30 DECEMBER 1972, Page 11

Creeping into Europe (2)

Strategy and chances of quitting

Lionel Gelber

Britain joins the 'European Community while opinion polls suggest that a huge segment of the British people 'recoils from so momentous a step. Those who have fostered entry presume that the nation will adapt itself to a closer hook-up with European neighbours as the merits of such a move outweigh its demerits. But discontent could simmer on and it might only unsettle the rest of the Community when numerous other differences must still be ironed out. If therefore the British people want to disengage from the Community, it should let them do so. And that solution will avert any 'breach of treaties. The answer for Britain may be withdrawal by mutual consent.

The 'case for enlargement of the 'European Community through British membership has been discussed on both sides of the Atlantic often enough. Less moot are the benefits that will accrue if Britain departs.

From an economic angle, first of all, Britain may be 'saved from the Community's exorbitant initiation fee and from levies which its Common Agricultural Policy demands. Upon this subject French agriculture and German industry struck a bargain. But there is no reason why the British people 'should do most, as a condition of entry, to finance it. There has been the theory that the Community may compensate for a farm policy which is so illiberal by sponsoring a generous scheme for the development of its more backward regions. But one may not be adopted and if it is it may not suffice. Those who profit from the common agricultural policy regard it as the economic core of the European Community and its revision for the sake of British consumers, or in accordance with proposals by American trade liberalisers, seems improbable. This was made evident by the President of France, M. Georges Pompidou, in a telecast on December 22 1971. His admonitions showed the Englishspeaking peoples what they were up against. These were ignored. Britain, moreover, will have lost much by even a brief sojourn within the Community. She has enjoyed a competitive edge in the field of exports by importing cheap foodstuffs and raw materials from overseas partners of the Commonwealth, developed and developing. Such a boon will have vanished as she accedes to the Community and any chance for retrieving it, if she retires, may not recur. Against such an advantage, nevertheless, there was to be set a larger protected market (one in which Britain could pursue economies of scale). Its common external tariff, that is, might stem a flood of mass-produced goods from the United States and Japan. When, nevertheless, 'Britain lags industrially she can not welcome competition by fellow members from within the Community itself. As things turned out, moreover, she could have gained from the existence of that entity while avoiding handicaps which full membership brings. The Community will have created a limited free trade area with rronmember countries. To this Britain, like Norway, could still belong unscathed.

The aims of the Community, though, are political as well as economic. Only by full membership could Britain also further these, But what was entailed by the political objectives of th'e Community? This has never been completely explained to the British people or the West as a whole. It could not be. On no front would the price of membership be more likely to discourage entry or, when made clear, be as apt to promote a rebound.

At a summit meeting in October 1972 the European Community decided it should be converted into a European Union by 1960. This calls, if the venture thrives, for something more than a group with regional ties pursuing through ad hoc methods approximately the same goals. A deeper unity will have been worked out. Individual States of the American Union must, as such, refrain from dabbling in external affairs or from sustaining outer political connections of their own. And similar rights will have to he renounced by each of the amalgamated components of the European Union. Not that such an organisation would be easy to set up. Public men like Messrs Pompidou and Heath have recommended a loose type of confederation. 'But in world politics only a tight-knit merger can provide the European Community with all that it needs to act as one and unless it,does so net it will have failed in a cardinal purpose.

For more than a decade controversy has raged over the degree to which, on being Europeanised, 'Parliament in conjunction with the throne 'will have its sovereignty abridged. Less 'heed 'has been paid to the constitutional effects of federalising processes within the Community that, beyond the shores of 'Britain, lower the nation's rank. The more unified the overall complex becomes the less divided its mode of expression. Nominally each component may still proceed as an 'individual signatory of the North Atlantic Alliance. or of the United Nations; somehow (whether its capital be situated in Brussels or Paris) the Community must speak on behalf of all with a single voice. Local consideration's have thus locked Britain into a narrower, more rigid diplomacy'lthan she has 'conducted hitherto.

It •was as a counterpoise against the economic preponderance of the West Germans that the French let Britain join the European Community. First, all the same, M. Pompidou ascertained from Mr Heath that the British were ready to draw away from the open sea. Britain thus undertook to detach herself from extra-European sources of strength. She did so, moreover, at a juncture when her Establishment imagined she could even assume the lead across the Channel. But not all the 'British people have nourished illusions about the grandeur, Gaullist 'style, Community membership will expedite. Much in the British economy suffers from stultification. If more of this awaits Britain as a component of the European Comunity, it will be a plus for her to turn back.

