Time: 13:00 – 14:00, Tuesday 31st May 2016
Venue: Committee Room 1, House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW
Speaker: Professor Brendan Simms, President, The Henry Jackson Society & Professor of History of European International Relations, University of Cambridge
Chair: Lord Tugendhat
Perhaps we can start. What I’m proposing to do is Brendan will speak for twenty minutes or so, and then he will answer questions, and I think, I’m sure, people will have a lot of questions, and it would be good to leave as much time as possible. We have the room for an hour, although Parliament is not sitting, we will have to vacate it at two o’clock. I imagine all of you are familiar with his very impressive record, and that’s why you’re here, but just to remind you all, he is the professor of the History of European International Relations and the director of the Forum on Geopolitics at the University of Cambridge and president of the project, the Democratic Union. He’s also president and co-founder, with Dr. Alan Mendoza, of the Henry Jackson Society. He’s the author of a number of books, Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia, which was in 2001, so quite a long time ago, Three Victories and a Defeat: the Rise and Fall of the British Empire, which was in 2007, Europe: the Struggle for Supremacy from 1453 to the Present Day, which was in 2013, which I think is his best known work to date and really a big, important contribution to the subject, The Longest Afternoon: the 400 Men Who Won the Battle of Waterloo, and then most recently, this one, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation. I hope that it turns out that the last word is the one that is more apposite. That was published in 2016, so without more ado, let me turn to him.
Professor Brendan Simms
Well thank you very much my lord for those kind words of introduction. I’d like to begin with two propositions, which I think, if you agree with them, will help to illuminate Britain’s relationship with Europe, past and present. The first is that the European Union was designed to deal with the German question and the European problem, or if you prefer, the German problem and the European question. In my mind the two are one and the same in many respects. My second proposition is that the European Union was not designed to deal with the British problem.
So I’d like to illuminate those two propositions in my twenty minutes. Let me begin with the first proposition. I’m not arguing here that the European Union was designed, and is designed, to deal with the Germans as a behavioural phenomenon. The history of Europe sees Germans both as victims and as perpetrators, and you could make an argument that they became in the nineteen and early twentieth century, to a certain extent, perpetrators because they had once been victims. They moved from being objects of the European system to being subjects of the European system.
But one way or the other, whichever line you take on that, Germany, the German question, is at the heart of European politics, over the past three hundred years, and certainly in the twentieth century, in the first two wars, and after 1945, the contest for Germany between the West, the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union. That contest is absolutely central to the Cold War. So the project of European integration that emerges after 1945 is a project of double containment. Double containment in the sense that it’s designed to embed and contain Germany, for the reasons I’ve already given, but simultaneously also to contain the rising, as it appears, power of the Soviet Union, and to do that, you have to also mobilize Europe and mobilize Germany. So the European Union, or the European project is trying to do two things, to contain and to mobilize. Now in defence terms, that mobilization really stalls after the 1950s with the failure of the European defence community, and that part of its function essentially remains with or is [inaudible] to NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But in every other respect, political, cultural, psychological, economic, the European project is progressed. As a project, I say, both to contain and embed Germany and to mobilize Europe against the Soviet Union, and to diffuse more generally the tensions which had led to the convulsing of Europe into armed camps. So everything we know today as the outcome or the product of the European Union, the common currency, the Euro, that’s a product of the containment process. The common currency is designed, as [inaudible] put it in the 1980s, to decommission Germany’s nuclear weapon, which was the Deutschmark. Likewise, the process of economic integration, eventually we end up passportless travel. But my point is that all of these dimensions, all of these projects may have other reasons as well, but the original and founding reason is the European problem and the German question
Now, if I move to Britain and Europe, if I say that the European Union is not an answer to the British problem, that’s not to say that Europe has not been absolutely the fundamental shaping force, in my view, in English, and later in British, history and will remain so irrespective of the decision at the end of June, and I argue that, first of all, because Europe, to quote Winston Churchill immediately before the first world war, “Europe is where the weather comes from.” Of course, this is an island which is globally connected, always has been, with maritime identity in many respects, but its fundamental shaping forces have come from Europe. That’s been the case ever since the Middle Ages. If we think, for example, of the English Channel, if we think of the links across the Channel, the fact that the Kingdom of England has extensive land in France in the Middle Ages, the security of the south coast of England is always seen as intensely bound up with control of or some kind of influence on the coast on the other side. That’s obviously true in the Middle Ages with the Cinque Ports, it’s true in the early modern period with the desire to keep Philip II, to prevent Philip II from using the Low Countries as a jumping off point to attack southern England, it’s obviously true in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, it’s clear obviously, clearly the case in the guarantee to Belgium which of course brings, or is one of the main reasons for bringing the United Kingdom into the war in 1914,and even more recently with migration, all the talk about what’s happened at Calais, even the last few days, migration flows, [inaudible] modest at the moment, but in small boats across the Channel show that this is an enduring theme. Then in the course of the past few hundred years, the perspective gets wider, goes beyond simply looking at the channel, but also at the Low Countries, at central Europe, the balance of Europe more generally, and it’s a truism, I don’t need to tell you this, you’re all aware of it, that the European balance of power then becomes a central guiding principle for English, and later for British, foreign policy. Not allowing a single hegemon to control, a single hostile hegemon, I should add, to control the mainland of Europe.
