Andrew Duff on Britain in Europe


Following David Cameron's recent speech on the UK's relationship with the European Union, we asked ECFR council member and MEP Andrew Duff to answer a few questions on how he thought Europe - and Britain's relationship with it - would evolve in the coming years.

What event or place sparked your evident love of Europe?

Isn’t it fairly natural to identify with the place you live?

In this more questioning climate, how much does it worry you that your more federalist approach to Europe has so few backers in Britain?

The British are odd about federalism. Many of the best federalist thinkers have been British – even as recently as Beveridge and Robbins, and beyond with Jenkins and Pinder. The British adopted federal systems for their imperial dominions, most of which have worked well. Home Rule for Ireland would have been adopted had it not been for the outbreak of the Great War. Today the UK is very much a federation at least in so far as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are concerned.

But a federal Europe has never caught on in Britain, partly because of Winston Churchill’s long legacy. While Churchill is rightly regarded as a founding father of the European Union, he wanted Britain to stay out. He was, of course, born of Empire and half-American.

After the Second World War, the British believed themselves to be victorious by virtue of their stalwart independence. That was, of course, always only part of the truth. But there was felt to be no necessity in Great Britain after 1945 to re-think the national story from scratch, no need to cleanse British Nazi collaborators, no cause to re-write the constitution, and because of Churchill, no need to reassess Britain’s geo-political strategy until Macmillan after Suez.

So in a sense we Brits were too complacent for many years, and are condemned still to be catching up with mainstream mainland European politics. We may never catch up, but I believe we will. What the British need is exactly what everyone else needs: for the European Union to take on a more discernible federal profile and for its federal experiment to be seen to be working well, providing public goods at home and advancing European interests abroad. Either the EU will end up as a strong, democratic federal union of its states and citizens or it will disintegrate. Once it is working well – or at least much better than it is now – the British will want to be part of it.

Peter Kellner’s ECFR paper on the UK-EU relationship suggests that British people would respond to practical reasons for EU membership rather than ones connected to any grand projects. What kind of European vision do you think would get British people enthused by the EU??

Yes, pragmatic solutions will attract the British. But the EU won’t sustain deeper integration by accident. It needs a powerful driver, let’s call it ‘government’. That is a body of elected men and women with the powers and instruments and resources to give effect to Europe’s responses to the challenges of globalisation.

One of the features of EU governance, missing at the moment, is viable political parties at the EU level, campaigning and competing, and building a new post-national political class of leaders. Leaders enthuse at any level.

The problem we have is that Britain’s national political parties have ceased to sustain European integration in an informed, democratic or effective way. David Cameron’s dreadful Speech says it all: ignorant, prejudiced and muddled. For the Tories, it’s back to Anthony Eden.

Could a eurozone parliament work alongside the European Parliament – and which would have the greater legitimacy among the broader European public?

The Treaties rule out a division of the present European Parliament or of the European Commission. If and when the Eurogroup of the Council begins to impose taxes within the eurozone, that will be the time to separate out the MEPs.

The Convention to re-write the EU constitution, which I fondly expect to start in February 2015, will have to consider what is the right degree of parliamentary representation for the UK if we are still stuck by then with a British government which opposes in principle joining the euro and insists on a permanent opt-out from the banking and fiscal union. The choice at that stage will be between, on the one hand, allowing the UK more and more derogation from the norm, risking a fracturing of the EU acquis, while pretending it is still a full member state, or, on the other hand, creating a clean-cut category of associate membership for the UK, with much less institutional engagement.

How large could the European Union be in 25 years, and are there natural limits to where it would end?

Associate membership could be the safety valve for the Brits. But it could also suit Norway and Switzerland, both of which, in their different ways, are looking to upgrade their present arrangements. And Turkey, for all sorts of reasons, may well decide it would prefer to have a permanent settlement of its European vocation as an associate member state. Kemal Dervis calls this ‘organised diversity’ – but I think we are both basically talking of the same thing.

In 25 years will Britain still be part of the project?

If it comes to its senses, yes.

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