Europe: you’re either with us or against us

by | Oct 7, 2009

Honestly, how tedious enthusiasts for European integration are – almost as tedious as avowed Eurosceptics, in fact. Despite the fact that Euro-cheerleaders were among the biggest critics of President Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ approach to foreign policy, they seem wholly unable to recognise their own indulgence in the same fault when it comes to people’s views on the benefits of further European integration.

Case in point: the sources cited in today’s FT by Tony Barber, the paper’s excellent Brussels columnist, who writes that

Many on the Continent see [Euroscepticism] as a British identity problem that extends beyond some acute nervous condition of the modern Tory party. The UK, they say, is already a semi-detached player in Europe. It defends the City of London, but does not join the eurozone; it shapes EU foreign policy, but stays out of the Schengen border-free travel regime; it signs the Lisbon treaty, but secures opt-outs on justice and home affairs. No other EU member-state is so standoffish.

Oh for heaven’s sake. As I noted here a few days ago, I’m pleased that Lisbon finally looks set to enter into force because I think Europe badly needs to raise its game on foreign policy coherence. I’m a big enthusiast for the single market, and a fan of what Europe has achieved on climate change. But why does it follow on that I should be a supported of every possible facet of European integration?

Take the Euro. As Wolfgang Munchau noted last week, economic divergences within the Eurozone are getting steadily worse, especially between France and Germany, with no sign of political will to solve them – meaning that,

I am almost despairing about what is happening at the eurozone level …

The underlying problem is a policy divergence between France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece on one side, and Germany, Finland, Austria, and the Netherlands on the other. The policy divide between France and Germany is the most damaging. Paris dropped a bombshell last week when it said it no longer aimed to reduce the French budget deficit to under 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 2012. This is the limit set by the Maastricht treaty. Even on optimistic growth assumptions, France will not hit the target until 2015 at the earliest. By then the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio will have reached more than 90 per cent. This means that France has effectively given up on policy co-ordination within the eurozone, a decision President Nicolas Sarkozy will almost certainly regret one day.

Within 10 years, I would expect people to start making the case that Germany would be better off outside the eurozone … Both Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy should have a strategy to co-ordinate their agendas and link them with those of others in the eurozone. I just cannot see that happening.

Hm. Looks like we really missed out there, eh readers?

Nor do I recognise what’s so great about Schengen. Or why the UK must have harmonisation on justice or home affairs. And if anyone’s offering an opt-out from the Common Fisheries Policy, then just tell me where to sign.

To me, all this is nothing more dramatic than a discussion about subsidiarity: which issues should sit at Brussels level and which at UK level? And which, for that matter, at global or city level? Yet, as Tony Barber observes, wanting to have this sort of discussion is regarded as “standoffish”, or as indicative of “a British identity problem”.

It’s strange, because you’d think that Barber’s sources would recognise that actually, a nuanced discussion of which issues belong at which level of governance plays very much to their advantage – in that it recognises implicitly that at least some issues are best managed at European level. If, on the other hand, they insist on framing the discussion as an all-or-nothing choice, then the manifest disconnect between citizens and Brussels will only worsen – and Eurocrats will continue to live in terror of referenda.


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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