And this preoccupation then becomes overlain also with ideological elements, so for instance, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the onset of the Reformation, the fact that Britain becomes largely Protestant, mainland Europe is contested, means that the fate of European Protestants is always a hugely important factor for English statesmen and English Parliament, and it’s felt it should be an important factor for the English Crown. The same is true for the fate of European liberalism in the nineteenth century and of democracy in the twentieth century. And this means that English politics is always convulsed by a great debate, and later British politics, a great debate about European policy, so in the seventeenth and eighteenth century you have a prefiguring of the Eurosceptic and Europhile debate of today. You’ve got Whigs, who are basically Continentalists, Interventionists who argue for continental European alliances, and then you’ve got Tories who are broadly speaking the Eurosceptics of those times, I mean there are lots of nuances but this is the broad, big picture, who are the Eurosceptics who argue against continental engagement, by and large are sceptical of alliances and who see Britain as having a broader maritime and colonial identity, and indeed I would argue, and I argue in the book, that the prevailing view is Whig and that the acquisition of the overseas empire, the British Empire, is in fact primarily intended as a counter in the European balance of power, and to my mind it’s no accident that the empire essentially is given up after the Second World War for European reasons
And all of this feeds through to English, and later British, domestic politics, so the great argument in the late fifteenth century in England is who lost France, who was responsible for the greatest catastrophe, in many ways, of English foreign policy, the loss of the lands, the empire, in France. In the seventeenth century, the divisions between Parliament and critics and the Stuart monarchy, these divisions over what to do in Europe, in other words, should one intervene on the side of the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years War? That’s a major factor, certainly at the beginning, the 1620s, in undermining confidence in the monarchy. Of course the issue of how to deal with revolutionary France, Napoleon, is a major factor in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century, just think of Edmund Burke, think of all these arguments around intervention. And the same is true obviously in the twentieth century with the debate around appeasement and the debate around the European Union, at least since the 1990s. Europe, as I said, has been a major structuring factor in English, and later British, policies.
But I would go beyond that and argue that in fact, the constitutional structure of these islands is fundamentally shaped by the European dimension. I’d be going out on a little bit of a limb because I’m not a Medievalist if I say that the formation of England is a reaction to the Vikings, but I’m absolutely certain that the formation of the United Kingdom in 1707, and particularly its consolidation over the subsequent decades, is very much a product of the European system for the following reason. The English and the Scots, as is well known, not particularly enamoured with each other historically, nevertheless have a common project in Europe and in the world, but primarily in Europe, which is to contain the power of Louis XIV, who is a territorial and hegemonic threat in Europe, is a threat to British liberties, is also an ideological threat in the shape of European Counter-Reformation Catholicism, and so the creation of the United Kingdom in 1707 is very much seen, particularly on the English side, as an instrument in the struggle against the French threat. By the way, the same is also true of the Anglo-Irish union, the less successful one, my own country’s Ireland admittedly, but nevertheless also a product of the European system.
So one could argue that Europe made us. No European state system, no United Kingdom, and this produced, actually, a highly effective actor in the world and particularly in Europe, so the United Kingdom is even today, even after the end of empire, I would argue, and there’s a chapter on this in the book, the United Kingdom is certainly the fifth, probably the fourth, and by my reckoning, actually the third strongest power in the world, but either way you look at it, to be number four of five in the world is still a remarkable thing, and that is a result of the active union in 1707 and the strength of the English presence in Europe prior to that.
So to sum up the historical part of the argument, I would put it in two ways. On the continent, Europe and European integration, Europe and the European history, was the problem, and the European Union was the answer, and secondly, in Britain, Europe or the European threat was the problem, and the United Kingdom was the answer, and that of course is a very fundamental difference in the way in which people in this country, I would wager, and on the continent, see the European project. And I think this helps us understand, as background, the current situation and where the way forward might be because I argue in the book that the European Union is an incomplete union. It has in many ways the aspiration to do what was done in 1707 in this country, and of course by the Americans in the 1780s and subsequent decades and centuries. In other words, it has a federal, the European Union has federal aspirations. That is to say, to have a common currency, the Euro, a common travel zone, a common external and defence policy, but it only has confederal instruments, subfederal instruments, to make these work, and you all know all about the Euro crisis, I don’t need to tell you why it’s not working. The same of course is true for the [inaudible] system because it can only work if you have an external boundary which is regularly policed, which in practice means that some of these boundaries would have to be policed by a supranational authority, in other words, a full federal union. And obviously, this is the case for the common defence in foreign policy because in order to do that you effectively have to have a common political system and a common army.
