Getting in a state

We must make Europe work, says Denis MacShane

The Question of Europe edited by Peter Gowan and Perry Anderson, Verso, pounds 40 hb/pounds 15 pb

Heine complained that while the British had the sea, and the French and Russians the land, the Germans were undisputed masters of dreams. How boots move on to other feet. The view of Britain as empirical and pragmatic in contrast to the constitutional, logic-chopping Continentals now needs revision. Germany, France and other European nations plod quietly forward in the search for integration and co-operation in Europe. The devolved, separated centres of power across the Channel make the European process a tortuous compromise.

What a contrast with the Anglo-Saxon world, as this excellent collection of essays shows. Here are vierundzwanzig Professoren dancing on the head of a pin, proving to their own delight the impossibility and inevitability of Europe almost in the same paragraph. The centralisation of the European debate in recent years in the hothouse salons of SW1 and the City gave rise to a feverish Euroscepticism. On May Day, the voters reduced the heat with a rational rejection of Europhobia. But the dreaming and idea- spinning go on.

In a sense, we are all Eurosceptics now. With enlightened detachment, we seek a reason for Europe rather than put blind faith in any pronouncement from Brussels or Strasbourg. We can now see that, far from being a federal superstate steamrollering its way over popular will, Europe is fragile and insecure. The absence of statesmanship in the Nineties leaves it ready to break up into disgruntled nations and blocks with competing monetary policies, and labour markets. A Hobbesian Europe of all against all is more likely than dreams (or nightmares) of federalism and diktats from Brussels.

Harold Macmillan knew who to blame for Europe. It was "the Jews, the Planners and the old cosmopolitan element", he said. In much of present- day Tory discourse against Europe, one senses the old Adam of hate against the protocols of the elders of Brussels. Can the new government decouple Britain from the obsessive navel-gazing about Europe among our intelligentsia, press and the Euro-hostile BBC? A good start has been made, but the failure over four decades to explain Europe may cost us dear.

There are plenty of ideas and arguments in this collection, which brings together many essays published in journals. They include some surprises. Who would have expected Edward Luttwak, not long ago the high priest of Reagan anti-Communism, to be a closet Jospinist, pleading for spending and demand to create jobs? Guy Standing, Britain's best labour-market statistician, now exiled in Geneva, offers the subversive thought that if the contribution of the black economy is included in official figures, the Maastricht criteria cease to be a problem.

The most sophisticated defence of the political economy of EMU comes from Sam Aaronovitch. It is written in academic prose but bears working through. If Aaronovitch could only convey his important analysis in the flippant, nouveau-tabloid style of his namesake David, the new governing elite would have a guide worth following. The editors, Peter Gowan and Perry Anderson, are standard-bearers of the old New Left, but have included discussions by conservatives such as John Keogan, English Christian Democrats such as Tim Garton Ash and that gloomy Spenglerian, Conor Cruise O'Brien.

Trying to fit the classical templates of political science or constitutional theory over Europe is impossible. European construction is a process, not an end, and it remains the most fascinating political game in town. Get Europe wrong and you pay a heavy price; ask the Tories. Get Europe right, and a great deal of what needs to be done in our own mini-federation - of three-and-a-half nations, five or six religions, stuttering regional economies, and a mosaic of cultures and ethnicities - will fall into place.

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