Europe's dream need not be a nightmare
Douglas Hurd, FT, August 17, 2000
In the late summer, British radio programmes tend to run out of material. They fall back on asking veteran politicians about our main worries for the world. When this happened to me recently I was asked later why I had not included among my fears the European Union's Treaty of Nice which, when ratified, would wipe out Britain's identity as a nation.
It would be a mistake to dismiss this anxiety about a European superstate as if it were confined to a few crackpots. It pervades and distorts most of the debate on Europe in Britain. It is encouraged by the eurosceptic press. It is reflected in the referendum campaign under way in Denmark.
The concept of a growing supranational authority - envisaged by Jean Monnet and the founding fathers of the European Six - is, in fact, honourable and intelligent. But it is also unreal. There are two main reasons for this. The first is the prospect of enlargement. There are 15 members of the European Union and 13 countries increasingly impatient in the waiting room.
The first task of the negotiators of the treaty to be signed at Nice in December is to clear up some points before there can be enlargement. Three such issues were left out of the last treaty at Amsterdam for lack of agreement: the size of the Commission; the size of the majority needed for qualified majority voting; and the weighting to be given to the votes of countries with bigger populations. These "Amsterdam leftovers" are important but solving them will not herald a superstate.
The second reason is the persistent vitality of the nation state. This is not simply a lingering survival in Britain and Denmark. Jacques Chirac, the French president, took the point when he declared in Berlin that he favoured "not a United States of Europe, but a United Europe of States".
The Treaty of Maastricht, unlike its predecessors, represented a compromise. The proposal for a single European currency represented a further advance along that orthodox route of integration. But for the first time the treaty also provided for progress by agreement between governments without expanding the role of the European Commission or giving jurisdiction to the European Court. Britain emphasised these points but its voice was lost in the post-Maastricht hubbub of fear and misunderstanding. Yet it is on this inter-governmental basis that Europe has moved forward since Maastricht. In the last nine years it is the Council of Ministers that has gained ground and the Commission that has retreated. The Commission has hurt itself by poor control and mismanagement, as we see again over its aid programme.
It has been constrained by the relatively small size of the European budget, capped by member states at 1.3 per cent of European gross domestic product - a fraction of what integrationists would have hoped to achieve by now. When I became foreign secretary in 1989 the Commission was pregnant with expensive European proposals for motorways, tunnels and high-speed trains. How distant seems that heyday of Jacques Delors. Fiscal prudence is the rule now, even among left-of-centre governments.
At last autumn's summit at Lisbon, member states did not yield power over economic policy to the European Commission. Instead they agreed objectives that each would seek to meet by national programmes, subject to the control of national parliaments. Eurosceptics in Britain interpret these decisions, and the treaty provisions on which they are based, as providing the means by which continental Europe can dictate economic policy to Britain. This is absurd. The voluntary co-ordination of economic policies on principles close to the British political consensus is just about ideal from the UK point of view.
The other big inter-governmental initiative on the stocks is defence. We hear the hostile cry that we must abandon this Anglo-French proposal because it leads to a "European Army". But if - still a big "if" - we can galvanise the nations of Europe, including the UK Treasury, into improving the quality and co-operation of our defence efforts, then Britain can turn itself into a valid European partner of the US - a change that is essential if we are to be taken seriously by the next US president.
Britain must face the objection most often urged against the inter-governmental approach, namely the difficulty of taking timely decisions. The Council of Ministers, already cumbersome, will become even more so with enlargement. If important decisions are to be taken by governments in Council rather than by a supranational authority, we have to be reasonable about majority voting and the role of the Commission in carrying through policy agreed by governments. This reasonableness should be much easier once we can persuade ourselves that Europe is not becoming a superstate. Britain is so dominated by its nightmare that it sometimes fails to consult its own interest. It is a British interest to have a strong Commission and majority voting to implement the single market and to attempt again to reform the common agricultural policy.
The Commission continues to busy itself with vexatious detail and these vexations are well reported. But much of its work is on the side of the angels. Why does Britain never praise the commissioners Mario Monti and Frits Bolkestein for their efforts on behalf of competition? Once the UK judges proposals for co-operation on their merits, instead of against the background of fear, interesting results may flow. For example, the Financial Times printed a cogent article by Loyola de Palacio, the Spanish Commissioner, in which she argued for a European system of air traffic control. If it turned out that it was safer to guide aircraft in and out of Heathrow, Schippol and Charles de Gaulle airports through a European system, would we really sacrifice that for ideological reasons?
There are problems that commonsense insists require a European solution. The same may be coming true of immigration. Britons and others should nerve themselves to consider these matters on their merits for the citizens of Europe, rather than apply the sheep-like test "National system good, Euro system bad".
Lord Hurd is a former UK foreign secretary
DOUGLAS HURD: A revealing guest
FT, August 14, 1999
It seemed like a good moment to ask Hurd about the Balkans. As foreign secretary during the early 1990s, Hurd was closely bound up with the European Union's controversial decision to recognise the sovereignty of Croatia - an event which, in retrospect, many believe made war inevitable in Bosnia.
The general view is that prime minister John Major (and Hurd) did a deal with the German government to recognise Croatia in exchange for Britain being allowed to opt out of the social chapter of the Maastricht Treaty.
I asked if this was correct. Hurd looked relieved. The conversation had moved on to firmer ground. Again he surprised me.
"We probably did make mistakes over Bosnia and some people say that this was one of them," he said. "But it wasn't a quid pro quo. About three weeks after Maastricht, [Helmut] Kohl and [Hans-Dietrich] Genscher [chancellor and foreign secretary of Germany, respectively] pushed us on Croatia and we felt we couldn't refuse. They had generously not opposed our opt-outs over the social chapter and monetary union and we felt we owed them something in return."
I was startled by his candour, especially considering how quickly people are willing to apportion blame for the Bosnian tragedy. The admission seemed all the more pertinent in light of the Kosovo bombing campaign.
Douglas Hurd, engelsk utrikesminister 1989-1995, om EMU, i stor artikel i FT
"Some of us who have worked for the coming together of the peoples of Europe can now reasonably make a request to those who manage Europe. You should no longer make support for a single currency the overriding test of support for the European Union."
"It was not seriously argued on economic grounds at the time of the Maastricht conference that a single market required a single currency. The single currency was devised in a sincere and honourable way as the next political leap forward."
"Fourth, after convergence, what? Nothing in the treaty defines the morning after. Mr Theo Waigel, the German finance minister, is now devising a fitness club /med böter för den som inte håller formen/ which would keep everyone underweight for ever. This club is not in the treaty. Its underlying thought would be widely and deeply unpopular in practice."
"We hear the same voices again today. Sometimes they politely chide (bannar) those who hesitate for lack of leadership. But leadership in a democracy consists of being one step ahead of your followers. If you are 20 steps ahead, nobody follows." (Douglas Hurd i Financial Times 96-01-31)