So that is the predicament of the European Union, or to be more precise, of the Eurozone. I don’t think, in the narrow sense, it is a problem for the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has for itself solved many of these problems, or all of them, in fact, through the union of 1707. In fact, even where the unions break up, I think England will probably be strong enough to survive on its own, but that, to me, is not the point because whatever the narrow ability of the United Kingdom to survive in the context of a breakup of the union or its malfunction, it will be affected by the fallout. We bear in mind again Churchill’s famous words, “Europe is where the weather comes from,” so if the European project collapses, the United Kingdom is affected strategically, economically, and even in terms of migration flow, as in others, demographically. Brexit, and here I’m simply repeating, for the large extent, arguments already made by the prime minister and others, Brexit will make this worse in the sense that it will be a blow to the confidence of the Europeans, it will encourage separatism across the rest of Europe, although I don’t think it will in fact lead to any more exits, but it will undermine the project. It could possibly lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom, although, in fact, I don’t believe that to be the case. In fact, I’m fairly certain that even in the event of a Brexit, the Scots will remain in the union for the reasons I’ve already given, which is that they will be safe within the United Kingdom in the way that they would patently not be safe within the European Union,
Now, Brexit on the 23rd of June will not cause the UK to be adrift and irrelevant. As I’ve said, it is strong enough to survive on its own, but it will damage the union, and I’d like to summarize that with the phrase, if the Greeks leave the European Union, it’s a judgement on Greece, if the UK leaves the European Union, it is, or it will be understood as, a judgement on the European Union. So I’m worried, ladies and gentlemen, not about the UK. I’m worried about the rest of Europe.
But what if Britain remains? Well, I think there are great perils then as well because I think there will be a huge temptation not to rock the boat within Europe. There will be a temptation within the United Kingdom not to do anything radical because one has only just survived a potentially hazardous situation. Within the European Union there will be a temptation to reduce [inaudible] measures because one doesn’t want to frighten the horses in the UK. I think that will be a terrible mistake because even remain on the morning of the 24th of June will only provide Europe with a breathing space. The issues will return because Europe is, for the reasons I’ve given, not stable. And so that failure to settle the European problem, either way, will put a question mark over Britain’s relationship with Europe. First of all, if there is a failure to integrate Europe, then you will have a continuation of the migration crisis, you will have a continuation of the Euro crisis, and all of those scenes will help a future Brexit campaign, and they, as it were, only have to be lucky once, whereas the remainers have to be lucky always.
On the other hand, if there is a deeper integration of Europe, that will in effect create a superstate, which, if the UK were to remain part of it, or to become part of it, would also make the Brexit breeze to blow.
So, what should UK policy be now, in my remaining two minutes? Well I think that the UK should break with the traditional balance of power principle. It should go for the Churchillian solution, that’s the solution set out by Winston Churchill in his famous Zurich speech of 1946, the anniversary of which is coming up in September, where he says that basically you need a full, continental European political union, but not with Britain associated with it, not as part of it. In other words, full Eurozone political union in confederation with the United Kingdom. This would enable mainland Europe to have its 1707 moment. That, of course, would lead to an outcome where Britain was no longer a fully-fledged member of the European continent. So we’re left with a paradox. For Europhiles, that the best service they can render the EU and themselves is to help bring about full Eurozone political union of which the United Kingdom will not be a part, but secondly also a paradox for the Brexiters because if they want to leave the EU, they must see mainland Europe settled first so there can, as it were, be no Brexit without a Euro exit. In other words, a situation where the Eurozone, through deeper integration, leaves the current European Union. So the thought I want to leave you with is that what we need today is not so much a European Britain, although I’ll settle for that on the 23rd of June for now, but a British Europe. And my twenty minutes are up, and I thank you for your attention.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s often being said, during this referendum battle, that there’s nothing more to be said and that everything that could possibly be said about Europe has been said, but I must say for my part that I thought that was a most exhilarating talk. I thought it was exhilarating in its breath and in its depth and in its sensitivity to the different strands of European history, and I thought it was exhilarating too in the way in which it was free of all the [inaudible] that have characterized so much of the debate and that it really was an original voice and a different and altogether wiser way of looking at things, much of what we are currently reading in the papers. I’m sure it has stimulated questions, and I should be grateful if people could try to keep their questions or the points they might wish to make reasonably brief, and I would be grateful if you could give your name because I won’t know the names of most people, and I will try to call people in the order in which they catch my eye. So who would like to kick off?
Thank you, Lord Tugendhat, and thank you Professor Simms. You put forward two possibilities. We leave and let Europe [inaudible] and it seems strange thing for this country to leave and say do what you can, we won’t try to influence it, or to stay and see the nightmare Britain’s always had of a united Europe of which we are not really a playing part. Is there a third option, which is to stay and try to change Europe, perhaps even try to wreck it if we can’t change it?
