Reality check for the ‘euro-realists’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A new band of ‘euro-realists’ has appeared on the scene, composed mostly of Tory Britons. In the European Parliament, they cluster in the group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), and are little aware of the true state of the Union, argues Andrew Duff.

Andrew Duff has been a Liberal Democrat MEP for the East of England since 1999 and is the president of the Union of European Federalists. His work in the European Parliament focuses mostly on constitutional affairs and EU-Turkey relations.

"In the ECR, Tory MEPs are joined by Czechs from the eurosceptic party of outgoing President Vaclav Klaus and Flemish nationalists.

From the world of think-tanks, we know the euro-realist Open Europe. A new blogging organisation has been set up, to much trumpeting, with the funky name of the Centre for British Influence in Europe (CBIE).

This should not be confused with the CBI (business) or the C of E (clergy). The CBIE line seems to be that if the UK would only and merely assert its own national interest in EU affairs, all will be well in the best of all possible worlds.

As it tweeted recently (and one might think tactlessly): "All David Cameron has to do is lead. Europe is for the taking". According to the CBIE, the rest of Europe is waiting breathlessly for the intervention of the Brits to lead us all to the promised land of an open, de-regulated common market run by pragmatic political cooperation between national governments.

CBIE will be launched properly at the end of the month, and threatens to "act as a central hub for those who would seek to protect and build British influence in Europe", and to "articulate and communicate … a British Blueprint for how Europe should develop".

In this it follows the same rationale of the coalition government's policy of a unilateral British review of EU competences conducted without any apparent reference to what the EU is actually for.

William Hague's competence review is intended to prepare a catalogue of British demands of things to repatriate at the EU's constitutional Convention, which is scheduled to open in spring 2015. George Osborne, doubtless another arch-priest of euro-realism, wants the UK to leave the EU unless the EU is reformed presumably along British Tory lines.

The difficulty the euro-realists face is that their unilateralism, however bold, simply does not fly in the context of a legal system which only works through the building of large and complex political consensus.

No treaty change, however minor, can be made without the agreement of all other member states. Such unanimity implies a basic understanding, first, on where the Union stands now and, second, on where it is destined to go in the future. Here euro-realism looks terribly out of touch, rather as if it has not realised how much the EU has changed since 1973 or how strong the federal forces are today.

The true reality is that the EU is getting on with the gritty business of salvaging the euro by creating a banking and fiscal union which will be run by something akin to a federal economic government.

It is this new Union, and not the old one of their fond but lazy imaginings, to which British politicians of all hues have got to engage.

The self-styled euro-realists may mean well, but they will not be convincing at home or abroad by arguing for 'more of the same – but less'. There is no mileage left in pretending to be a 'critical friend' of Europe, or in being defensive about the EU.

A more flexible, pick-and-choose approach to the single market will surely ruin the single market. Rejection of more fiscal discipline blocks further moves to fiscal solidarity. Refusal to let the City of London join in the single supervisory mechanism of the European Central Bank will jeopardise the resolution of the banking crisis.

Opting out of the EU's efforts to integrate justice and home affairs policies will subvert the fight against international organised crime. Resisting moves to develop common foreign and security policy will blunt the EU's role on world affairs. Objections to strengthening the executive authority of the Commission will stymie the emergence of democratic government at the federal level.

If Britain's pro-Europeans are seriously committed to keeping Britain in Europe, they have some serious catching up to do with the real state of the Union."

Subscribe to our newsletters