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November 09, 2012

Those who support European integration should support British separation from Europe - argues Brendan Simms

Posted by Brendan Simms

Britain's separation from Europe would strengthen the European project - argues Brendan Simms, Professor in the History of International Relations at the University of Cambridge.

Britain is once again at odds with Europe over the budget which Prime Minister David Cameron is effectively threatening to freeze at current levels. There is, of course, a long history of such confrontations, beginning in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher negotiated the famous "rebate" which led to a substantial net reduction of Britain's contribution to the Community.

The renewed tension has revived concerns among British Europhiles, already aghast at Cameron's previous use of the veto late last year on the issue of fiscal union and taxes on financial transactions, that the country is "isolated" in Europe. It has also led to another push from Berlin this week to woo London. This too, is nothing new in itself, and reflects a longstanding German desire to have the British on the inside, not least to balance the French.

Today, however, the context is very different, and depending on what she meant Chancellor Merkel's remarks either point to a solution of the crisis now facing the continent, or reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of how Britain can and should fit into the polity which must emerge from the ruins of the past three years. The German leader has announced that she

does not want a Europe without Great Britain. That would be historically and economically unthinkable.
She has also proclaimed that the current crisis must be used to deal with
the founding errors in the architecture of the economic and currency union.
This, she argued, must mean a common finance, budget and economic policy for the future

Taken separately, both of these statements are absolutely correct. Britain's historic engagement in Europe is so obvious as to need to further explanation. She has always been a major European power, and is today the most formidable military player on the continent after the USA. So long as the European Union was a Confederation of free-trading and politically cooperating sovereign states, the benefits of membership far outweighed the (sometimes considerable) irritations.

Conversely, and here the clichés are true, Europe needs British pragmatism, military experience and economic strength. It is also true that the Eurozone needs the radical overhaul that Frau Merkel has outlined - if anything she has been too slow to react, and even her current plan does not go far enough. What is needed is a single Eurozone state in which the constituent parts sacrifice their sovereignty to achieve the security and prosperity which the chancellor’s programme will (eventually) bring.

It is at this point, however, that London and Frau Merkel seem to part company. If she means Britain to be part of this start from the beginning, then she fails to grasp that such a move would run contrary to the entire sweep of her national history. For reasons largely to do with their diverging early and mid-twentieth century experiences, the project of a single European state is designed to fix something that was never broken in Britain. Indeed, its purpose should be to create a "British" Europe - in constitutional and fiscal terms - rather than to "Europeanise" Britain.

If it is a success, there is a possibility that the British might join a politically united Eurozone in the future - just as it ultimately joined the EEC in the early 1970s - but there is no chance whatsoever that she will do so from the start in the immediate future. If that is Merkel's desire, then she is under a truly tragic misapprehension. First, because she will soon hit a complete brick wall in London. Secondly, because by insisting that Britain be of the party, she risks antagonising the British mainstream, including most of Mr Cameron's government, who would otherwise greatly favour her plans for greater Eurozone integration. It is no secret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, would greatly prefer such an outcome - whatever its risks for the City and other British interests - than the chaos attendant on a collapse of the common currency.

My hope, therefore, is that Frau Merkel's remarks distinguished, at least implicitly, between a desire that Britain remain in the European Union and the demand that she sign up to deeper integration. In that case, she must press for the creation of a new (possibly renamed) Union, principally made up of the single-state Eurozone and Britain, still joined together through free trade and close political and military cooperation (not least within NATO).

In this context, Britain could continue to pay into the budget - much as she had subsidised European princes for hundreds of years, in return for the continued common market and a voice n the establishment of its operating rules. Part of this arrangement must be an implicit bargain with the Eurozone not to encourage the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish to leave the United Kingdom for the new state; it should also maintain an appropriate distance from British Europhiles, at least until British opinion has been persuaded of its own accord of the success of the whole project. In this way, the new state will initially resemble a majestic cathedral, with a German nave and French transept, with many and diverse national side-chapels - and with two mighty buttresses, Britain and the United States, supporting the whole edifice from the outside.

Dr Brendan Simms is Professor in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.

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“It is obvious that there is a great deal of difference between being international and being cosmopolitan. All good men are international. Nearly all bad men are cosmopolitan. If we are to be international we must be national. And it is largely because those who call themselves the friends of peace have not dwelt sufficiently on this distinction that they do not impress the bulk of any of the nations to which they belong. International peace means a peace between nations, not a peace after the destruction of nations, like the Buddhist peace after the destruction of personality. The golden age of the good European is like the heaven of the Christian: it is a place where people will love each other; not like the heaven of the Hindu, a place where they will be each other.”

from French and English, by G.K.Chesterton

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at November 12, 2012 11:08 AM

Well I agree with the article it is necessary to sustain some form of union between Great Britain and continental Europe. But this position has to be a specific one. We can see right now how France and Germany try to fight the economic reform. Britain should not be a part of that. It should stay aside and carefully watch and influence what can be influenced. Therefore I also agree with Robert H. Oiley and his quotation about the nations and their importance in the geopolitical evolution of the EU.

Posted by: John Berkowitz at November 14, 2012 02:11 PM
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