Professor Brendan Simms
Thank you very much. I think the problem with changing Europe, and in a sense this is what the PM was trying to do a couple of years ago with the Bloomberg speech, this idea of a sort of looser, what he then called a more British Europe, and to my mind, that first of all misunderstood the nature of British. I mean, to my understanding, Britain is actually not a loose political system. The United Kingdom is a very clearly structured, tight parliamentary union, and there really isn’t that much between the people and parliament, and, you know, Scotland and England are in, or at least were until recently, in a full parliamentary [inaudible] by devolution and so on. So the United Kingdom, for the historical reasons I’ve given, is actually very tight, and that’s why it works. So then to prescribe to the mainland Europeans a loosening of the bonds of union will make it much more difficult for them to do the things to do with currency, defence, and other aspects for which they need the trappings of a single state. I mean, try to run the pound or the British Army or whatever without, you know, the structures of the United Kingdom. It wouldn’t work, so I think that is merely to turn the Europeans back to the past they’re trying to escape, which is the past of the national state, of the failing of continental Europe. I mean, the point, the argument I make in the book is that historically speaking, very broad brush, continental Europe has failed, and with the EU it’s failing better, as Beckett would put it, but it’s still failing [inaudible]. So this idea of a third way where you just have a kind of looser federation which would somehow suit Britain and would be less conspicuous, I think might suit Britain for a while, but it wouldn’t actually help continental Europe. As for staying in to wreck it, I think that’s completely unnecessary. The continental Europeans have shown over time they’re quite capable of wrecking it themselves, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
Yes sir, and then the woman in the back.
Thank you. John [inaudible]. Slightly connected to your last answer, it seems to me that the biggest problem in Europe is not Britain, but in fact the lack of fiscal union. It seems to me that unless you get that, then the Euro’s doomed to fail, and I cannot for the life of me see that the German population are going to be very happy about all their taxes being shared with Greece and other countries to enable fiscal union to take place, so how can you get around that conundrum? It’s doomed to failure.
Professor Brendan Simms
Well, the Germans are already sharing their taxes. That’s what the bailouts and the whole European [inaudible]. No, no, you’re absolutely right, but in the end, the choice will be either some form of deeper fiscal, and permanent, fiscal sharing and transfers, or the end of the Euro project, which means the end of the whole European system I’ve outlined, which means a return to the German question, a breakup, the nature and the dimension of that transformation needs to be clear to everybody, and once they look at that and say that’s not what we want, and therefore I think that the only way for continental Europe is actually forward in the direction that you described, that the Germans absolutely, and others, hesitate to do, but I think is a logical conclusion where I think the UK comes in, and I think the United States will come in, and this is the point I make in the book, is that the European order that we have today is an Anglo-American order. You or your forefathers and foremothers made this order, you defeated the hegemons twice, three times, twice defeated, third time deterred. The Anglo-Americans, the Canadians, did that, so you have a stake and a voice and an entitlement to give your view, not only on how the relationship should be between the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, but how mainland Europe should be ordered, and I think that if the prime minister of this country, the president of the United States, possibly also the Canadian leadership, got together and said, we think continental Europe should do the following, or else, you know, we might not bring you the NATO guarantee or whatever, then I they would be listened to, but there will have to be some kind of external political pressure to add to the already quite strong voices within Europe, who are actually looking at a similar solution, but they need help rather than criticism. Constructive criticism, but not destructive criticism.
Well Mr. Trump might [inaudible]. Lady [inaudible], and then you sir, and then here.
Professor Brendan Simms
Thank you. Well, I think historically speaking, crises can go either way, so if you think of say Poland, which disappears progressively between 1772 and 1795, if you think of the Holy Roman Empire, which disappears finally in 1806, these are two polities which had had a long debate prior to decline, lots of people sitting around tables and saying, unless we reform, we’re going to disappear because this is an unpleasant, predatory world, and eventually they disappeared. They didn’t make the jump. On the other hand, if you take, say, the Americans, the sort of more perfect union [inaudible], that has a long prehistory, so people like Benjamin Franklin, for example, are trying to tie Americans closer together long before independence, even while it was still the thirteen colonies. If you think of the great fiasco, all the new conquests of 1754, when there was an attempt to rally the American colonies more effectively against the Indians and the French. People came out of that and said, you know, we’ve done it again, we’re hopeless. We’ll never get our act together, we’ll never be serious players on the scene, and we’re totally dependent on London, and that’s the way it’s going to be forever. But, thirty years down the line, they’ve defeated the British Empire, and having done that then decide actually, we now need a strong state to defend ourselves, and then the rest is history. So the crisis moments can go both ways, and it’s not at all a given that these crises that we’re seeing will lead, inextricably, to that union, and the intellectual criticism I make of the European project is this idea of incrementalism, of process, which is absolutely, if any of you have been to Brussels, absolutely ingrained in their mentality. No big leaps, everything small steps, and I say to them no. That is not the way successful unions have happened. Successful unions have happened when men, it was always men in those days, sat down and said okay, we’re under threat, we need to do something radical, and it’s done more or less as an event. Union is an event, not a process. One day you’ve got England and Scotland with separate parliaments, the next day, they don’t. One day, you’ve got thirteen states united through the Articles of Confederation, the next day, or after ratification, you’ve got the United States. And so until the European Union understands that, that full political union will be an event or will never happen at all, in other words it will be a marriage, not a long engagement which ends not in marriage but in tears. Finally on the question of Schengen exit, I think that’s unlikely with the exception of short derogations from Schengen for the same reason I don’t think the idea of a two-speed Europe or of a smaller Eurozone will work because anybody who is going to be left out of Schengen or the Euro against their will, and that would be a lot of people, with the exception of the UK and to a certain extent Ireland, they will know, or feel, they are in losers Europe. I mean, they are in Europe because there’s something wrong with their policies, and so the idea of a smaller Schengen, smaller Euro, none of that will work. It will only work as one consolidated body, except for the UK, which really is a very different case.
