The latest SSEES Guest Lecture is given by the former UK ambassador to the EU and European policy advisor to Tony Blair, Stephen Wall. He gives us articulate and measured take on EU27 (and Britain’s place in it) interspersed with some amusing, but not too cutting, asides on UK politicians he has worked with/for and other EU governments. The EU, he said, has, since the collapse of the Constitutional Treaty, evolved towards a vision of ‘an ever more closely co-operating union of nation states (not ‘union of peoples’ as mentioned the Treaty of Rome), the basic policy of all British PMs for decades, albeit with presented with different emphases (Blair subtler, Thatcher scarier). This means integration via a ‘Europe of results’ rather than one of grand overarching institutions.
The old Franco-German vision of tight(er) political integration basically had its last iteration with the Constitution as the political circumstances that drove it had disappeared: a united Germany no longer need full(er) political union like the old West Germany and Russia despite the nastiness of the Putin regime was far from presenting the geo-strategic threat the Soviet Union once posed. So in truth the Constitution was bound to fail as it lacked the policy content to make its framers more integrationalist vision a meaningful reality – and sceptical French and Dutch electorates instinctively undertsood this – but had some of the trapping of the constitution of a federal state, which scared and anagonized the more eurosceptic.
The British/Blairite priority of working for integration with real content – policies for promoting economic competitiveness, deregulating of emergy markets, establishing kind of external EU energy policy to stop Russia picking off EU members state one-by-one in bilateral deals – was thus bang on target. However, the enlightened pragmatic self-interest of member states was, sadly, unlikely to achieve this. In the past, political to and fro between defenders of national national sovereignty – like the UK, which lacked a powerful allies to match the Franco-German tandem- and those wanting to build supranational EU policies had been quite a creative force leading to sensible liberalizing reforms through, for example, the creation of the Single European Market. Now, however, no such configuation seemed to be coming together.
Wall was, however, optimistic about the general functionality of an enlarged 27 member EU and the prospects for future enlargement (presumably looking over the medium term) to Turkey and Ukraine and didn’t seem to rule out wider expansions: no fixed frontier should be set defining where ‘Europe’ is, a case by case approach should be deployed. Finishing his guest lecture smartly in a 45 minutes, he then fielded about a dozen questions, including a rather interesting one about the influx of Poles and East Europeans to the UK. As well as being a very positive miscalculation, he thought, it showed that the current EU was in many ways close to vision of liberal big market Europe set out by Mrs Thatcher in her Bruges speech.
As usual , I am left with the impression that top Eurocrats and bureaucrats are a pretty and realistic lot, but how many elections would the UK Sane and Realistic About the EU Party win?