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Email. info@brugesgroup.com
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.
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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The end of the affair?

Dr Brian Hindley

The Treaty of Nice schedules a “constitutional conference” for 2004, and that conference will proceed whether or not the treaty is ratified. The conference, though, is not the only important EU matter scheduled for 2004 or thereabouts. That is also when the first batch of candidate countries is due to be admitted to the EU.

These events are not independent of one another. When the candidates become members, they will have votes, and they will be able to resist pressure to shuffle them along the path towards a federal European destiny. They probably will resist such pressure.

For federalists this is a problem. To wait until after enlargement to complete the journey to federation means that the journey may never be completed. It must therefore be completed – or as much of it covered as possible - before enlargement. The likely resistance to federalism of the new members also means that enlargement is likely to become a weapon in the struggle to achieve federation.

The potential clash between enlargement and federalism is acknowledged in paragraph 8 of the “Declaration on the future of the EU”, annexed to the treaty:

The Conference of Member States shall not constitute any form of obstacle or precondition to the enlargement process. Moreover, those candidate countries which have concluded accession negotiations with the Union shall be invited to participate in the Conference. Those candidate States which have not concluded their accession negotiations shall be invited as observers.

That sounds amiable, but should be treated with scepticism. Some existing member states, most notably Germany, but not only Germany, are anxious to create a federal Europe. Other existing member states, most notably Britain, but not only Britain, want to avoid one. Enlargement is inevitably a piece in that game. If enlargement goes ahead without an agreement on a federal Europe, the British view will have won the day. Would that it were so easy! Successive British governments have thought they could avoid deepening by insisting on widening - enlargement. Successive continental governments have insisted that deepening should precede enlargement, or, at least, should go hand in hand with it. Why should they abandon that position now?

More likely, member states seeking a federal EU will block enlargement (a blockage that will be supported by their electorates) unless other member states concede ground on federalism. “Federalism”, however, can take many forms – there must be a parallel debate about what form of federalism the EU is to adopt. These are unlikely to be relaxed and happy discussions.

Marx commented about Napoleon III that his very plasticity allowed all classes and types to reinvent him in their own image.

Just because he was nothing, he could signify anything.

The EU shares this characteristic. Everyone can imagine a future EU that accommodates his or her particular hopes and interests. The French imagine a future EU that will project the glory of France; the Germans an EU that will submerge the nations who are its members and allow Germans to present themselves as Europeans. The British visualise a free-trading EU with flexible labour markets: others see the EU as a means of defending “the European social model” against the “market anarchy” of the Anglo-Saxon model.

Because enlargement creates something like an end game, the consequent disagreements will be bitter. Their great merit, though, is that they will shed light on who wants what from “Europe”. By 2004, everything should be much clearer.

It is not the merits of these ideas that is relevant here but their mutual inconsistency. Political alliances built on disparate dreams and clashing ambitions are likely at some point to face severe problems. Indeed, the current froideur between the governments of France and Germany is due exactly to the fact that the Germans have become more specific about what they want from “Europe” – and (of course) it is incompatible with what the French want.

There is much more of this to come, and, because enlargement creates something like an end game, the consequent disagreements will be bitter. Their great merit, though, is that they will shed light on who wants what from “Europe”. By 2004, everything should be much clearer.

An extract from Nice and After: The EU Treaty and Associated Issues. Published by the Centre for Policy Studies, October 2001

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