Going back to the smaller Euro, to what extent do you think that the [inaudible] inclusion of further countries into the Eurozone will affect the progress of the European Union? [Professor Simms- So which countries do you have in mind?] Turkey, for example, and countries in the East.
Professor Brendan Simms
Okay, so my view on Turkey, and obviously it’s not in any sense imminent, although I think the idea of some sort of deal on travel is obviously not fanciful, and that would have an impact on this country and other European states. My answer to that would be that if the Turks, essentially the Turks, by my reading, regard the European Union as a club, and a lot of their aggravation has to do with this idea that there’s a club to which they’re not allowed in, and that others, [inaudible], and this is somehow a reflection on their Turkishness and their sovereignty, but it’s not understood that the European Union is not a club, it is a destiny. It is a project. It is designed to do all this work that I have described, historically, and so, I would say to the Turks, if you wish to join this project, which would mean ultimately, first of all you’d obviously lose your own currency, you’d join the Euro which would be inevitable, you would lose your own army eventually, anybody could say what they liked about the Armenian massacre and not be prosecuted, and so on. Welcome! I’m pretty convinced that any nationalist, self-respecting Turks, confronted with that, would not wish to join. If they did, fine, so I think the problem would solve itself, and the problem arises when Europe is still more of a confederation, where you can kid yourself that you can join without compromising something essential about your sovereignty and you identity.
Who do you think are the next candidates [inaudible]?
Professor Brendan Simms
Well, to me, I don’t put any, I would rather see, if the European Union were a full, by which I mean the Eurozone, by which I mean continental Europe, if continental Europe were a full political union, doing all the things I’ve described it must do, I would see it more in the sense of, in comparison with say, the United States of the nineteenth century, so that there wouldn’t be any obvious geographical barrier to its expansion except at some point, it would hit the space which did not wish to be absorbed, and then you’re left with the problem of how you deal with those spaces, you know, like Mexico, or in the case of Canada, which doesn’t need to be sorted because it’s already arranged in a satisfactory alternative via [inaudible] British Empire and then obviously Canadian independence. But so long as there are spaces that are not ordered, they will threaten the union.
You mentioned two things, that full fiscal integration is a nightmare project, bringing twenty-seven countries together, and secondly your doubts about a two-speed Europe. Is there a situation where perhaps the key players, that is Germany, France, the Netherlands, could form a fully integrated country and include the others over a period of time, i.e. people are not excluded, but they’re invited in if they, so that you actually demonstrate that it works because as you said, Germany and France is the key, and you can’t exclude all the others. Is there room, if you like, for a staged basis?
Professor Brendan Simms
Well I think if there was going to be a stage basis, it would’ve had to have started that way and then gradually expanded, whereas obviously to do that now would mean, essentially it wouldn’t be a question of demonstrating to these other states that this worked, but rather it would be a question of saying this will only work if we exclude you, which is a very different proposition, so they’re not going to want that. And I think the problem about the idea of a Franco-German [inaudible] is that, historically speaking, it’s been broken [inaudible] for the reason that the French have always regarded the European project as a way, not of losing their sovereignty, but of hedging and qualifying that of Germany, so that you would end up with a French army for the French, but a European army or a European currency for the Germans, and this, you know, that’s exactly what happened with the European defence community. The French refused to, as it were, sink their army within this wider European, continental European, defence union, which was intended to be the first step towards political union. So if you’re depending on the French and the Germans to do this, I think it won’t, as a sort of axis, I don’t think it would work. I think it’s got to be done rather in the shape of a full constitutional convention leading to a full political union, which means the end of the sovereignty of the participating states. That’s the whole point. All or nothing. Otherwise it won’t work. Euro won’t work, travel won’t work, defence won’t work.
I think, as far as what you’ve said, that you would be in favour of voting for Brexit, as indeed, I would, but a number of people are afraid that if Brexit happens, the EU will collapse and consequently there will be absolute chaos in Europe and on the streets and therefore it would be a bad thing. How great do you think that danger is?
Professor Brendan Simms
I think the danger to continental Europe of a Brexit is considerable for the reasons I’ve given. I think that it would indeed weaken Europe as a political project, it will damage their self-confidence, it will make it a softer target for people like Mr. Putin, and all these hazards which have already been outlined by the prime minister. On Brexit, I am a citizen of the Irish Republic, I’m a resident here, so I have a vote. I’m not going to cast it for the reason that I think it’s appropriate for me to use the vote given to enable Irish people to continue to participate in British politics, so I vote in general elections, but I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to decide potentially on the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom. But having said that, I ask you politely to listen to me as a foreigner, and I would ask you on the 23rd of June to vote remain because there is at the moment no continental European integration of the kind that I request, that is necessary, but it’s not happening, and therefore there isn’t the threat to the United Kingdom’s sovereignty yet. There’s plenty of time to leave when it does happen, and in fact for the reasons I’ve given, when it does happen, there will be then a separation. I would still be delighted if the UK were part of that single union, but I’m realistic enough to accept that that won’t happen. You don’t need to, there’s no reason why you should, and I’m happy to let you go, but I ask in return that you help us achieve what is necessary for the continent, for us, but also for your benefit.
