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Never underestimate new Labour's determination to take us into the euro

PETER SHORE, The Times, NOVEMBER 16 2000
Lord Shore of Stepney (Labour) is the author of the recently published Separate Ways (Duckworth).

The demand by the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, for a directly elected European president and wider powers for the European Parliament shows that, despite the Danish “nej” and Tony Blair’s recent admission that he would today vote “No” in a British referendum on joining the euro, it would be dangerous for we Eurosceptics to relax our efforts.

It is dangerous to underrate the importance to new Labour of the European integration project. Ditching the pound and abandoning other crucial areas of national sovereignty reflect not just the Government’s appraisal of where our economic and political interests lie, but it stems from the deepest philosophical beliefs and world outlook of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair:

first, their belief, expressed in a thousand speeches, that globalisation of markets, capital communications and information have rendered the nation state — even ours, with the fourth or fifth largest economy in the world — virtually impotent in the management of its own affairs;

and secondly, their deep hostility towards the nation state itself as the principal cause of the main ailments of mankind — xenophobia, intolerance, oppression and war.

These beliefs reinforce each other. Since the nation state can no longer seriously promote the economic wellbeing of its citizens, and since it has had, according to those who have either misread or never read modern history, so baneful an effect in human affairs, what objection can there be among rational and progressive men and women to the surrender of state power and the pooling of sovereignty? It is against this world view that new Labours approach to the Nice summit and beyond is a cause for serious concern.

It is Blairs inability to join, let alone lead, the EU pack in launching the euro that has given a compensatory urgency to his search for other areas of policy where he can place Britain at the heart of Europe. This is particularly clear in the remarkable development of a common foreign and security policy, and a rapid reaction force to enforce it, and in his willingness to help to frame the so-called Charter of Fundamental Freedoms effectively a written constitution for the EU agreed in Biarritz.

For Blair the most important issue at Nice will be that innocent-sounding enhanced co-operation, added to the IGCs agenda at French and German insistence. For this raises, in acute form, the question of the two-tier or multi-tier Europe which British Europhiles really dread. For what France and Germany are demanding in return for permitting enlargement, is an amendment to the Amsterdam treatys rules which would enable a group of pioneer countries to go ahead with further integration without the need for unanimous agreement, thus removing the power of veto which Britain and others now possess.

Once this key to closer co-operation has been handed over, the doors will be opened to the Founding Six or even the Euro Twelve to go forward with new measures for harmonisation in fiscal, social and economic policies and foreign policy as well.

At Nice, Blair will be faced with two basic dilemmas: if he vetoes the surrender of the veto, he will be blamed for blocking enlargement. If he permits the vanguard states to go ahead, he faces a second dilemma no less basic than the first. Either Britain stays outside and, in his own view, is marginalised or left in the slow lane; or the UK joins in, swallowing its words about the veto but remaining at the heart of Europe.

Sooner or later the underlying issue must be faced: for it reflects the fundamental difference of objective that has been there from the start the determination of the inner core around France and Germany to create an ever closer union, and the impossibility for even this most capitulationist and europhile British Government to persuade the British people to abandon self-government and democracy and join in.


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