In Search of a Conservative Neo-Europeanism

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In 1962, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson cattily quipped that Britain had lost an Empire, but had yet to find a role. Today, Britain is the most confident and purposeful she has been since the Edwardian era, and yet her once ‘natural party of government’, a party that prides itself on dealing with the world as it is, has yet to find a role, befuddled by a intellectually limited, sentiment ridden, two dimensional vision of international relations. At the heart of this vision is now a culturally unpalatable and politically ridiculous view of Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe and the nature of European Union (EU). The Conservative Party, if ever it is to become a serious party of government once more, must jettison the Europhobia that has infected it for the last fifteen years. The Conservative Party of 2005 has moved well beyond the limits of sensible skepticism with regards to the EU, for skepticism is a rational and virtuous intellectual tool, and instead now vents open and fierce hostility to nearly everything with an EU stamp on it. William Hague’s only policy platform for the 2001 General Election was a strident attack on EMU. The Conservative campaign that year displayed posters depicting the United Kingdom being merged geographically with France. The Conservative Manifesto of 2005 wanted to re-negotiate Britain’s terms of membership. Apart from the Common Fisheries Policy, this is a totally unworkable and unsound proposition. Britain needs a government that will move it forward in the EU, not back. Conservatives speak incessantly of wanting a ‘looser’, ‘flexible’, ‘decentralised’ relationship with Brussels, which would erode any leadership position Britain has acquired within the EU over the past eight years. The Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, has even publicly called for withdrawal from the EU, wanting Britain to have the arrangement (and defacto status) of Norway and Switzerland. Oddly, this would weaken Britain. After all, such countries have been described as ‘fax-democracies’, because they are compelled to accept EU legislation, in order to trade with the Union, without having any say in how that legislation is made. Moreover, in the opening session of the 2005 Parliament, during the foreign affairs debate, the shadow Foreign Secretary made the hilarious claim that the Commonwealth was one of Britain’s ‘most valuable resources for exerting influence in the world’. Rather, it is the European Union and our ‘bonding’ relationship with the United States, which is Britain’s greatest asset. Conservatives must treat the EU as an asset, not a cancer.

After the fecklessness and paralysis of the Major Government’s European policy and the unsustainably of Thatcher’s British Gaullism, the New Labour Government has successfully crafted out a dynamic European policy which has reoriented Britain as a leading member state of the EU, with a positive agenda of European enlargement, military integration/modernisation and a new doctrine of ‘liberal interventionism’. London has metamorphosed into an Atlanticist power pole around which the new Eastern members have clustered, strong enough in its own right to challenge the authority and arrogance of the Franco-German axis which attempts to speak for all of Europe, as it did during the Iraq Crisis of 2003. The Letter of the Eight, rebuking President Chirac and Chancellor Schroder, is testament to this. And yet, as Conservative European policy stands today, if it were implemented in Government, all this would be put in jeopardy. Liam Fox and Kenneth Clarke both embody the false dichotomy within the Conservative outlook on the world. When announcing his candidacy for the forthcoming leadership election, Dr. Fox boasted that he wanted to end Britain’s ‘obsession’ with the European Union. Dr. Fox is a breath of fresh air, when it comes to Conservative foreign policy makers. He has shown a strong commitment to the centrality of human rights in the making of foreign policy, evident in his establishment of a Conservative international human rights watchdog, chaired by Gary Streeter, a most welcome innovation. Dr. Fox has spoken passionately of the need to ‘put all the pressure we can on regimes like that of Saddam Hussein and on militant groups who ignore human rights and threaten others.’ Nation builders should take heart to have Dr. Fox rally to their cause as he did in the Sunday Telegraph, stating firmly: ‘we should never be embarrassed to be championing the construction of democratic nations.’ Fox’s blend of democracy promotion and focus on human rights is a welcome element within Conservative foreign policy thinking. It stands in sharp contrast to the reactionary and outdated ‘realist’ views of his rival for the Conservative crown, Ken Clarke.

Indeed, Mr. Clarke is the paragon of the traditional conservative realist, his only redeeming quality, consistent pro-Europeanism, but an old, outdated Europeanism. Clarke has the audacity to call Tony Blair’s decision to help liberate the oppressed people of Iraq and transform the Middle East, a ‘disastrous decision’, yet he sat in the Major Cabinet and supported the real disaster; the immoral and unsound Bosnian policy of Messer’s Hurd and Rifkind, with all its ramifications for Western credibility, security, unity and of course, the fate of many hundreds of thousands of innocent Bosnian Muslims at the heart of Europe. And yet, just as Ken Clarke’s conception of British power in the twenty-first century, and its projection abroad, is woefully limited, illustrated in his foreign policy speech of 1st September , so too is Dr. Fox’s. Unfortunately Dr. Fox holds to the Euro sceptic (or is it Europhobic?) tendency which has paralysed the Tory body politic for nearly twenty years. When he speaks of wanting to end Britain’s ‘obsession’ with the EU, either Dr. Fox is oblivious to the fact that European Union is the vital, controlling component which Britain’s modern posture in the world rests upon, or he is being disingenuous with the British people, just as the right wing press are, day in and day out.