I’d like to go backwards and forwards at the same time and go to the 24th of June, and I’m assuming there is a vote to remain inside the union. Then to pick at your argument slightly about the constructionist rights of defeating the hegemon and say, what is the responsibility at that point of statesmanship in the UK. You can’t do nothing. You can’t just say well, business as usual, so there is a further, it seems to me, a further duty to intervene, and what form do you think that should take? [Professor Simms- Sorry, intervene in what context?] To be more involved in the European project, in the event of staying in.
Professor Brendan Simms
Yes, so I think it is a remain vote on the 23rd, I think Britain will have capital to spend in Europe, and that’s my closing remarks in my paper, were to say that the worst thing that could happen is just to say phew, the danger’s averted, let’s not do anything to frighten the horses, but rather if I were the PM, I would go to Brussels and say look, we’ve stayed in, if this doesn’t work it’s not our fault, and we stand by to help you, but you’ve really got to get on with it now, and to stabilize the Euro, stabilize the continent because I can’t guarantee that if this question comes back again, that it won’t go the other way if Europe continues to fail. So that I see would be the first point, and the second point is that a UK statesman or stateswoman should say in that situation, I need to have guarantees that a continental European Union will not discriminate against the UK, that will not simply say, you know, you’re like Norway or Switzerland or whatever. The UK is not like Norway or Switzerland. It is a, for the reasons I’ve given, a major world power. It cannot be treated like simply a [inaudible], and it wouldn’t be, I’m convinced of it, but there would need to be guarantees on the city, on the management of a single market, and so on, and in return, so what you’d have, you’d have a grand bargain, so big picture, the United Kingdom would take more out of the European Union in terms of trade advantages, and in terms of its defence contribution to European security through NATO, it will pay in over the odds, and that seems to me a fair deal, and that’s obviously not a deal that Norway or Switzerland or wherever can offer mainland Europe.
I am out of questioners at the moment. Yes?
Historically, Europe is Christendom. Turkey is not only outside Europe, but it is also very much a Muslim country. [Inaudible] the idea of Christendom completely cease to exist?
Professor Brendan Simms
Well you’re absolutely right, that for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, that was the case, so people, in the book, for example, when Englishmen are referring to Europe, up to sixteenth, early seventeenth century, they often referred to Christendom, and the state of Christendom, and so on, so that is true. I think that the idea of Christianity as a rallying force within Europe has been pretty limited, certainly from the late seventeenth century with the defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna, and progressively in the nineteenth century, Turkey, or the Ottoman Empire, is brought into the European system through the Treaty of Paris, it’s regarded essentially as part of the European state system, so I don’t see, and then of course you then had secularization, big cultural shifts, receding importance of religion, that’s probably what you’re driving at, and also we have the presence of large historic Muslim communities in Europe, I mean leaving aside relatively recent immigrants of the late twentieth century, early twenty-first century, think of the Albanians, think of the Muslim Bosniaks. These are communities which feel themselves very strongly to be part of Europe, pro-European, part of the European project, for the most part, and whose cause became very much a European cause in the late twentieth century. So that’s a long, but I hope historically-founded, way of saying that I don’t think Christianity, as such, is any longer a useful tool or yardstick to measure the health or viability of the European project, even though in the past, clearly it was. I think it’s much more to do with democratic values, representation, toleration, that sort of thing.
Can I just make a comment on that? When I was in Brussels, which is now a very long time ago, people sometimes used to quote the French poet, Paul Valéry, on this subject, and he said Europe is Greece plus Rome plus the Enlightenment, by which he meant [inaudible], Rome in terms of Christianity, but he included all branches of Christianity, and the Enlightenment, and I think one could, perhaps, argue that one of the great achievements of the European Union, and now one of the greatest sources of difficulty for it, is that the more it is expanded, the more countries that have entered, were not touched by the Enlightenment, and that it’s the Enlightenment that is the common factor of the countries of Western Europe, and that on the whole, the countries, the further East you go, the less force the Enlightenment had, and one of the great achievements of the European Union has indeed been to spread democracy and the rule of law and the idea of individual liberty to countries that did not previously enjoy them, that practically the only country of Central Europe which was a working democracy at any time was Czechoslovakia, now divided, and one of the great difficulties that faces the European Union now, which we see epitomized by Hungary and to some extent the new government in Poland, is a rejection of Enlightenment principles and the attempt to take advantage of being members of the union but not to subscribe to the values Brendan mentioned. I don’t know how he would react to that observation.
