A Conservative case for staying in: My response to Timothy Garton Ash

In the Spectator, Timothy Garton Ash has written an interesting piece: A Conservative case for staying in”. http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/03/a-conservative-case-for-voting-in/utm_source=Adestra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20160303_Weekly_Highlights

I summarise his article, and provide my response which is that the UK should stay In on its own terms as the champion of a Europe of the states.

TGA’s criticism is Burkean: Brexiters assume they know the future. Their Europe is full of implausibly rational statesmen. “Of course, he writes, the EU will give us easy access to the single market! They must want to export their BMWs to us. Of course the US and China will make free-trade deals with Britain as they have with the EU! This deeply un-Burkean kind of thinking, based on untestable claims about a future in which everyone behaves rationally, is more usually found on the left. Brexiters have seen the future and it works.”

The last 30 years, he writes, “have been an exceptional period in European history: exceptionally good. Although we have certainly paid a price in loss of sovereignty and idiotic regulations (some of them made significantly more idiotic by very British bureaucracy at home), this has also been a good period for Britain.” “EU membership has contributed to our prosperity, opening up British companies both to the opportunities of the single market and to the bracing winds of continental competition.”

Of course, the Euro has been a disaster. It would have been preferable for the EU to develop a common foreign and security policy so that we “could more effectively address the causes of the refugee flows from the wider Middle East that are now shaking the European Union to its foundations, with barbed-wire fences being erected where once they were torn down.”

But, TGA writes, ” The real danger today is not that the continent presses fast forward to a Napoleonic superstate but that it falls fast backwards to disintegration, national hostilities, xenophobia and illiberalism. In the brilliantly jarring words of Bertolt Brecht: ‘The womb is fertile still, from which that crawled.’

“I cannot share,” he winds up his plea for a conservative choice,”the blithe ahistorical optimism that sees Europe making a smooth segue from this imperfect union to a region of freely cooperating, prosperous liberal democracies. This has been an exceptional period in modern European history, and an exception whose durability is now bound up, like it or not, with that of the EU. And one thing is certain: inside, we still have a chance of reforming it, outside we have none.” ” Be realistic, he ends his peroration, Be conservative. Vote to stay.”.

My response.

I definitely agree with TGA that if we stay, we have more chance of influencing the direction that the EU takes.  But the terms on which we stay have to be ours, and the EU we promote has to be quite clearly a Europe of co-operating states.

The trouble is that the UK is supranationalist Numero Uno in the EU. That is the UK’s official policy. Staying in on supranationalist grounds means perpetuating a neutered UK, while promoting an ever more disturbed Europe.

The real Europe is a mosaic of interdependent peoples and states, with a shared common culture, but different memories, languages, tax systems, and above all loyalties. Jean Monnet’s dream was of a supranational Europe, which contained the nation states. As he told de Gaulle during the world war, Europe had to be created anew, and not on the basis of the nation states. Later, Edward Heath agreed.

TGA writes that “ever closer union” is just a residual lost cause. That is a matter of judgement. Definitely, Germany is not keen. And Germany is not keen because the public knows only too well that if there were ever to be a supranational /federal EU, Germany would be in a minority, and its contribution to restEU would assuredly rise.

As Germany has become less enthused about a  supranational EU, the UK has stuck to its Heathite prescription. There is no other reasonable explanation for Cameron’s very curious choice of policies.  The Prime Minister chose to traipse around the continent begging for agreement about insignificant welfare provisions for immigrants, whereas he could have stayed in London and have the 1972 Accession Act revised.

Section 2.1 states clearly that EEC/EU law prevails over UK law, in other words that the European Court of Justice (ECJ), according to parliament, is the EU’s Supreme Court. At the time, Gaullist France was the dominant power in western Europe, Pompidou was President, and the Gaullists were in power. The gaullists had rejected, rightly, the ECJ’s claim to primacy in 1964, as without treaty basis and no more than judicial activism. The ECJ still has no treaty based powers. The Lisbon Treaty relegates the ECJ’s powers to an annex, and states categorically that it has no treaty based powers.

So if ECU(ever closer union) is a lost cause, and the ECJ is no more than a convenience, there is no problem in the UK government simply rephrasing Section 2.1. to the effect that the Crown in parliament is sovereign?

Stating that the Crown in parliament is sovereign does not  mean that all EU proposals would be rejected, just that  parliament would once again exercise its historical right to amend, revise, or reject any proposals, policies or commitments flowing from treaties signed in its name. A proposal deemed reasonable by parliament would be accepted. Policies long past their shelf life, like fisheries, would be rejected, to the great benefit of fisheries all around the coast of the UK.

So why is it that Cameron has preferred to beg for crumbs rather than take the shortest and easiest route via revision of the 1972 Act? I have had two answers: one reported response  from a former attorney general that this was too risky as it would give power to Sir Bill Cash and friends; and the other  from Sir John Redwood, who emailed that there is no need for such a revision because the Outs will win.

There we have it: fear as an inspiration for policy and an unBurkean confidence, as TGA points out, about the direction future events will take.

Neither of these though provide an answer as to why Cameron has taken by far the most difficult possible route to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU, rather than simply revise a few words in Section 2.1. of the Accession Act.

There is only one possible reason: the UK government is the mother of all supranationalists, more supranationalist than the Pope. It was in 1972 and it is now.

