February 19, 2009
Firmly pro-European since my youth, I left the UK to work in France shortly after graduating. I generally paid scant attention to European politics, imagining the EEC was competently run and that scepticism in the UK was equivalent to the phenomenon of thinking that ‘Africa begins in Calais.’
Once inside the Brussels bubble, I began to realise the sceptics had a point. I discovered that some of my European Commission colleagues, even at DG Enterprise, were distinctly disconnected from the world beyond. I then moved on to the European Parliament and found its description as ‘the cocktail party on the gravy train’ disturbingly apt on too many occasions for comfort.
The European project is heady stuff, so intoxicated calls for ‘more Europe’ are understandable. But perhaps Europe needs to sober up. The body politic is already nauseous, further imbibing could lead to retching.
Europe is a democracy, or 27 democracies as most people think of it. Voters might be ignorant, but they are not stupid. As the European Union struggles with the greatest challenges in its short history, increasingly sceptical populations will demand it faces up to their reality – or they might bring the whole edifice crashing down.
Ever closer union may be desirable in the long run, but marking a pause in progress while aiming to resolve fiscal and democratic deficits may be the only way of maintaining Europe’s current advantages. That is why, for the moment for Europe, less is more.
Author : Hugh Barton-Smith