Martin Kettle has penned a piece in today’s Guardian entitled “Greece, Schengen, Nato – it’s time to admit the European dream is over“. It’s the latest in a series of pieces that are appearing a lot in the UK press at the moment – whatever the UK’s own headaches about the deficit, cuts etc., we can look on smugly from the side. If the European dream crumbles, well, so be it, because it was never a dream really, was it.
The person who gives Kettle assurance for his contention that the dream is over is Stephen Wall, former UK Permanent Representative and Head of the Cabinet Office European Secretariat. Wall undoubtedly knows a lot about European integration, but I have consistently had problems with his approach, for he gives the impression that the role of citizens in the whole thing are nothing but an annoyance – it’s about the EU being in the UK’s national and, for him, administrative interest. Functionalism. How that in any way is a European ‘dream’ is beyond me.
Wall says that institutions do not last forever – well, it partially depends if people keep on calling their existence into question or not. Does anyone contend that the notion that the House of Commons might collapse as an institution? No. The UN has done little to develop as an institution in the last 30 years, but its existence is not in doubt. So too for the European Union – it was at a low point in the 1970s but survived. It’s at a low point now too, but it will survive. Almost anyone who has ever worked with or in another international, intergovernmental organisation (G8, G20, NATO, UN etc.) would contend that, even now, the EU is rather functional in comparison.
Kettle then moves on to talk blithely about Schengen, talking of “surges of migration triggered by the Arab spring” when the scale of the challenges these pose to Schengen is nothing in comparison to the strains from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, and ignored the fact that the Danish gripes are more to do with a populist party than they are to do with the EU itself.
Kettle then talks of solutions – “a bold regenerative leap” – the sort of straw man that can be built up only to be knocked down again. The EU has only managed to (partially) accomplish such things at times of historic importance (after the fall of the Berlin Wall for example), and so he proposes the alternative – to move towards the break-up of the EU instead. Either full integration or nothing. What a Europe with a broken EU would look like he does not say. Whether other international organisations are any better also doesn’t get a mention. And importantly the deeper reasons for the malaise – starting from national politics and the changing nature of our representative democracy – are not even examined.