In 1972, the remnants of de Gaulle’s foreign policy were in tatters. Germany under Willy Brandt, and definitely under Egon Bahr was drifting to neutrality in the cold war. France’s nightmare was a neutral and pre-eminent Germany with a privileged relationship to the USSR. So Heath and Pompidou thought up a counterstrategy: a fully fledged economic, monetary and political union, with a large internal market etc, by 1980. The dream evaporated a few months after it was hatched.

In 1985, Margaret Thatcher signed up to the large internal market. Here was a good supranationalist cause. National politics, alias “nationalism”, would be subordinated to rational, utiliarian economics. Of course, European diplomacy intervened to nullify that delusion. Jacques Delors only fed the internal market as a bone to Thatcher and Kohl with a view to hitching his monetary union proposal to the EEC chariot. The disaster saw the light of day in the Maastricht Treaty.

The Inners nowadays continue on the supranationalist and utilitarian themes of the large internal market, and of “nationalism” as their bugbear. The large internal market is advanced as the main reason for staying in. The other reason is encapsulated in the statement that nationalism caused 1914 and 1939, and the conclusion is that we’ll be back to 1914 in a jiffy unless we cement a new European supranational deal.

This interpretation of the causes of 1914 is of course Germany’s interpretation: we are all to blame. As to 1939, Hitler went to war as a racial supranationalist. Had he been nationalist, as Reinhardt Spîtzy wrote in “So Haben wir das Reich gespielt”, he would have not invaded Poland. But he wasn’t a nationalist; he was a racist and wanted to create a Europe with Germany on top.

Of course, the very idea that the UK’s supranational policy, plus a united Germany, have created the situation in Europe now is discounted. It is not salonfähig to talk about such matters. But the fact of the matter is that Germany is on top, and Europe is in deep trouble. The single (manufacturing) market and the single currency have augmented Germany’s position, and belittled France’s.

We have been here before. We are not going to go to war, though. Despite the fact that during the single currency negotiations, the German Minister of Finance, Theo Waigel, came to Paris and protested that if Germany was abandoning, the DM could the French please ditch the force de frappe?, France  did not oblige. There was vague piffle that the force de frappe was directed southwards across the Mediterranean.

The end of the misnamed Franco-German “tandem” came in May 2010, when Chancellor Merkel stopped pretending any more that France and Germany were equals in a common cause, and told Sarkozy that a Transferunion was not on the cards, and austerity would be good for France.

Merkel is the number one populist of Europe: she took her policy bodily from the Bildzeitung. Other populists have taken her example to heart.

The real argument, which TGA avoids, is whether the UK should stay in to counterbalance a dominant Germany or stay out, and as the Foreign Secretary, George Canning once said, “Every nation for itself and God for us all.”

Which is the most Burkean policy, In or Out?

My answer is In on our own terms. The UK is not the UK with a neutered parliament. A neutered parliament has gone hand in glove with a supranationalist Europe, championed first and foremost by Whitehall. A supranationalist European policy has revived the balance of power in Europe, in Germany’s favour.

The only Europe compatible with a UK that is the UK is a Europe of the states. We stay in, on our terms, and we alter Section 2.1. In so doing, we champion a Europe of constitutional states, and take the lead in channelling populist movements back into supporting their constitutional states.

As Ralph Dahrendorff argued in an interview with Der Spiegel in 1995, the Euro is a crazy policy designed to contain Germany. But Germany is a democratic constitutional country, he goes on, and democratic constitutional states do not tend to go to war against each other.http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-9247341.html

No. The opposition to the UK becoming a true champion of a Europe of constitutional states is home grown, not in Brussels. And the opposition is Cameron. He wants a supranational Europe, and that means a neutered UK in a Europe, where Brussels is now a Berlin Vorort. That is most definitely not a Burkean position.


About Jonathan Story, Professor Emeritus, INSEAD

Jonathan Story is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD in 1974, he worked in Brussels and Washington, where he obtained his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has held the Marusi Chair of Global Business at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Graduate Schoold of Business, Fordham University, New York. He is preparing a monograph on China’s impact on the world political economy, and another on a proposal for a contextual approach to business studies. He has a chapter forthcoming on the Euro crisis. His latest book is China UnCovered: What you need to know to do business in China, (FT/ Pearson’s, 2010) (www.chinauncovered.net) His previous books include “China: The Race to Market” (FT/Pearsons, 2003), The Frontiers of Fortune, (Pitman’s, 1999); and The Political Economy of Financial Integration in Europe : The Battle of the Systems,(MIT Press, 1998) on monetary union and financial markets in the EU, and co-authored with Ingo Walter of NYU. His books have been translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. He is also a co-author in the Oxford Handbook on Business and Government(2010), and has contributed numerous chapters in books and articles in professional journals. He is a regular contributor to newspapers, and has been four times winner of the European Case Clearing House “Best Case of the Year” award. His latest cases detail hotel investments in Egypt and Argentina, as well as a women’s garment manufacturer in Sri Lanka and a Chinese auto parts producer. He teaches courses on international business and the global political economy. At the INSEAD campus, in Fontainebleau and Singapore, he has taught European and world politics, markets, and business in the MBA, and PhD programs. He has taught on INSEAD’s flagship Advanced Management Programme for the last three decades, as well as on other Executive Development and Company Specific courses. Jonathan Story works with governments, international organisations and multinational corporations. He is married with four children, and, now, thirteen grandchildren. Besides English, he is fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian, reads Portuguese and is learning Russian. He has a bass voice, and gives concerts, including Afro-American spirituals, Russian folk, classical opera and oratorio.
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