Media: Andrew Neil is now firmly in the anti-Brussels camp. Any `European' magazine edited by him would be better named `The Sceptic'

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The Independent Online
I am not Andrew Neil's number one fan, but he is surely correct in his contention that something drastic needs to be done about The European. In its present format it is going nowhere. It is neither fish nor fowl. It isn't a real newspaper and its isn't a magazine. And its mounting losses are pushing its proprietors, the Barclay brothers, slowly down the wealth league.

Yet my sources at Gray's Inn Road (where that publication is housed alongside the studios of ITN) tell me that Neil has failed to persuade the Barclays to back his plan to turn it into a weekly magazine "like The Economist with glamour". Apparently, the editor of The European, Charles Garside, has conducted a resistance campaign to thwart his editor-in-chief.

More interesting is just how European The European will eventually become. Neil is now firmly in the anti-Brussels camp. So much so that any "European" magazine edited by him would be better re-named The Sceptic. Or perhaps The Stylish Sceptic (just to give it that vital bit of glamour).

Neil hasn't always been Euro-sceptical. As he reminded us in his recent book Full Disclosure, he was stridently pro-European in his early years at Wapping. In June 1989, he penned an editorial headlined "Adieu to Little England" telling Mrs Thatcher that "we are all Europeans now".

Europe began to sour for The Sunday Times not long after Thatcher's departure. By November 1991, it was running an editorial entitled "Eurolunacies". And it has continued ever since to run knocking copy about Eurocrats and apocalyptic leaders about the spectre of a European superstate.

The Sunday Times and its Wapping stablemates have hardly carved out a publishing monopoly in odious Europhobic rants. The Telegraph titles are in the same camp, as are the daily and Sunday versions of the Express and the Mail. Indeed, the current atmosphere of anti-European hysteria being whipped up by the New Right's remaining friends in Fleet Street is deeply alarming for those of us who firmly believe that fully-fledged European federalism offers our only hope of any meaningful form of democratic government in the new millennium.

The poison of Europhobia has spread so far into this country's Fourth Estate that it is hard to envisage how a future referendum on monetary union (or any other aspect of Britain's membership of the EU) could be conducted fairly. The problem isn't just the general anti-European bias in the British press, but the failure of the few papers that are pro-European to argue their case with anything near the same fervour. As Yeats would say, the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Leading commentators at the quality end of the market do their level best to correct this situation, but it remains a sad fact that no London newspaper is flying the starry flag with the same fervour as Fleet Street's Europhobes are waving the Union Jack in our faces.

Some Europhiles console themselves with the thought that Britain's business chiefs will bring us all to our senses and put the case for European integration, including a single currency, firmly back on the political (and news) agenda. I wish I could share their optimism, but I fear this won't happen for two reasons. First, the newspapers that are spreading anti-EU hatred in this sceptr'd isle are not controlled by British businesses. Conrad Black, the owner of The Telegraph, is a Canadian who has a pronounced Atlanticist outlook. And Rupert Murdoch is anti-European because he fears (no doubt rightly) that the EU has the potential to play hardball with his News Corporation, and other multinationals, in a way that no nation state could ever dare contemplate.

That explains these anti-European proprietors. What about their equally anti-European editors - are they just following orders? You betcha. Make no mistake, both The Sun and The Sunday Times would adopt a pro-European posture tomorrow morning if Murdoch felt this would speed the growth of his global media empire.

But it isn't just kow-towing to their masters overseas that has kept most British editors firmly in the anti-European camp. Many London journalists, it seems to me, are Sterling patriots who want to keep the pound in their pockets and preserve the mystique of the Mother of Parliaments because they sincerely believe such proud symbols and ancient institutions provide a focus for British national life and, hence, their national newspapers.

As a Scot, I understand such thinking more than most. One reason most Scottish newspapers are devoted to devolution is because a Scottish Parliament would make life more interesting for them.

Until that day they will remain, for all their protestations, regional rather than national newspapers - which is what their London counterparts fear they could become if real power slips away from London to Brussels.

They should relax. Some of the most prestigious newspapers in the world - notably the Washington Post and the New York Times - are, in essence, regional newspapers. In truth America's national press consists of only the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. That is why Time and Newsweek have always done well.

It is not entirely inconceivable that a United States of Europe will one day spawn a successful multilingual news magazine. But it's just a touch unlikely that such a visionary pan-continental publication could ever be created by such a fervent Euro-sceptic as Andrew Neiln