2 JUNE 1961, Page 10

Political Implications of Membership

It must be obvious, from the brief outline I have just given of the Community's aims and in- stitutions, that membership of it involves a substantial immediate sacrifice of national sovereignty, with more to follow. Whenever one talks to Europeans, whether officials of the Com- mission or citizens at large, the federal aspects are stressed and Britain's tendency hitherto to regard the EEC as a mere commercial bloc, a machin, is sadly noted. There is reason to think that the British Government has now made a fundamental reappraisal and is fully aware of what membership, however negotiated, will entail. In his very significant speech in the House of Commons on May 17 Mr. Edward Heath mentioned that the power to make commercial agreements would pass to the Commission and that appeal in disputes would lie to the European Court of Justice. But the emphasis of his speech was upon the economic pros and cons. He was clearly none too anxious to provoke a discus- sion of the political issue, which is even more crucial.

The Prime Minister has suggested, in one of his many tortured statements recently, that some special protocol or formula of association might be devised to meet Britain's difficulties. This could easily cause misunderstanding. If Britain is to join, a protocol must anyway be added to the Rome Treaty, to cover the new arrangements for representation and voting on EEC bodies, and the scale of financial contributions. In that protocol some short-term concessions might be made, for example to give temperate agricultural producers in the Commonwealth a chance to adapt their economies to the permanent effects of Britain's joining the Community. But there could be no escape from those permanent effects. The Six will not contemplate—and why should they? —any arrangements which would wreck their grand design, by puncturing the common ex- ternal tariff or undermining their determination to get rid of tariff-free quotas.

'Association' ought to be ruled out by the British Government, as being a solution fit only for poor relations. Greece has become an asso- ciate, because her economy is too weak for full membership. Other countries—perhaps one or two from EFTA—may go for association on slightly different terms and for slightly different reasons. But it would ill become Great Britain to be a mere hanger-on of the European Com- munity; and the Six could hardly be expected to grant such a hybrid status to a nation so large and powerful. Britain must either join or stay out : there is no middle way.

The most telling arguments in the case are psychological and political, not (as one might suppose from current debate) economic and moral. We hear much about the advantages of being part of a dynamic economy; about the threat to our foreign markets and to the supply of investment capital from abroad; about the capacity or otherwise of British agriculture to compete without the present system of subsidies and protection; about the impact upon food prices and the cost of living; about the obligation not to let down our partners in the Common- wealth and EFTA. But we must look beyond such considerations, important as they are. Just 'Can I stop boycotting South African goods now?' as the chief motive of those who signed the Rome Treaty was to unify Europe, and the chief effect of it to date has been to change the mental habits of countless Europeans, so the main cause of British reluctance to sign is that mental habits and political fixations are hard to overcome.

One fixation is the desire to win and retain votes. When Tory Ministers talk of their duty to home agriculture they are thinking of their parliamentary majority and of their party's tradi- tional connection with the 'landed interest.' Perhaps Mr. Macmillan is reminded of the fate of Sir Robert Peel. He need not worry: there is no Disraeli in sight. Besides, there are three years tc go before he need advise the Queen to dis- solve Parliament. During that time every efficient farmer in Britain will have been reassured, while pensioners and others who live on small fixed incomes will presumably have been com- pensated for any increase in food prices, out of the money saved on farm subsidies.

EFTA seems to be dying a natural death, after a somewhat shadowy existence. The Common- wealth is a more serious matter. As a nation, we have not put ourselves out much for the Commonwealth, but it is part of our mental furniture which we do not like to be disturbed. It gives us a vague feeling that the Empire is still in being: Churchill's ZOrich speech showed the prevalence of the illusion, and also helped to prolong it. We have now to acknowledge that the Commonwealth is not, and will never become, a solid and coherent entity like the EEC. The old club has some value and need not break up, if only because its practical links are so tenuous. But it must no longer be used as a pretext for shirking our manifest duty and destiny in Europe.