On watching intelligent foreigners discuss a plan which will destroy my country's independence
One of the great difficulties about being in 'Europe' — perhaps it is an objec- tion to the whole concept — lies in know- ing how its other members feel. Although the press is full of debate about the single currency, sovereignty and the rest, 98 per cent of this has, to use a journalistic phrase, a Union Jack put on it. What will happen to our British fish/monarchy/cheese/Parlia- ment/law/armed forces/measurements? All perfectly good questions, but all asked more or less in vacua as if the other mem- bers had no comparable concerns.
Obviously there are two members who matter more than the others — France and Germany. Only slightly less obvious is the fact that France and Germany matter more than all the others, including Britain, put together. As someone who has never worked in France and, until last month, had never even been to Germany, I am typical of the insularity I am describing. So I have been very lucky to attend two conferences on these themes this year, the Anglo- French Colloque at Versailles and the Bergedorfer Gesprachskreis in Oxford last weekend.
These conferences were attended by leading Frenchmen and Germans. At Oxford were, among others, Dr Richard von Weizsacker, until last year the Presi- dent of Germany, Johann Wilhelm Gad- dum, Vice-President of the Bundesbank, and Wolfgang Schauble, who is said to be Helmut Kohl's heir apparent. The French- men at Versailles were equally big cheeses. Here is what I think I have learnt from lis- tening to them.
First, that it is difficult in France, and all but impossible in Germany, to be a Eurosceptic. To oppose 'Europe' is to oppose the big idea which has dominated your country's history for half a century. It is as hard — perhaps harder — as it was for a Briton to oppose Britain's possession of the Bomb and membership of Nato before 1989. Your eggs are in the Euro-basket, and you do not believe that you can take them out without breaking them. In the case of France, there is a tinge of regret about this because you know that is faute de mieux, the mieux being French dominance. In Germany, an equivalent tinge may be felt, but may never be expressed: 'Europe' is the only permitted vehicle for German greatness. For a German to be against it is like an American who wants to reintroduce slavery — the historical grounds for the sentiment are there but the sentiment itself is impermissible.
Second, that 'Europe' is seen by most French and Germans as a success. It is cen- tral to the myth, by which I do not mean total untruth, about the return of peace and prosperity after the war. Although many aspects of 'Europe' may be critiscised and resented, it is understood that the show must be kept on the road. Rather as in Britain, most people, however grieved or shocked they may be at the farce of various royal marriages, still support the monarchy, so in France and Germany the horrors of the CAP or the ERM (for France) or the threatened loss of the mark (for Germany) do not undermine the European idea. For France and Germany, the EC is the politi- cal equivalent of the mixed economy — the way you have to live in the modern world.
Third, that, because of the previous two points, it is wrong of the British Govern- ment to speak of Europe 'coming our way'. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is a lie, for Mr Hurd and Mr Major talk quite often enough to their counterparts to know their views and, unlike the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have read the Maastricht Treaty. (By the way, I know Mr Clarke says he has now read the treaty, but if that is so, how did he manage to tell the Commons Treasury and Civil Service Committee a couple of weeks ago that 'the treaty does not stipulate that you need an independent central bank'? Roughly half the treaty deals with that stipulation and the arrangements surrounding it.) Maastricht, as was expounded to me by the Germans in Oxford with almost brutal clarity, establish- es economic and monetary union in order to bring about political union. All the treaty-making of the EC is dynamic, not content with a settled framework, but push- ing further in the direction of 'ever closer union'. Maastricht went far further than before, creating EMU and the European Union, with its supranational citizenship.
`St Patrick will have less success with guns.' Next will come a properly powerful Euro- pean Parliament, a meaningful European foreign and defence policy and the aboli- tion of the national legal systems. France and Germany regard the British notion of the EC as a free-trade bloc of nation states with contempt.
It is not really for Britain to say that the French and the Germans are wrong to think this way. Nations are likely, though not certain, to have a clearer view of where their interests lie than will rival, if friendly, nations next door. I think if I were a Frenchman I might share the prevailing establishment view, and I am sure that I would if I were a German. The elites of both countries have mastered the system and flourish on it. The French, more than anyone else, created the institutions of the EC and know how to work them to their advantage. The Germans have the confi- dence, against which even military confi- dence appears weak, of knowing that they are in charge of the money of an entire continent. I found the spectacle of their senior bankers and politicians debating monetary union last weekend both impres- sive and frightening — the sight of good, powerful, intelligent, foreign men dis- cussing a plan which will destroy my coun- try's independence and prosperity. They seemed so much more purposeful and in charge than our own rulers.
And yet, and yet. It is often the case that an imperium at its most splendiferous has already passed its peak. How great the British Empire must have seemed at the Delhi Durbar of 1911. Is it just my wishful thinking to detect folie de grandeur in the Europe-building of the 1990s? Maastricht only just scraped through. As the grandees confer, the ERM is, for the third time since 1992, strained to the limits and making paupers of its weaker brethren. Will French voters put up with four more years of aus- terity and rising unemployment in order to abolish the franc? Will the prospect of the single currency survive the six months before 1 January 1999, when the national central banks and the European central banks are working to realise Maastricht's dream and Mr Soros and his friends are turning it into a nightmare every day in the markets? I don't know, but I rather feel that it will not, because reality is against a politically imposed single currency, and reality does break in, even upon the con- ceptions of great men.