Just as the Conservative Party, over the course of the past decade, has been incapable of embracing the modern society that the political project of Thatcherism created, it has also proved equally ineffectual in coming to terms with the global community of the twenty-first century. This crisis of engagement with the outside world is most stark when it comes to the vexed issue of Britain’s place in Europe. Conservatives must realise Britain has a Global and European role to play, and that the two are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship, just as Britain’s value and worth to the United States as its closest ally is intimately bound up with its status as an EU member and leader. The Conservative Party must move away from its harsh anti-EU rhetoric and policy and must become the champion of what Timothy Garton Ash has christened, Euro-Atlanticism. Euro-Atlanticism is the antithesis of Euro-Gaullism. While exponents of Euro-Gaullism such as Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroder and Roman Prodi believe Europe must be built up as a rival pole and counter weight to the American ‘hyper-power’, Euro-Atlanticism emphasises the shared values, traditions, blood and history of both Americans and Europeans. Seeking to bind America and Europe close together, Euro-Atlanticists believe it is in the global interest that the US and EU work, co-ordinate and co-operate as intimately and intensely as possible. It is Britain’s overriding national and international priority to ensure the United States and European Union are as united as possible, sharing a common purpose.

Britain does not have to choose between America and Europe. Those who call for a cooler engagement with the EU and a stronger alignment with the US, have only shallow understanding of international relations and politics, not to mention history. As Garton Ash eloquently pointed out, Britain is both the child of Europe and the parent of America. Conservatives must recognise that the ‘special relationship’ between America and Britain is not exclusively an Anglo-American affair, but rather a truly Trans-Atlantic one and that the strength of Britain’s links with America are heavily dependent on her ability to influence the agenda, policy, direction and diplomacy of the European Union. Indeed, a former American Ambassador to London emphasised this when he suggested that British influence in Washington would be greater if it was inside Europe, instead of without. The Conservative Party must become a pro-European party once again, but not the pro-Europeanism of Edward Heath. Neo- conservatism must be matched by a neo-Europeanism. This neo-Europeanism must once and for all accept that Britain’s membership of the EU is non-negotiable and overwhelmingly beneficial to the national interest. It must embrace the integration of Maastricht and facilitate further, necessary integration, especially in the defence policy sphere. Neo-Europeanism must be ‘essentialist’ in the spirit of Ronald Reagan and ‘Scoop’ Jackson. Conservatives must draw upon their liberal tradition, potently encapsulated within Thatcherism; transplant that into a neo-Europeanism, in order to create an EU which is a powerful proponent and exponent of political and economic liberty. Harnessing the burgeoning neo-Wilsonian discourse which has emerged within Brussels over the past few years, the Conservative Party must strive to make the EU into an instrument for making the ‘world safe for democracy’.

A neo-European, neo-conservative Tory Government must engage in what Stephen Walt has called ‘penetration’. Walt cities how Israel has successfully ‘penetrated’ the political system of Washington, and deftly manipulated it to its own advantage. So too must Britain ‘penetrate’ Brussels, imprinting its outlook and values upon the heart of the EU. Neo-Europeanism can be a critical and sceptical discourse, challenging the haughty, bein-pensant Euro elite typified by Chirac and De Villepin. Conservatives should relentlessly seek to root out defeatism, pessimism and immoral relativism within the salons of Europe, but it must be a discourse which emphasises the language of the partnership, not the battlefield. Neo-Europeanism need not support Britain’s membership of EMU, but should not be dogmatic towards the Euro, rather pragmatic. Conservatives should embrace the leadership role that Blair’s Britain has asserted over the last eight years, enthusiastically and aggressively engaging with the business of the EU and stressing the economic and political benefits of our membership. The Conservative Party should become the champion of the Anglo-Saxon economic model, vigorously helping to export the Thatcher revolution to the Continent, helping to lift those fellow Europeans out of the misery and frustration of economic and political stagnation, especially those in states which cling, tenaciously, to the ‘social model’ economy, and support free-marketer Atlanticists like Jose Manuel Barroso, Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy. Instead of attempting to roll back Britain’s involvement with Europe, Conservatives should be pro-active in trying to make Europe more British, through positive, warm, sophisticated engagement with the EU, not standing on the sidelines, but making and winning the arguments and shaping the policy agenda at the heart of Brussels.