Professor Brendan Simms
Well I think there’s quite a bit in what you say, but I would qualify as, or what Paul Valéry said, [inaudible], I would qualify to this extent that I don’t think the difficulties we face in mainland Europe today are primarily the product of enlargement, which would be the logical conclusion of what you say. I think that rather, the product of the revival of these ancestral voices, in fact across the continent, including Central and Western Europe, so you’re absolutely, I completely agree with you on the current drift of politics in Hungary and in Poland, and for me particularly disappointing because I’ve often looked at Poland as really a beacon over the last ten years or so. However, if you look at France, with the Front National, you look at the percentage of people that support extremism in France is actually higher than in much of Eastern Europe. Andrew Foxall here, Russia expert at the Henry Jackson Society, will know more about this. If you think of the support for Putin, and for his kind of Christian Orthodox authoritarian alternative, it’s at least as strong with elements of the Western and Central European right, particularly, you know, in Austria, for instance, you’ve got [inaudible] and in Holland, and so, and of course not each of these cases are we talking about classic right wing extremism, but nevertheless, if you were to look at the country where there’s a reasonable chance next year of such a movement coming to power, I think France could easily happen if you had a runoff between Marine Le Pen and a socialist, I think it’s possible she could get in, so I fear that we’re rather too quick, as it were, to, and I’m using jargon here, to other, as it were, this problem, to sort of say, well this is a result of, you know, of enlargement, whereas in fact, the demons are within, as it were, within Central and Western Europe as much as they are in Eastern Europe, and that’s really what’s frightening me, is that all these historical factors which have created this problem, which were contained to a certain extent by the European project are now re-emerging, and they didn’t really exist in the same way in this country, which is why it’s difficult to get a handle on it.
Thank you, there’s a lot of, altogether too much truth in that, I’m afraid. Yes, sir.
To what extent, if any, did the EU entice the Ukraine, and if so, did that not lead to Russia taking Crimea?
Professor Brendan Simms
I don’t think the EU enticed Ukraine in any meaningful sense, but it is certainly true that the EU attracted the Ukraine, and this shows how a project which seems from the vantage point of London to be problematic and crumbling and riddled with all the difficulties we’ve been discussing and nevertheless is the answer to so many problems on the continent, so from the Ukrainian point of view, EU is the nirvana, so what we have is, in effect, the European Union destabilizing, in my view in a good sense, the position in Eastern Europe, not by what it does, but by what it is. The minute you have an outfit like the European Union which has at least the aspiration of, you know, improving standards of living, governance, democracy, and so on, if you’re the Ukrainians in the environment you’re in, you’ve got to go for it. That is your only hope, and that’s why you have scenes, you know, people waving European flags in the [inaudible] and Kiev, people dying for Europe, which, you know, hasn’t been the case since 1945, dying for the European Union, but I don’t think it’s true that they enticed Ukraine. In fact, if anything, they were trying to sort of keep them at arm’s length, and the Ukrainians were sort of forcing, you know, forcing their way through the door.
Professor Brendan Simms
Right, so I think, I agree with the first part. I think the embarrassment is wearing off, not in the sort of [inaudible] way. There’s still a huge consciousness of the Nazi past in Germany. It’s discussed all the time in the media and books and so on, but obviously, in the purely biological sense, the generation of the perpetrators has largely died off, and even the children of the perpetrators, for whom it was very present, are, you know, now in their seventies very often. I don’t think they’re becoming more nationalistic. They’re simply becoming, they’re seen as more, as a normal nation, and there lies the problem because what I said in my opening remarks is that the German question, the German problem, is not really a behavioural problem, it’s a structural problem. It is not a problem to do, at least if you leave aside the fairly important, but in world historical terms, interlude of the twentieth century. It’s a structural problem because you’re talking about not the way in which the Germans behave but their sheer size, their numbers, their economic strength, their military potential, and so on, and this is the problem that we have currently a European Union, which because it’s a confederation, gives power to the strongest state within the confederation, and it doesn’t really matter whether that state is good or bad. It’s actions will be perceived as dominant, so try to image, for instance, the United States, not as a full political union, where you have an elected president, you have a representation of each state and each member of the population through a Senate and obviously through the House of Representatives, but rather were governed by a confederation of the fifty states. In that situation, inevitably, Texas and California and New York would have a much greater influence and domination than they do now. That’s what we have in the European Union today, so it doesn’t really matter what the nature of the Germans is today, it’s rather that it’s their sheer numbers, and if they then no longer have a sense of being a problem in Europe, and in a sense aren’t behaviourally as individuals, that’s when the real difficulty arises.
Now, we have four more minutes, and I have four questions, so we may not be able to do them all.
Accepting, on the 23rd, Britain remaining in [inaudible] perhaps advance the goal that you’ve suggested. Doesn’t that then turn the focus on what more of a chance it will actually be achieved? It seems to me that [inaudible] Europe progressing to the kind of more communified state that you’ve described seem to be extremely unlikely, and in fact receding everyday with the development of [inaudible] politics across the continent, so while it may be hopeful for Britain to remain in to achieve the goal you’ve outlined, if the goal is really unachievable, then isn’t it really just a futile gesture and indeed the downside of Britain from remaining in an organization that is on the brink of collapse, and might be quite dangerous, so what do you think the chances are of actually achieving the goals you’ve outlined?
