speak their language, live in their country or depend upon their
votes. The power of self-government, the right to hire and fire our rulers and
the capacity to chart our own destiny are inalienable birthrights. They should
not be traded in for a mess of pottage otherwise known as a back row seat at a
show called "The Heart of Europe". Our destiny is surely as a self-governing
nation which trades freely with the world. The future is bright; the future is
global. Our success in it is dependent upon the vision, self confidence and
calibre of our leaders, our businesses and our workforce.
John Bercow was elected the Member of Parliament for Buckingham on 1 May,
1997 with a majority of 12,386.
He was educated at Finchley Manorhill School and the University of Essex
where he graduated in 1985 with First Class Honours in Government. From
1986-87, John served as National Chairman of the Federation of Conservative
Students and subsequently as student head of the Conservative Collegiate
After a spell in merchant banking, John joined Rowland Sallingbury Casey,
the public affairs arm of the Saatchi and Saatchi group, in 1988. There he
rose from a junior executive to a board director in five years. Meanwhile he
became a Conservative Councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth in 1986
(until 1990) and served from 1987-89 as Deputy Leader of the 21 strong
Conservative Opposition Group. He contested Motherwell South in the 1987
General Election and Bristol South in 1992.
In 1995, John was appointed Special Advisor to the Chief Secretary to the
Treasury and later served as Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for
With a colleague, John runs the Advanced Speaking and Campaigning course
which has trained over 400 Conservatives, including several current MPs. He
has lectured in the United States to students of the Leadership Institute.
John Bercow is a member of the Trade and Industry Select