For such people human self-organisation reached its zenith in the golden era of the European nation state - that short, historic moment sandwiched in between the unification of Germany and the onset of the Second World War. It is unsurprising that some of them are now calling for the repatriation of powers that have been "lost" since then to the EU. This week Mr Bill Cash (apparently supported by William Hague) called for fishery policy to be handed back to national governments.
The problem is that, within a few years, the only things our competing free fisherfolk would find in our seas would be three cod, two sole and a hake. And then we could go to war over who had the right to catch those. The first half of this century was, in terms of human loss, the most violent and destructive in the continent's history - and the European project arose out of the experience of nation states warring, just as publicly financed sewers arose out of the 19th-century experience of cholera epidemics. And echoes of the Europhobes' golden age were to be heard on the streets of Riga this week, when veterans of the Latvian legion of the Waffen SS observed their annual get-together, drinking beer and reliving old massacres.
The desire that such national egoism should never again lead to war in Europe was one major impulse behind the creation of the Community. Today we have other reasons as well: the need to organise in the face of massive speculative movements of capital; the need to deal with huge environmental problems of the kind that fail to restrict themselves to small countries; the need to maintain a large, harmonised domestic market to compete with those of the US and the Far East.
This does not, of itself, mean that the nation-staters are wrong about the lack of democracy and accountability in many European structures. This week's warnings, though, about the possibilities of many more deaths from new-variant CJD, should caution us to wait for the report on how the BSE crisis happened, before we assert that criminal mismanagement is somehow unique to the EU. It would also be fair, I think, to celebrate the extraordinary speed of the EU's Committee of Independent Experts, whose H-bomb of a report was detonated within six weeks of the Committee's establishment. And without an Anglo-Saxon anywhere in sight!
And yet, despite the defensive tone of much of this article, so far I find myself elated by this week's events. All of a sudden, as though a fog has lifted from a mountain peak, I have seen, spread out, what Europe could be like. Instead of the deadening bureaucratic complacency of the established pro-Europeans (and their sponsors back in the much-vaunted nation states), a brief vision has been afforded of a democratic, disputatious, vibrant Europe. From this week, instead of two camps there are three. First, of course, there are those who wish to discourage the project, and - that discouragement failing - wish to disengage from it. This is, I think, the logic of the Hague position. The second is the old school of Euro-dither, which will want to do as little as possible in the wake of the mass resignations. This group wishes for the advantages of union, while refusing to give up the power and privileges exerted by national governments. After all, the Commission in its present form is their creature, kept undemocratic, because to make it democratic would be to make it a threat.
And then - oh joy - there is the new Third Way. Which is to take hold of the project and make it ours; to create a proper European political entity. In this entity all decisions should be taken at the lowest appropriate level. And all should be subject to the three great virtues of openness, transparency and accountability. So People's Europe would require that decisions taken at the European level should be democratically accountable to bodies elected at that level. Thus, the European Parliament should have powers of scrutiny, censure and recall, complete with the full paraphernalia of hearings and vetoes. Indeed, there is a case for allowing it to appoint the commission president. Unfortunately the closed-list system of proportional representation, by which MEPs will be elected in the UK, will not suit the People's Europe. There we will need to distinguish between the individual candidates of the different parties. That's OK, Tony, anyone can make a mistake - let's change it to an open-list system for next time.
And why should not commissioners be directly elected in their own countries, such elections to coincide with those for the European Parliament? The idea floated yesterday, that they be formally approved by the House of Commons, adds little accountability. We can do much, much better.
The establishment objection to this surfeit of democracy tends to be a technocratic one. It will (they argue) lead to an unwelcome politicisation of institutions that rely upon consensus, and to a tendency for commissioners to play to the public gallery, rather than to do their jobs in stolid and unspectacular fashion. These are, indeed, the drawbacks of democracy. But what Europe needs right now is democracy. And the problem with providing that democracy is not supra-nationality, but nationality.
So, of course, it is the Europhobes who feel most threatened by all this talk of new institutions and accountability. That's why the most intelligent of them, including Michael Portillo, have been careful not to crow too loudly this week, for fear that we take the demands for greater accountability seriously.
Scratch 'em and many Europhobes are nationalists first and democrats second. For them the nation is more important than the precise type of government. An independent Britain run by a junta of Army officers would be preferable to a united Europe controlled by a multilingual parliament.
That is not, I think, the view of the British people. This May we will hold elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, with scarcely a rumble of discontent from the English shires so far. And just as we have been perfectly able to encompass new political entities in those parts of our country, so we are also capable of participating in new democratic forums that cover the whole of Europe. N'est-ce pas?Reuse content