The ‘new’ pro-Europeanism could also include a drive to make the EU more open, transparent, accountable and democratic. This will inevitably, as has happened over the past thirty years, require a pooling of sovereignty. The new Europeanism should be honest with the British people, and explain this too them, unlike the deviousness of Roy Jenkins and Edward Heath, who railroaded the British public into Europe, by disingenuously advocating nothing more than a ‘Common Market’ and free trade zone. The prize, an EU which is a free trade, free market, low unemployment, hi-growth, deregulated, competitive economy and a robust, confident, values driven international force, is worth the pooling of sovereignty. The hard-core Europhobic right within the Party must no longer be indulged and must be isolated. Conservatives can only preach about reform of Europe’s social model, when they passionately and sincerely believe in the fundamentals of the European project. This does not mean that the nation-state must be tossed aside and all our faith and politics invested in a supra-national entity. The neo-Europeanism is absolutely compatible with Margaret Thatcher’s accurate observation that a ‘true internationalism’ must be built upon the sturdy foundations of the nation state, for without that bedrock the citizenry feel no love, affection or loyalty towards the supra-national entity.

British culture and way of life will not end with further European integration, for Britain is a nation founded on a single unifying principle – freedom – that has inspired countless generations, throughout the world As long as we British continue to believe in this idea and live it, their heritage, customs and traditions will continue to thrive and flourish. Pan-Europeanism will not end this, only we British can. Neo-Europeanism can rest comfortably alongside British patriotism, with a renewed civic Britishness being asserted, with greater teaching of British history and values in schools and a greater respect and awareness of Britain’s cultural heritage. But just as we should be teaching our children more about British institutions and history, so should we teach them more of our shared European institutions, history and identity.

If the Conservative Party needed to distil this neo-Europeanism, into a public friendly slogan, it could be simply this; ‘A strong Britain, in a strong Europe, locked into a strong Atlantic alliance’. This is the best framework in this tumultuous world for preserving and furthering British interests and enhancing British wealth, prosperity, power and security. This Atlantic community of Washington, London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Los Angeles, Dublin, and Prague could prove to be the greatest, most overwhelming force for liberty the planet has ever known. It could also provide the muscle to deal with the coming colossus of China, which, according to recent surveys, could overtake the American economy by as early as 2039 (we as yet have not heard much from Tory foreign affairs spokesmen on this pressing issue). Today, we live in the most intensively international environment ever. The distinction between domestic and foreign policy no longer exists. Money, goods, the internet and tourists have eroded borders. We live in a world increasingly without frontiers. Our number one priority, our national-security, can only be secured through international co-operation between sovereign (or partially sovereign) nation-states, not flawed, undemocratic, international organisations, like the United Nations, as it currently stands.

During the 1980s the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher helped give birth to the ‘Global Village’. Mrs. Thatcher, who for a great part of her political career was an instinctive pro-European, had her commitment to the whole idea of European Union, soured by her bitter battles in the early 1980s over the EEC budget. Then just as she had built her brilliant career on slaying dragons and crushing enemies, by her third term, the dragons and enemies were running out. Thatcher defined herself through opposition to others whether it be Heath, the wets, Galtieri, militant trade unions or the Kremlin. Her very political success was rooted within the confrontational need to engage in combat and emerge victorious. This explains part of the reason why in 1988 she began a bitter duel with the socialist President of the European Commission, a new enemy for a new decade, hopefully leading to a fourth mandate in Downing Street. While Conservatives did have legitimate problems and grievances with Monsieur Delors, the Bruges Speech of 1988, containing some very sound points, such as a rallying call for eastern enlargement, unfortunately unleashed a crude campaign of Europhobia, fuelled mainly by Thatcher’s less intellectually sophisticated supporters, compounded by the bitterness at the manner of her downfall. This anti-EU prejudice, which went well beyond rational scepticism, was strengthened with the ERM debacle, leading to the mutiny over Maastricht. And so we return to the beginning of this essay, the false choice of Liam Fox and Kenneth Clarke. British foreign policy and Conservative foreign policy can be, at one and the same time, pro-European, pro-American, patriotic, human rights orientated and robust in defending our gates against the gathering barbarians, while acting as the ‘enabling element’ between America and Europe, in order to defend and expand liberty, modernity and democracy abroad. Now more than ever Conservatives must synthesise a neo-conservatism with a neo-Europeanism.

 

HJS



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