Professor Brendan Simms
Okay, so two parts to your question. I think the chances are slim, unless you think of the alternative. The minute somebody says on mainland Europe, we accept the end of the Euro, accept the end of Schengen, all of these aspects of integration, we accept the return of the German question, then I will say there is no chance of this. So, in other words, for this to succeed, there has to be a catastrophe, not just a [inaudible], but a catastrophe. Perhaps and occupation of Baltic States, perhaps a blowout of the Euro, perhaps, you know, another huge migration crisis, perhaps all three together. My problem is that just because you have the catastrophe, doesn’t mean you have the solution. You may just have the catastrophe, you know, you may be Poland. The outcome may be Poland, the Holy Roman Empire, rather than the UK and the USA, but if you want to solve the European problem, that is, the solution I’ve given is the only way, and if the Brits remain and help to bring that about, there could be a window of opportunity. As for the risks, and this is indeed a good argument of the Brexiters, they say well, if this building is so rickety, as you say, which I do, isn’t it dangerous to be in it? Wouldn’t it be better to not be in it? And what’s particularly fascinating for me is how this mirrors arguments from hundreds of years ago, where those in favour of intervention, or against intervention in Europe, say look, you know, it’s my neighbour’s house is burning down, and, you know, I can create a firebreak, and the interventionists say no, we’re all in one terrace, and we will all burn down, so [inaudible] for geographical reasons, geopolitical reasons, even if Britain were to exit the EU, you will still be close enough to the debris that there’s no safety, so one way or the other, you will be affected, which I think is the argument for taking the course I’ve outlined.
I’d like to come back to your original proposition that a federation on the European side should continue to go ahead and we should be [inaudible] detached, but [inaudible]. I think one of the problems that has developed since Lord Tugendhat’s [inaudible] in Brussels is that we have, in this country, ceased to play a serious, active part in [inaudible] European policies. [Inaudible]. If we do vote to remain, then we’ve got to get in there with a foreign policy, principally, you know, a European foreign policy, which we can use effectively in this [inaudible] in Brussels to bring this along in a direction that suits us [inaudible].
Professor Brendan Simms
Well, I think the problem with the package that the PM has negotiated is not so much that it’s stable, could be stable, for Britain and the rest of Europe, but rather that the rest of Europe itself is unstable for the reasons I’ve given, so if it carries on as it is, it will not be stable, and therefore the relationship between Britain and Europe will change. I completely agree with you, it’s essentially my argument, that Britain must be centrally involved in the discussion around the European order, but, because the end point, the end result of that order, must be full political union of, at least of the continent, if the sovereignty of the United Kingdom is to be preserved, which I think is a reasonable aspiration in a way that the preservation of the sovereignty of continental Europe is not, for historic reasons, then Britain, the United Kingdom, will be outside of that union, so yes, Britain’s role, voice, will always be central, but it will be there as a facilitating power, on the strength of its historical, and indeed current role as a shaping power in the world, so hence my paradox, you know, for the Europhiles. For Europe really to be settled, they will have to step back, eventually.
We’re now in extra time, and so I’ll take the final two questions, but I will ask them to be brief, please.
Professor Brendan Simms
Yes, I think, I mean the Indian case is very similar to that of many other actors, even the United States. I can see why it would suit other powers to see the UK within the European Union. I don’t think that in and of itself is a good argument to stay within the European Union. You should make up your mind on the merits of the argument, which I think are strong, at least for now, irrespective of what suits India or suits United States, but yes, remaining would, from that point of view, would help, I think.
I was very interested in your discussion, definition of Europe as a project or something in process, and also then when you said there has to be a climax to it, but I was thinking that [inaudible] NATO is an Anglo-American construct, would maintain a common defence, and, if one looks again at the US as a model, monetary union, it seems, could resolve a great many of the issues that are existing now because then you would have, again going back to the US model, where a federal government could run a deficit, but state governments cannot, for various reasons, so that a monetary union in which the union can run the deficit, and presumably it would be Brussels or whatever, the individual states couldn’t. Now that may be beyond [Lord Tugendhat- We are in extra time]. Okay, I was just wondering how you would react to that, to the idea that, to the idea that monetary union itself could resolve a number of the problems, and you wouldn’t have to go for the full political integration.
Professor Brendan Simms
But I think, well I agree with the proposition that monetary union on the American style is what the Eurozone needs, but it would only work, and it only works in the US is because the entire population of, you know, which is responsible for the debt is represented in a common parliamentary system. That’s been the great, I think the great advantage of Westminster and subsequently of Congress, and that’s what we need in the Eurozone. On NATO, just to be absolutely clear, I would see a single Eurozone state as being a member of NATO, so that NATO effectively, rather than having a series of frankly underperforming European members, would have one very big, high-performing member because you’d have a large tax base and would consolidate all the militaries, and then also, a very important one with the United Kingdom and obviously the United States and Canada, and that would be it, but it wouldn’t affect the structure of NATO as such. It would actually enhance it.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think the question and answer session was quite as thought-provoking as the speech, which was heard earlier, and I repeat the point I made that it was so refreshing to listen to somebody who is speaking out of his own mind and not repeating the numerous [inaudible] which have been tossed across the floor during the referendum debate. I found it a most interesting meeting, and I really am very grateful to Brendan Simms, and I hope that you are too.