hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

European Federalism, European Defence and Britain: Open Response to a Senior French Friend

Dear Friend,

You sought my view on the politics of European security and defence and how they relate to Britain and European federalism.  As you know my main concern with a future Federal Europe is that it would concentrate too much power in the hands of an unaccountable few and thus makes the distance between me the citizen and the elite intolerably wide for any entity that could reasonably call itself democratic. It is also my firm belief that we are far closer than most people realise to crossing a political Rubicon towards some form of federalism.  In reality the British are faced with a simple reality if they stay within the EU; they must sooner or later join the Eurozone.  Here is why.

The Federalist Danger: Britain’s future EU membership dominates the air waves in the UK. And yet precisely because of that London wilfully refuses to recognise the federalist danger and focuses instead on the importance of preserving the single market and Britain’s access to it.  This conceit pretends that somehow the market can be kept distinct from the EU’s wider or rather deeper political development. 

What Comes Next:  The critical issue in the coming crisis will be one of timing.  Britain will not join the euro in the next decade or so which is precisely the critical period for Eurozone deepening.  It would be political suicide for a British prime minister to even suggest membership.  And yet for the Eurozone to survive and to eventually have any chance of enriching its citizens (and not punish us as is currently the case) then further integration must place.   

Alternatives to Deeper Integration: The only alternative to a neo-federal system would be a form of zollverein built around a German neo-empire administered by Brussels.  There are some in Berlin who find that attractive.  Or, rather they want such a neo-empire to take on the appearance of Union.  There is of course a third option.  The Eurozone collapses and the EU eventually picks itself up from the wreckage and goes back to the British view of Europe as a single market.  That to say the least is highly unlikely given the political capital invested in project euro.

The Current British Position:  The "Balance of Competences" review purports to assess the cost and benefits of Britain’s EU membership.  It is at best a snapshot of today (and a biased one at that) designed solely to ease the here-and-now political dilemma of a weak prime minister. As such the study is indicative of a London that routinely confuses strategy with politics because it makes no effort to consider the implications of the coming structural changes in the EU for the future politics, society, governance AND economy of Britain.

British ‘Strategy’: You suggest that London is seeking to divide Europe. Sadly, London today is so politically split and so strategically myopic that it is incapable of such vision.  One critique of London in my new book, Little Britain? Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power is the inability of the elite Establishment to see the big picture and think grand strategically. As such London is in denial about what is happening here on the Continent.

Britain’s Options: Whether the EU is empire or union it is hard to see a place for Britain in it unless the British effectively surrender their view of the EU as market.  This would at a stroke render their position outside the defining Eurozone ridiculous.  To my mind in such circumstances Britain should leave the EU particularly as the only alternative would be the permanent marginalisation and minority-status of Britain within the EU and a 'balance' between costs of membership and benefits that would become politically untenable.  These pressures will increase not decrease by the time of any planned 2017 referendum. 

The Twist: What I am already detecting in the parliamentary debate over the EU Referendum Bill is preparation for surrender dressed up as reform.  The simple truth is that much of the London Establishment is prepared to keep Britain in the EU at any cost even if that means the effective abandonment of British sovereignty.  Consequently a great manipulation has been underway in London for some time and which is supported by government and their fellow travellers in big business who simply want to keen to head off the coming political crisis.   Pro-EU big business does not care about democracy at all and simply wants access to large markets via large pools of cheap labour.  The essential conceit of this group is to pretend that Britain’s EU membership is solely about economic interests and that such interests are served by Britain's continued membership.   A race is thus underway to maintain the manipulation before the reality of deeper EU integration becomes apparent to an instinctively Euro-sceptic British people. 

Implications for Europe’s Future Security and Defence:  The question for Europe's future security and defence then becomes existential.  Should Europe's future security and defence be organised exclusively around and within the EU (and by extension France and Germany) or should another mechanism/framework (NATO?) be created which is more reflective of political realism rather than EU idealism?  France faces a paradox.  France’s partner of choice Germany has concluded that if its leadership of Europe is to be legitimate Berlin cannot be a military power.  Indeed, the more economic and political influence Berlin enjoys the less military influence Berlin is likely to seek.

France and Britain:  France needs Britain and Britain needs France.  However, for a new pragmatic settlement to be reached Britain and France must be...pragmatic. However, (and I say this as a genuine friend of France) for that to happen France must recognise Britain’s legitimate concerns about a quasi-federal Europe, at least until the British cave in.  That might appear to contradict what I have said above but the politics of today mean that no British leader can any more afford to be seen to equate Britain’s future defence with a European Army than call for Britain’s membership of the euro.  These tensions existed in the 1998 St Malo Declaration and have never gone away.  Indeed, unless London and Paris put aside issues of federalism in defence and consider together Europe's politically realist interests in the global security context then I fear that however important on paper strategic, security and defence co-operation between Britain and France it will be limited and iterative.

Next Steps: Four things will soon happen: a) The current phoney war over inevitably treaty change will end.  This will probably happen after this year’s European elections because many in the elite still seem to believe the way to ‘Europe’ is to deceive Europeans about the objective, particularly in Germany; b) Eurozone states will finally have to face up to the consequences of integration for their sovereignty and peoples and confront these issues honestly; c) As this change will necessarily happen before any substantive political shift in the UK and because we British are forced into a permanent minority in the EU by those states dependent on German largesse London will no longer be able to fudge this issue with the British people; and d) London will then be faced with a simple choice - surrender or leave. 

Conclusion: Further Eurozone political integration is inevitable and will inevitably lead to critical loss of national sovereignty, more federalism and in time an EU and Eurozone that are to all intent and purpose one and the same thing.  We could (and I stress could) then be on the road to the kind of bureaucratic dictatorship of the kind Tocqueville warned against with few if any meaningful checks and balances on an over-mighty bureaucracy.  This slide towards a form of bureaucratic autocracy would be accelerated and confirmed by a fig-leaf European Parliament made up of MEPs who enjoy either power or substantive legitimacy.   Whilst such an idea might be attractive to some born of the Colbertian tradition it is utter anathema to those of us who descend from Locke and Mill.

Therefore, the current political situation in the EU is unsustainable and some form of federalism is on the way because the EU and its most committed backers cannot help themselves.  But here's the rub; without root and branch reform such federalism will lock in political aspic an uncompetitive Europe in a hyper-competitive world.  A federal Europe will thus mean a decadent and in time doomed Europe and as such will be self-defeating.
 
We will all soon have choices to make.

En toutes amities,

Julian

Julian Lindley-French

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