Meanwhile those who entertained a broader view of Britain's destiny were described, in a topsy-turvy maner, as Little Englanders, advocates of an outmoded isolationism. Upon entering the Community, as a matter of fact, 'Britain will have replaced an extensive type of co-operation with an intensive one. Superpowers 'are nowadays What rule the roost globally. Western Europe wants to enlarge itself so as to address other giant aggregations — the United States and Russia today; China and Japan tomorrow — its an equal. But this objective also requires closer integration. A second unifying end, 'the political with the administrative, may thus also take over. Eventually these two might even fuse the French nuclear deterrent with the British. But a union of West European countries can only be secure if, like Japan, it also relies on an American 'superpower. Economically it 'might be the equal or even the superior of 'rrraminoths such as the United States and Russia; in politico-strategic potential these two will still outclass it. And until that disparity is erased the guaranteed can hardly be accorded the same rank as its American guarantor.

After the moral 'and physical trauma of war in Vietnam the United States has wounds to lick at home. A treaty for mutual and balanced force reductions between the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Alliance 'Would enable her to reduce appreciably the number of American troops 'she has stationed across the Atlantic, Yet if there is no adequate east-west agreement on this score, West Europeans will either 'have to fill gaps themselves or plan for that early use of tactical nuclear weapons from which a full all-consuming nuclear exchange could spring at once. Some of them may still be reluctant to do the one or tolerate the other. But for the European Community a third choice would be available: reinsurance with Russia herself.

What would thereupon ensue is the expansion of Soviet hegemony to the Atlantic — a contingency the North Atlantic Alliance was designed to forestall. And rather than accept so drastic a shift in the global balance the United States might be compelled to maintain her present troop levels on its West European sector, Short of that, 'however, the role assigned to the European Community may neither be as -submissive as the one performed by the more abject of Soviet client states' nor, as it has been warned, bolder than was Pre ordained for the Finns.

Soviet penetration of Western Europe can, though, come about in yet another way and here, too, Community membership might again drag Britain away from historic moorings. Hopes are raised by the spirit of détente and by parleys for curbs on the arms race; they may be dashed when Russia strives to outflank the West at sea while challenging it in the air and on land. The western alliance is exhorted by NATO statesmen to keep up its guard. At odds with such vigilance is an effort by • the West, with the United States herself in the van, to strengthen the Soviet Union technologically. And as industrialised countries vie for contracts in Russia, the tendency may be for them to propitiate Moscow over other major items of policy. The Kremlin cannot reach out and sway the United States from within. The European Community is, by contrast, strategically, and therefore 'politically, more vulnerable.

In each of that entity's main units, Russia has ground for exploitation. Ostpolitilz registers West Germany's sage acquiescence in postwar frontiers; it can go too far, though, when Bonn does not only look towards the West for business but also towards the East. Neutralism is rife, furthermore, wherever, as among the French and Italians, Communists form the biggest party. Playing into Soviet hands, besides, is the anti-Americanism ' of the Gaullist regime. And in Italy, with its makeshift governments of the Centre, there is the nation's sheer ungovernability. Britain her. self is not immune to paradoxical political disease. Socialists averse to Europeanisation may outnumber those addicted w neutralism. Yet Conservatives with a NATO orientation are the one's who, egged on by like-minded socialists, have 'done most to enlarge that Community in which neutralism could exercise more scope.

The Stakes remain immense. When so much appears upside down it may 'be die mission of Britain, whatever party holds office, to remind NATO allies on both sides of the Atlantic that the unity of Westent Europe must not be put before the unity Of the West. As a member of the European Community, Britain's Style may be cramped by that entity's quest for unanimity Jt foreign affairs, It 'would be much more rewarding for the British people if, on being disencumbered, they found themselves again free to talk sense.

This, no doubt, is the reverse of an argtl. ment wfhich London and Washington have mostly employed behind the scenes but which, with a twist of its own, Peking like' wise now endorses. All three conceive of the .European Community as a mightier bastion against the westward thrust d Muscovite influence. As such the Chinese see it diverting Russia* from Sino-Soviet frontiers. But 'it will do nothing of the sort if the 'function of the Community is one, of manoeuvring between two camps rather than of keeping its own defence commit; merits in good shape. There are 'far too many signs of a trend towards a Third Force which, even if underwritten bY American power, is scarcely in the British' interest to promote. Whatever enlarges tile Community increases the risk. By opting out Britain would restore that entity ft° what is for' it, for her and for the West 0 a whole, 'its optimum size. Britain's entry will, all in all, dispel fel of the problems by 'which she is beset.. A return to the status quo might, at least, permit a fresh start. There is an afterlife tive (with none of the fetters which' Core' munity membership decrees) that could he tried. A 'countervailing initiative for freer trade may well be mounted 'within the net two' or three years. Such a project cotild, give Britain access to American at'u Japanese home markets—a privilege whiell might make up for a deluge of irnporES from the United States and Japan. Sorue industrialised countries might not sign 8 new pact for freer trade.' The CommunftY itself might abstain. But one thing is sure; Since the Brussels route is no avenue escape for, Britain, an escape from it l5 what she must devise., Lionel, Gelber is' a former adviser to Cana, than 'governments and author of severa'

political-strategic studies. •